Search Results for: badged highwaymen

-{Continuing thoughts from St. Matthew’s Popsicle Stand
The Badged Highwaymen series}-

Counterpoint, from Slate’s Tom Vanderbilt:

The consequences of not issuing tickets were shown in a recent study of traffic violations in New York City. From 2001 to 2006, the number of fatalities in which speeding was implicated rose 11 percent. During the same period, the number of speeding summons issued by the NYPD dropped 11 percent. Similarly, summonses for red-light-running violations dropped 13 percent between 2006 and 2008, even as the number of crashes increased. As an alternative approach, consider France, where the dangerous driver is as storied a cliché as a beret on the head and a baguette under the arm. As the ITE Journal notes, since 2000, France has reduced its road fatality rate by an incredible 43 percent. Instrumental in that reduction has been a roll-out of automated speed cameras and a toughening of penalties. For example, negligent driving resulting in a death, which often results in little punishment in the United States, carries a penalty of five years in prison and a 75,000-euro fine.

The “folk crime” belief helps thwart increased traffic enforcement: Why should the NYPD, whose resources and manpower are already stretched, bust people for dangerous driving when they could be going after murderers? Well, apart from the fact that more people are killed in traffic fatalities in New York City every year than they are in “stranger homicides,” there is the idea, related to the link between on-and-off-road criminality, that targeting traffic violators might be an effective way to combat other crimes. Which brings us to the third benefit of traffic tickets: increased public safety. Hence the new Department of Justice initiative called DDACTS, or Data Driven Approaches to Crime and Traffic Safety, which has found that there is often a geographic link between traffic crashes and crime. By putting “high-visibility enforcement” in hot spots of both crime and traffic crashes, cities like Baltimore have seen reductions in both.

Jericho, Arkansas. Even putting aside the violence (and let’s also put aside the demographics of the town, please), you still have a town doing what hundreds of little towns do across the country. Even to the extent that traffic stops do help save lives, there are clearly cases where that is not the primary reason for doing so. Further, the problem with the “Random Use Tax” idea posited above is that (a) the fact that most people won’t get a ticket any given year makes opposition to the tax relatively minimal and (b) it’s a tax primarily levied on outsiders. Further, as Web has pointed out in the past, when cops do start profiteering, invites mistrust between officers and the population they’re theoretically serving. People doing no harm should have nothing to fear from the cops. People doing no harm still feel that moment of terror when they see flashing blue lights come on behind them, even if they’re not breaking the law and the lights are meant for someone else.

Further, the notion of pulling people over for speeding leading to arrests in other crimes… well that’s certainly a benefit. Of course, you could also get the same results with random pull-overs, strict racial profiling, and a lot of other ways. Checkpoints have their uses, too. Of course, there are Constitutional questions if the person hasn’t done anything to warrant a pull-over. The solution to that, I would say, is to make so many rules that it becomes virtuously impossible to follow all the rules. My brother was pulled over once for “changing lanes too quickly”. An acquaintance was pulled over for “driving too close to the curb.” There are cases where you literally cannot change lanes without doing so within 100 feet of an Intersection. And so on, and so on. I’m not saying that these rules don’t have their function, but to the extent that they’re used to check people out for other crimes… I’m just not entirely comfortable with that.

-{Badged Highwaymen, Again, by Trumwill}-
-{Badged Highwaymen, Again, by WebGuy}-

Category: Courthouse, Road

Stepping back into the “real world” for a moment, CNN carries a story about a tiny town that may be overstepping their authority when it comes to traffic stops.

The difference between “legal” and “right” comes up in the story as well:

“The police and local district attorney there say they’re operating within the law, and it appears as if they are,” said Howard Witt, the Tribune reporter who wrote the story. “Texas has an asset forfeiture law similar to many other states, and it basically allows police to seize assets [that] are used, or suspected in being used, in commission of a crime.”

The law as it currently exists does not mandate that a person be convicted of a crime or even charged with one before the police can seize the assets, Witt said. A bill was introduced Tuesday in the state Legislature to close that loophole, he said, because of the alleged goings-on in Tenaha.

In 1997 Louisiana lawmakers reformed that state’s asset forfeiture law after a report on NBC’s “Dateline” alleged that law enforcement officers in Calcasieu and Jefferson Davis parishes were stopping motorists without cause, particularly out-of-state drivers and minorities, along Interstate 10 and seizing their money and property from them, according to an article on the National Drug Strategy Network’s Web site.

The unfortunate thing about this kind of story is that if it turns out to be true, or even if it turns out to be false, it is going to raise even more the tendency of people to distrust the cops.

The other part of unfortunate reality is that, when stopped out-of-state or far from home, civilians are at an even greater disadvantage to the cops than normal. If you’re far from home, you don’t likely have such easy access to your bank. You don’t know how to reach any local lawyers, or which are the best for your needs. You’re not as likely to have family/friends nearby to come help you out. The local judge likely knows the cop quite well, danced at his wedding, his kids date the cop’s kids, etc… and knows nothing about you at all, save for the fact that His Buddy The Cop decided you had done something heinous enough to warrant (at least) a traffic stop and a ticket. The phrase “innocent until proven guilty” means little when the judge is the best friend – or even “a better friend than the random stranger who got stopped” – and is ruling on your case.

Thus there’s an extra onus on small-town cops, at least if they are considering the factor of making other traffic stops easier/safer across the country, to avoid doing things like this or even encouraging the appearance of same. Unfortunately, there’s also the opposite onus – to raise as much ticket revenue as possible. Thanks to the passing of bungled laws that allow ticket revenue to be metered, budgeted, and used for a given year, there’s every incentive for cops to try to raise as much as possible. An extra 5-10 motorists pulled over each month, even if they’re innocent, may be the difference between a new squad car or other new gear, or may even be funneled into other city services. One of the worst things I ever heard from Colosse’s “civil servants” was when the Colosse mayor excoriated the Colosse Police Department because “underperforming traffic ticket revenue” had caused Colosse to experience a budgetary shortfall. They swear up and down that quotas don’t exist, and maybe for individual cops there isn’t… but rest assured, for Colosse just as sure as for Pudunkistan, the police department as a whole now carries a “quota” of ticket revenue to avoid a city budgetary shortfall.

And the people, both those living in the city and those merely passing through, are 100% aware of this fact and less likely to trust the Badged Highwaymen because of it.

Category: Courthouse


People that live in the City of East Oak have a sticker on the back of their cars with the letter “CEO” on it. The primary reason for these stickers are in the case of a flood, only cars with this sticker are allowed in the city and back into their homes. They serve a dual purpose, though, because it lets the Oakfield Police Department, which covers both East Oak and West Oak, know who is and is not a resident of the town. You’re considerably more likely to get pulled over if you don’t have the sticker than if you do, and if you are pulled over the sticker will sometimes help you get out of the ticket.


Some friends and I used to eat at an IHOP in Phillippi late at night on a regular basis. One of the games we would play would be calling “First!” whenever a cop would be pulling someone over on Tannon Road outside. On “Step Nights” it would happen 3-4 times an hour. I was dating Julie at the time and her father was a firefighter that knew a lot of cops. He would sometimes give me a heads up when it was Step Night, which was the term the PPD used when they’d put an extra emphasis on traffic enforcement. The PPD was legally prohibited from having traffic quotas, so what they would do was offer their officers overtime working traffic enforcements on certain weekend nights. They didn’t have to write any tickets, but if they didn’t they wouldn’t get to do the overtime the next Step Night because their overtime was being paid for, more-or-less, by the revenue from speeding tickets.

I’ve gotten maybe a dozen tickets in my life. Nine were while I was dating Julie and seven or so of those were on Tannon Road on a Step Night.


My Webmaster and I are having a conversation on the ins and outs of traffic law and traffic court on my post about wrongly convicted innocents.

Web takes great issue with the current system of traffic courts. I agree with him that it is very problematic (though we disagree as to the prosecutor’s culpability). The main problem is that traffic tickets are as often as not seem to be revenue-generators rather than attempts at keeping the roads safe.

Delosa has a great law on the books that prevents municipalities from getting too much of their revenue from traffic tickets by capping the city’s traffic revenue at 35% of the city’s entire revenue. This prevents cases where towns get to dodge tax and revenue issues by taxing passers-through by way of traffic tickets. The problem with the law is that it has loopholes the size of Alaska.

Delosa allows its residence to take Defensive Driving once a year to get out of a traffic ticket. The accused pays a $75 administrative fee and then $35-50 for defensive driving class. By the end you’re not paying much less than you would be for the ticket, but the advantage is that it doesn’t go on your driving record, so in that sense it’s a bargain. Some industrious municipalities also created something called Deferred Adjudication. If you get DA you pay an “administrative fee”, which is usually the cost of the ticket, and if you don’t get another ticket within 90 days it is dropped from your record (so again, the insurance company never hears about it).

The problem with DD and DA are that since they are “administrative fees” they don’t count towards the 35% revenue cap. Both programs are extremely popular because they are such a bargain compared to the alternative. In effect, though, they actually hurt drivers because it undoes the revenue cap and the ticket that they got off with DD or DA for they quite likely wouldn’t have gotten if the city wasn’t making money from it.

The other big loophole is that only municipalities are subject to the revenue cap. Delosa has several layers of law enforcement. There are city cops, constables, sheriffs, and state patrols. Only the cities are subject to the cap, and only cities have deferred adjudication because they’re the only ones that need it. So while the cities are limited, county constables (whose primary purpose are court bailiffs and court security) make no secret of the fact that their primary source if income is traffic tickets (they also are paid to police municipalities that don’t have their own police departments and enforce toll roads).

I recognize the unfairness that Web and others point out. I used to get really worked up about it, but I don’t as much as I used to. I’ve come to view traffic tickets as road fees of a sort that are weighted towards those that break the law. That being said, I’m very much in favor of closing the Deferred Adjudication loophole that help provide so much motivation for cops doing nothing but waiting for people to go a reasonable speed in a section of road with an unreasonable speed limit. People think that they’re getting away with something with DA, but in the end they’re pulled over more often than they otherwise might be and because it’s so infrequent that tickets appear on someone’s record the insurance companies act ferociously because they know that if you got caught and couldn’t DD or DA your way out of it, you’ve probably been pulled over several times without their knowing about it. In Deseret, where there weren’t nearly so many ways to get out of a ticket, insurance response to tickets was much more mild.

Because of the popularity, though, I don’t expect anything to be done about it. As much as the argument makes sense, it’s hard to convey the abstract truth that telling their insurance companies about their automotive misdeeds and raising taxes (which these jurisdictions would have to do to make up for the lost revenue) is a good idea.

Category: Courthouse

{In keeping with the policies of Hit Coffee: this post is about judicial impropriety, the appearance of same, and its contributions to public loss of faith in the judiciary. Please keep your comments to those grounds. No license to slag upon republicans, democrats, gay, straight, lgbt, polka-dotted, or anyone else is warranted or implied.}

Over in Slate, an article by Dahlia Lithwick regarding why Vaughn Walker’s late-breaking announcement that he is gay should not be used as a reason to re-try the Prop 8 case on the grounds that Walker should have either (a) recused or (b) revealed his preferences pre-trial so that the question of recusal could at least have been brought up in court.

Meanwhile, the recent revelations that Clarence Thomas’s wife is/was a lobbyist with Tea Party organizations and other right wing groups making sizable sums per year, and that Clarence Thomas himself has direct links to the Citizens United group… who he happily helped rule, in a 5-4 decision, were entitled to spend unlimited money influencing elections in the US.

As a third point impugning both Thomas and Walker: Judicial Code of Conduct, Canon 2, adopted in the Federal courts as well as every State court system: A Judge Should Avoid Impropriety and the Appearance of Impropriety in All Activities.

The appearance of impropriety is a strong problem. Politicians are regularly brought down, forced to resign or failing to re-elect, on the strength of an “appearance” of impropriety even if the letter of the law is not broken. Public officials of unelected nature often die on the vine in similar situations, forced to resign lest the elected officials who appointed/hired them face the same fate. When it comes to judicial impropriety, appearances do far worse; they make the citizenry distrust the courts. On a day-to-day basis, this much resembles the Badged Highwaymen conundrum, whereby citizens feel they do not get a “fair shake” without at least spending money on lawyers… who happen to be friends of judges and lawyers and cops… who, in essence, become the “gatekeepers” to actual justice, whether the facts are on the side of the citizens or not. In a larger picture, impropriety usually comes to the fore through stings: the cases of Thomas J Maloney and Mark Ciavarella come easily to mind.

More subtle, however, is the corrupting influence – whether payments to a spouse, or preferential treatment at events, will prejudice a judge. The comings and goings of other governmental employees, or spouses, routinely draw calls of corruption. The habit of lawyers for the almost-universally-despised RIAA to come and go from government positions, where they make often rulings that benefit the RIAA at the expense of common sense, and then leave to go to cushy, overpaid jobs at RIAA firms, certainly violate the appearance of impropriety. So, too, do the comings and goings of Wall Street personnel from Federal financial jobs, whether legal or accounting in nature.

And so we get around to Clarence Thomas and Vaughn Walker. Had Clarence Thomas and Antonio Scalia recused from the Citizens United case, what would the outcome be? We don’t know for certain, but it’s hard to imagine that those who believe CU was wrongly decided don’t have thousands of dollars worth of justification for their suspicion of impropriety. Likewise, despite Ms. Lithwick’s arguments – carefully constructed though they are – about why Vaughn Walker shouldn’t have recused, two things bug me. The first is that this argument should have been able to be brought before the trial even began; instead, the courtroom got its own annoying little sideshow whereby the judge’s supporters shouted an annoying cacophany of “he’s not” and “it doesn’t matter anyways.” Given how “revolutionary” his opinion was, given the accusations even from the beginning of the trial that he was trying to tilt the playing field… the appearance of impropriety, of bias, is a strong thing. Almost any other federal judge could have written the opinion Vaughn Walker wrote, and not had the appearance of impropriety that is fueling the current round of litigation. For the best results, a trial needs to be as evenhanded as possible. In the case of the Prop 8 trial, it seems that one side felt the tables were being tilted going in. Give them a “reason” to believe it was tilted, and you’ll never shake their faith that the game was rigged again. For this reason, I submit that Vaughn Walker was the wrong man to handle the trial.

Category: Courthouse
“Today, the ongoing duel between radar-and-laser-detecting drivers and cash-strapped municipalities is about to become even more one-sided, as states are approving the use of automated, unattended speed cameras. But what most drivers don’t realize is that they never really stood a chance to begin with.”

MSN Auto has a really good and pretty thorough piece on speeding that’s a worthy read. The subject of traffic enforcement is a staple here at Hit Coffee, so much so that Web recently commented to me that if we weren’t careful, we could write a post about it every day. That we call our series of posts on it “Badged Highwaymen” should tell you where we stand. It’s important that people that are dangers on the road be held accountable, but enforcement as it currently exists is mostly a game of cat and mouse. According to MSN Auto, it’s a game that we the mice are going to lose. The technology is getting so good that we no longer have to be trapped by a cop car hiding behind a giant rock or sign anymore.

Now a part of me is sympathetic to mass enforcement of the law. Indeed, one of the big problems I have with enforcement as it currently exists is that it is sporadic and selective. If there were uniform enforcement of the law with a small but reasonable fine every time you were caught and insurance companies wouldn’t view someone with a ticket as though they are Luke and Bo Duke, I might actually object to it less. Instead we have sporadic enforcement so that when you get caught it catches the attention of the insurance companies which often operate under the assumption that if you were caught doing it once, you are probably doing it all the time. Of course, one big caveat to all of this would be that speed limits would need to be reasonable. And on a deeper level, I would have to be convinced that it really is about more than revenue-enhancement.

One of the reasons that I might be more amenable to more uniform enforcement is that it would probably force some changes on the drivers’ side. I don’t just mean getting us to slow down, though that would be part of it. Rather, I mean that if speed limits were uniformly enforced, you would start seeing a lot more actions on the side of the drivers to get speed limits up to more reasonable speeds. We would demand better and more frequent speed limit postings. And an industry would likely set up to help drivers in their task.

One of the problems with speed limits and speed limit enforcement is that a lot of speeders genuinely don’t intend to be speeding. My main fear with uniform enforcement (other than speed traps) is that it would penalize drivers who do not intend to do anything wrong, do not realize they are doing anything wrong, and would prefer not be doing anything wrong. It’s easy enough to say “Well they should be mindful of their speed” but frankly, if they’re going 30mph on a 25mph road, I would prefer that they be more mindful of the road.

I think that technology could provide a sort of solution for this. We’re already almost there. Some GPS systems actually have the speed limits on roads in the device. If you go over it, it turns red. It mostly pertains to freeways, but there is no reason that we can’t get to the point where all speed limits are included. And instead of it turning read, it bwoops whenever you’re speeding. Other than data volume concerns, which I believe will be addressed with time, the main concern would be data collection. How do they get all of those speed limits.

Now, one way of looking at it is that law enforcement agencies should be anxious to give their speed limits to the GPS makers because that would help reduce speeding. And since they’re not in it for the money, they should be glad to do so free of charge. Right? Getting real for a moment, I honestly think that making that data easily and freely available to the GPS-makers (and anyone else) ought to be another form of posting the speed limit. In other words, if they want to enforce the speed limit, they need to give out the data (or make sure that somebody else did). Otherwise, it’s an unposted speed limit and the speeder can get the charges dismissed on those grounds.

Tthis would come with its own costs in addition to data collection and disclosure on the part of the authorities. If successful, cities would lose a lot of revenue. They would need to raise local taxes. Everyone that gets less than the average number of tickets that thinks that they won’t still end up paying for some of the same things that tickets pay for now are deluding themselves. The money has to come from somewhere. There would be fewer traffic cops sitting around in expensive cars generating that revenue, though there would still be savings. But the speed cameras would have to be paid for.

Of course, all of this assumes that most drivers would, if given notification when they are speeding and reasonable speed limits, slow down. I think that this is true more often than some folks think. Some people like to feel smugly cynical and assume the worst of people, but the reasons that people speed now are plenty. A rule that isn’t regularly enforced isn’t really a rule and speed limits are not regularly enforced. Regularly enforce them and people will look at them differently. They will be more likely to demand that the rules be more fair and they will, because the alternative is a much higher likelihood of getting caught, follow the rules that are in place. People are more willing to follow the rules when they know that everybody else will, too. There’s nothing more frustrating than being the only guy on the road going the speed limit.

Category: Road


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