No Insurance Tickets – Don’t Take Them Lightly

Unfortunately, one easy way to get your driver license suspended is to plead guilty to a no insurance or failure to provide proof of financial responsibility ticket.   I just had a client come in this week who is very close to suspension because he pled guilty to a no insurance ticket and a speeding ticket a few months ago.  By just paying those tickets, he got seven points put on his driver record.  Unluckily for him he was pulled over last week for a 2 point moving violation and if he pleads guilty by simply paying for the ticket, he’ll mostly like lose his license for thirty days or more.

In Missouri, no insurance tickets are four points and in Kansas they also can result in an automatic suspension of your license.  What most people don’t know is if they had insurance at the time they got the ticket or if they can show proof of current insurance, a lawyer can help them avoid the heavy toll of a no insurance ticket.  Of course, it is always best to keep your car insurance current and remember to carry proof of insurance with you.  If you have gotten one of these kinds of tickets, it is probably best for you to call a lawyer to see what can be done in your situation.  Lastly, if you have been suspended for a no insurance ticket and you would like to go back and undo your previous guilty plea, lawyer can help with that also and get your suspension lifted quickly.

Thanks for reading.

Resources:

My Traffic Website

Missouri Guide to Points

Kansas Department of Revenue FAQ

Driving While Suspended Tickets – A Vicious Cycle

I handle a lot of driving while suspended (“DWS”) tickets.  Sometimes it seems like they are as common as speeding tickets, but the impact on my clients is much more serious.  A driver can have his license suspended for a variety of reasons, but I think the most common is for “failure to appear” (ignoring a ticket).

The second most common situation that creates license suspensions is an accumulation of points or moving violations.  If you are a chronic speeder, 2 points per ticket adds up quickly and remember just paying a no insurance ticket can result in 4 points on your Missouri driving record.

No matter the basis for the suspension, the most difficult part of these cases is that people drive around unaware that their license is suspended because they have not updated their address with the Department of Revenue.  Usually my clients don’t find out they are suspended until they are pulled over and an officer tells them they are suspended.

Taking care of these tickets is usually pretty routine and can be made easier by getting reinstated before you head to court.  Reinstatement usually means addressing the underlying issue creating the suspension – like paying the ticket you ignored.  You will usually have to pay a fee to the State and may be required to submit and SR22.  If you have accumulated too many tickets in a period of time, it may be necessary to hire a lawyer to go back and deal with those tickets also.

The main issue though is that once you get that first DWS ticket and you continue to drive, knowing your are suspended, you are likely to accumulate more and more of the same tickets.  Trust me, the police have a 6th sense for finding drivers how are not properly licensed.  You might think running a quick errand is low risk, but eventually you are going to get caught and that DWS ticket is very hefty.  These tickets are 12 points in Missouri and if you plead guilty, you will automatically be suspended for another year.

You see what I mean about a vicious cycle?  Once you are suspended and you continue to get tickets for DWS you can make it impossible to ever get reinstated.  The more of these tickets you accumulate, the higher penalties you face, including jail time, high fines, years of probation, and community service.

You can avoid this cycle by not driving unless you are properly licensed and always keeping your address with the Department of Revenue updated.  Lastly call a lawyer who can help you figure out why you are suspended and what you need to do to get reinstated.   By a calling a lawyer, you can avoid the hefty toll pleading guilty to a DWS ticket will have on your driving record.

Negotiating Your Own Plea in Kansas

Don't end up riding the bus.

My practice exists in a bi-state area and consequently I get to see two side of one important issue when it comes to traffic tickets.  That issue is self-representation.  In Missouri prosecutor’s usually will not speak to an unrepresented defendant.  This means drivers who get a Missouri ticket don’t have the opportunity to try to negotiate their own plea agreement.  Kansas is opposite.  In most Kansas cities and counties, the prosecutor will speak to an unrepresented defendant and tell them if they are eligible for diversion or some other sort of plea offer. 

This sounds great for those who have received a ticket in Kansas, but I want those with more serious tickets to be wary about representing themselves.  For simple tickets, like speeding, first time offenders are usually eligible for diversion in Kansas.  Local prosecutor’s offices even have applications for diversion online so that you can apply before going to court.  In these cases, your options are pretty straightforward.   For a modest fee, the prosecutor’s office will dismiss its case against you if you do not commit a similar offense within the next year.

I think this a good route to go for simple tickets, because the defendant knows what the consequences will be.  However, for more serious tickets like driving with a suspended license, defendants may not know what they are getting into.  I had a potential client call a few weeks ago.  She has is a Missouri resident who was pulled over in Kansas for driving while suspended.  She was afraid of jail time and was happy to find out that she could talk to the prosecutor about her options for the ticket.  She worked out a deal with the prosecutor, to plead guilty to the driving while suspended ticket, and to pay a fine.  She was relieved to avoid jail, but soon learned that her license in Missouri was going to be suspended for another 12 months.

She called because she didn’t know what her options were.  No one told her that when she pled guilty it would results in 12 points going on her Missouri license and an automatic one-year suspension.  That’s the trap you are getting into when negotiating your own plea.  Do you know all of the consequences?  Of course you can ask when speaking with the prosecutor what the effect of the plea will be on your driving record, but if you are licensed in one state and ticketed in another, that prosecutor might not know what the effect will be in your home state.

Had this particular woman hired a lawyer, she most likely would have avoided jail time, paid a fine, and plead to a lesser offense that would not have resulted in 12 points going against her Missouri license.  She would have known all of the consequences of her plea before she took the deal.  Now her only option is to request a hardship license, and hope the State grants it or hire an attorney to withdraw her previous guilty plea and make things right – albeit at a much higher cost.

Take a Cost-Benefit Analysis When Deciding How to Handle Your Traffic Ticket

I’ve gotten more than the usual amount of callers this week who want to fight their traffic ticket by pleading not guilty and asking for a trial.  I usually advise people that it is not worth it to hire an attorney for a traffic ticket trial because your chances of winning are relatively low.  No, I don’t’ have a break down of the numbers, but I want drivers to try to take a step back and consider the risks and benefits of their course of action. 

I know, when you get pulled over and you are hopping mad about getting a ticket, it’s difficult to set your emotions aside and decide what you should do.  Here’s my advice — when you were pulled over, it was not personal, that officer is doing his or her job and it is very unlikely they were targeting you specifically. 

Poor Excuses

The following excuses will not hold up in traffic court:

1) I was going with the flow of traffic.  This is never a good defense, the speed limit is the speed limit, it doesn’t matter how many others were speeding along with you.

2) I was unfairly targeted by police.  Maybe you were, but in a court of law, will the judge care?  Probably not.  It’s a harsh reality, but it’s the world we live in.

3) I was speeding because of an emergency.  Never a good excuse and can rarely be proven.  Trust me, that officer has heard it all, and even if you weren’t lying when you said that your granny is in the emergency room, the officer won’t care and neither will the judge.

Here are your options when you get a ticket.  1.  You can plead guilty by paying your ticket by mail or in person.  2.  You can plead guilty by appearing at your court date and pleading guilty, in which case you will most likely also be responsible for court costs.  2.  You can ask for a trial, try to defend yourself – you may be found not guilty, you may not.  3.  You can hire a lawyer to represent you. 

If you hire a lawyer to represent you, that lawyer can defend you at trial or negotiate a plea bargain.  I estimate that about 99% of traffic cases that lawyers handle are plea bargained.  Why?  Because the risk of being found guilty, along with cost of an attorney, and fines and court costs you will most likely have to pay after you are found guilty are not worth it.  Furthermore, you are going to be really angry with that attorney for not getting you off after you paid lots of money to be defended.  I don’t mean to sound harsh, but most people who are ticketed, are guilty.  It’s a traffic ticket, not a capital murder case.

Advantages to Hiring a Lawyer

1.  Missouri Points and Kansas Moving Violations:  in most plea bargain situations, a Missouri driver gets to avoid points on his license or a Kansas driver gets to avoid having a moving violation appear on her record.

2.  Certainty: you get to know what will happen with your ticket, there is no risk of an unexpected outcome.

3.  Reduced Costs: paying a lawyer for a plea bargain is much cheaper than paying for a trial.

4. Convenience: when you hire a lawyer, in most cases you will not have to appear in court, your ticket can be handled over the phone or by mail. 

5. Avoid Added Costs: if you just pay that ticket or are found guilty, you will receive points or a moving violation, which will appear on your driving record.  Having an unclean driving record can increase your car insurance rates and can threaten your ability to work if a clean driving history is required for your job.

Going For It

When should I go for it and plead not guilty?  I think the best situation to plead not guilty and ask for a trial are those rare occasions where the ticket was not justified.  Mistakes happen, but remember they are rare.  The second situation is accident tickets, if you are issued a ticket from a traffic accident that was not your fault, do not plead guilty to that ticket.  There is a lot more on the line in these cases than a fine and your driving record. 

Remember these are just my opinions, and shouldn’t be construed as legal advice.  You should always consult an attorney about your specific case and that attorney can advise you of your rights and the options for your ticket.

Traffic Ticket Woes for the Randolph, MO Budget

Courtesy of google maps
Randolph, MO Pop. 50 (2000)

Many small towns rely on traffic enforcement as part of the city budget, but apparently the city of Randolph, MO has been relying too heavily on that particular stream of revenue.  According to State of Missouri law, revenue from ticketing on state or federal highways that exceeds 35% of a city budget, must go back to the State.  That is a problem for Randolph because nearly three-quarters of the tickets issued there are for Highway 210 and Interstate 435 and the City has not been giving excess revenue back to the State of Missouri.

Of course, most towns and small cities would argue that ticketing is about safety and it is — to a certain extent.  However, it is hard to see that rationale in a city that derived more than 80% of it revenue from ticketing in 2009.  More so, the ticketing is not occurring on city streets, where it would seem that safety is an even more important consideration.

Cass Co., MO Man Sues UMB Over Overdraft Fees

Alleging UMB Bank “unfairly manipulated transactions to generate more overdraft fees,” a  Missouri man is now plaintiff in a class action lawsuit against the bank.  The lawsuit alleges that David Johnson, plaintiff, had $819.67 in his account on a Friday in June of 2009.  He made $697.93 worth of debit card purchases over the weekend, and even made a deposit of $94.00.  But by Monday, Johnson had incurred $612.00 worth of overdraft fees for 17 transactions, some as low as 85 Cents.

Johnson’s suit alleges the bank manipulates transactions and account balances in order to push the account into overdraft status.  He claims the bank violated the terms of its own contract, violated Missouri consumer law banning unfair and deceptive practices, and was unjustly enriched by its policies.

Johnson is not alone, a federal lawsuit against Wells Fargo went to trial last Friday, and will test the viability of claims against the bank based on California law.  Several other class-actions against multiple banks were consolidated into one case in Florida before the California case went to trial. 

In March, Bank of America announced it would stop ordering transactions so that large amounts are ordered first.  This practice is also alleged in the Missouri and California cases and occurs when banks order multiple transactions, not by time, but by dollar amount, so that the customer’s account is depleted faster.

Unfortunately, the economic downturn has really made people look up and see where they’re money is going.  Banks have been using these tactics for years, with little complaint.  People complain about greedy plaintiff’s lawyers but nothing else has stopped this practice.  Federal lawmakers have discussed reform, but nothing has gone through.  I also believe State’s Attorneys Generals should have been involved in protecting consumers against these kinds of practices, but nothing has been done in that arena either.

If you are unhappy with your bank, shop around.  Find a bank that is clear about their overdraft fees or even find one that doesn’t have overdraft fees at all.  This will really have effect on the system more so that lawsuits or new legislation.

Read more about the Missouri caseRead more about the California and Florida cases.

Tort Reform Safe for Now in Missouri

A March 23, 2010 Missouri Supreme Court decision held that Missouri’s tort reform law passed in 2005 did not apply to plaintiffs retroactively.  James and Mary Klotz sued James’ doctor and the hospital after he contracted a staph infection following a pacemaker procedure in 2004. 

The Klotzes won their lawsuit after the jury found malpractice, but the trial court applied the 2005 law’s cap on non-economic damages and limited recovery for the Klotzes to $350,000,  even though the jury returned a verdict in excess of $2 million.  The Supreme Court reversed, holding the non-economic damage cap did not apply because the Klotzes’ claim arose in 2004.

In two concurring opinions, Judges Michael Wolf and Richard Teitelman found fault with the 2005 law.  Judge Wolf believes the law limits the right to a jury trial and Judge Teitelman found the law violates equal protection standards because it adversely affects the poor, elderly and minorities.   See more from insurancejournal.com.

The Supreme Court for the State of Georgia recently struck down a tort reform law there.  Georgia also implemented a non-economic damage cap of $350,000.  The Court there found the damage cap violated the right to trial by jury because it interfered with the jury’s role in determining damages.  See this article from American Medical News.

Likewise, the State of Illinois struck down a cap on non-economic damages in February 2010.  In that case, the Court found the legislature violated state requirements for separation of powers, in that the power to determine damages should be reserved for the judicial branch.  More from the nytimes.com.

Tort reform was implemented in Missouri in 2005, when House Bill 393 was signed into law.  The impetus for the bill was a widespread belief that medical malpractice claims and judgments were leading to ever-increasing malpractice insurance rates and driving doctors out of the state.  The bill not only imposed caps on non-economic damages, it also capped punitive damage awards and set the statute of limitations for bringing claims to two years.

So has tort reform worked in Missouri?  According to an August 2009 article from the Kansas City Star, medical malpractice insurance premiums are down, fewer malpractice cases are being filed, and total jury awards in alpractice cases have also gone down.  But, as the article points out, this is only a small “drop in the bucket” for total healthcare spending, which is skyrocketing. 

While the Missouri Supreme Court only decided the most recent case on the issue of retroactivity, the two concurring opinions seem to be a direct invitation for plaintiff’s attorneys to challenge the law on right to jury trial and equal protection grounds.  It will also be interesting to see how the recent passage of the federal healthcare bill will affect the filing of malpractice claims altogether.