Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Scott's Law -- The Results

To all who read my Scott's Law post back on 7/1, thank you. To those just catching up now, this will make more sense to you if you go back to that post and read it first.

On June 29th, as I was headed westbound on I-88, I was pulled over by an Illinois State Trooper at Mile Marker 8, and given a ticket for "Failure to yield to a stationary emergency vehicle". This is a violation of Scott's Law, and is a Class C misdemeanor. This violation includes a mandatory court appearance. The penalties for violation of Scott's Law can include a fine of up to $10,000 and suspension of driving privileges for up to a year. The driving suspensions increase to a minimum of 90 days if you damage another person's property, between 180 days and 1 year if you injure another person, and a 2 year suspension for causing the death of another person.

As you can read in my previous post, as I was driving westbound, I was behind a semi-trailer truck. As the truck moved into the clear left lane, I noticed two State Police cars on the right shoulder up ahead with their lights flashing having pulled over another motorist. I was already driving the 65 mph speed limit, but as I approached the vehicles, I slowed down even more, and moved to the far left side of my lane...I did not, however, move into the left lane as I did not feel it would be necessary to make a lane change to pass the officers safely. The moment I passed the vehicles, the backup officer tore after me light blaring (as I was traveling fairly slowly for the highway, he caught up to me very quickly).

During his first visit to my car, he informed me that I violated the law by failing to move into the clear left lane. I truthfully told him that I was not aware that I had broken the law, but explained that I slowed down and gave them what I felt was ample room. He asked me if I saw the vehicles, and I told him that I did when the truck in front of me began moving to the left lane. He repeated what I said and I said yes. I should have just said yes to the first question and not expanded on it, because he interpreted by what I said that I was following the truck too closely preventing me from making a safe judgement about the lane change. This is not true. In any case, he wrote me a ticket for violation of Scott's Law (the first time I had ever heard that term), and a warning for following too close.

During the stop, he gave me no time for discussion or clarification. Also during the stop, his buddy, having finished with the previous stop, came up behind this officer, and sure enough, within a minute or two another car drove by in the right lane, and off went the backup cop to pull that person over for a Scott's Law violation. I am sure this could, and may have gone on all day.

My mandatory court appearance was scheduled for July 27th at 1:00 pm in the Rock Island County Courthouse...a solid 3-hour drive from my home in Chicago's West Loop. Between June 29th and July 27th, I did a fair share of research on this law using the handy-dandy Internet. The law states that when passing any stationary emergency vehicle with its lights flashing, you must move into the next lane leaving a full lane adjacent to the emergency vehicle(s) free, OR if it is not safe or possible to do so to simply reduce speed and proceed with due caution.

I also found blog entries by at least two other people who had received Scott's Law violations, one of whom hired a lawyer and plead not guilty. The man who plead not guilty appeared to have all the evidence on his side, but he was found guilty by the judge, and had to pay the fine, court fees, and his attorney. He then was informed by the Secretary of State's office that his license was suspended for a month, so he appealed and won that, but cost him more money. He ultimately paid close to $1,000 all told...something that I, being unemployed, could not afford to do.

So, I decided to plead guilty and ask for leniency and court supervision. I arrived at the courthouse on time, and was seated in an old courtroom, apparently void of any kind of air conditioning as there were huge fans all over the building doing nothing but blowing hot air around. My fellow defendants were a motley collection of folks who had done everything from fishing without a license to DUI to being picked up on a warrant for failing to pay previous court fines. One gentleman who spoke very little English plead guilty to driving without a license, and received a sentence similar to mine.

I dressed decently out of respect for the court...khakis, white shirt, brown sport coat. I ditched the sport coat as soon as I entered the courtroom mostly due to the heat, but somewhat due to the fact that mere sleeves and pants would make me the sharpest dressed man in the room. I was one of the last cases called. Once I approached the bench, the judge read my file, and asked for my plea, to which I replied "Guilty, your honor." He reiterated that I was entering a plea of Guilty to a Class C misdemeanor, and repeated the laundry list of bad things that could happen to me by pleading guilty and surrendering my rights to a trial, etc. I acknowledged that, so he asked the court clerk what the recommended penalty would be. They asked me if this was my first ticket for this offense, to which I replied "Yes, your honor."

Here is where it took a slightly annoying turn. He proceeded to ask me if there was anything I wanted to say about what I felt the severity of my sentence should be, something he did for every defendant, and I certainly appreciated. I told him that I was technically guilty of violating a law that, while good in spirit, is very poorly communicated to the public. I told him that despite slowing my vehicle and proceeding with caution, I was unaware that I was also required to move into the adjacent lane. I also mentioned that the road signs that had always read Move Over OR Slow Down, had at some point been changed from the OR to a hyphen, only slightly changing the meaning, but still being rather vague. I asked for a lenient fine with court supervision.

The judge then stated that the law says to slow down OR move into the adjacent lane, so would I like to change my plea. He did so in a way that implied that if I indeed slowed my vehicle and proceeded with caution, that I should plead not guilty, and prepare for trial. This was confusing at first, though in trial it would be mentioned that the lane next to me was open and the judge, of course, was not aware of the ridiculous warning that the officer gave me for following too close. That surely would have been used against me in a trial, painting me as some sort of reckless driver. I told him that I was aware of the risks, but was going to plead guilty and ask for the court's leniency.

The judge was lenient after all, and fined me $95 plus fees, and gave me Court Supervision. He asked if I could pay that today, and as I had $120 cash on me, I replied, "Yes, your honor." So he sent me on my way down the hall to pay my fine. Once I got to the clerks' room where they took payment, I was told what I owed...$267.00!!! What? How did $95 turn into $267? Fortunately, they took debit cards, and I was indeed able to pay the fine.

Please, let me tell you what I paid for in so called "fees" exactly as shown on my receipt:
  • Clerk - $15.00
  • Court - $20.00
  • Automation - $15.00
  • Violent Crime - $12.00
  • Judicial Security - $25.00
  • Document Storage - $15.00
  • Trauma Center - $5.00
  • Youth Diversion - $5.00
  • Lump Sum Surcharge - $30.00
  • Clerk Op Deduction - $0.25
  • Drug Court - $4.75
  • Clerk Op Add-Ons - $4.50
  • Prisoner Review Board - $0.50
  • Police Vehicle Fund - $20.00
Obviously, a miscreant such as I, out rampaging the highways of Illinois intent on endangering the lives of our emergency workers, clearly should be paying for Drug Court, Trauma Center, and Violent Crime...right? I have to say that while I committed this crime, and told the court that I was guilty, I feel very much a victim in this case. While I had the option to fight the ticket in court, the costs would have easily exceeded what I paid, and would certainly not have guaranteed either a sentence of not guilty nor leniency. Being out of work, I could not afford to take that chance, despite the fact that I still believe I should never have been pulled over in the first place.

So, let this serve as a warning to all who read this, and who hopefully encourage their friends and family to read it as well. It would seem to me that in the case of Scott's Law, the State of Illinois has decided to communicate the law by ticketing folks like me, then hoping they will tell everyone they know about their bad experience so others will then know and follow the law as well. So, now I am doing my civil duty by passing it on, please do the same so others do not have to go through the hassle and potentially much worse fate than I did.

As always, comments are welcome and encouraged.

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