Thanks so much for this N&O series concerning speeding on North Carolina roads. I hope that our legislators take notice. Speeding has become a serious problem on our state's highways. It is almost impossible to drive the posted speed limits in this state without being in fear of your life. We are not held accountable by the courts.
If the courts are overwhelmed, or if district court judges, who are elected, fear the voters then our state legislators should step in and ease this burden. For example, what about setting up traffic courts that are led by a magistrate? Let the General Assembly set the bounds as to how these cases can be disposed. No more falsely reducing speeding tickets to improper equipment or dismissing outright after you are caught red-handed for speeding. If a person has a clean record, and deserves a break, then these traffic courts can use something like a PJC. At least, a PJC will give some incentive not to walk out of court and start speeding again.
Please continue to report on this subject beyond the series itself and keep the momentum going. Because if you don't, the people who can make a difference will forget and it will be business as usual.
I have found your recent series of articles on speeding to be quite interesting given a current situation that I have found myself in. I am a resident of Chapel Hill. In January of this year, I was given a ticket for speeding in Pennsylvania while on a business trip for allegedly going 81 mph in a 65 mph zone. I was not the individual who was actually speeding at the time—there was a vehicle that was passing me up that was speeding, and the Pennsylvania state trooper [who was traveling in the opposite direction at the time of the alleged violation], pulled me over after coming across the median for pursuit.
Because it would have been prohibitively expensive to travel back to Pennsylvania to contest this ticket, I paid the $157.00 ticket charge but did not sign the back of the ticket where you enter a guilty plea. About two months after having paid the fine to Pennsylvania, I received a letter from the North Carolina Department of Transportation informing me that my license was being suspended for 30 days because I had been convicted of speeding more than 15 mph over the speed limit in another state. I also would have to pay a $50.00 fine to get my license back at the end of the 30-day period. The law that states this is NC General Statute 20-16(a) & 20-23.
Aside from the many constitutional law issues that this application of North Carolina law obviously poses, I find it ironic that all of those accused of speeding in North Carolina get their “day in court,” while those that live in North Carolina but get accused of speeding outside of North Carolina are penalized twice—once by having to pay a fine to the other state and then again by having to have their license suspended and pay an additional fine to North Carolina. In my situation, I face double jeopardy for the same alleged speeding violation, and in both instances, I do not get my “day in court.” I would imagine that your readers would be very surprised to learn that they will be penalized worse by North Carolina for speeding out of state than they are if caught speeding in-state.
In July 2006, I was stopped going east on I-540. I was puzzled. I had just gotten on the highway and gone maybe a mile before I was pulled over. The officer (a state trooper) didn't tell me why he pulled me right away. He took my information, then called me back to his car over his loudspeaker. Did I mention that I had my 5-year-old in the back seat? I didn't think it was a good idea to leave him alone on the side of an interstate, but I did as I was told. It was then that he pointed out the 97 on his clocking device. My jaw dropped. I did go down a ramp to get on the highway, but I know my speedometer didn't go above 75. He had to have clocked someone else and pulled me by mistake. When I asked him if this could have been the case, he adamantly denied that as even a possibility and launched into a long explanation dealing with tire rotation and the recent calibration of his equipment.
My son was terrified that I was going to jail. I kept reassuring him that the officer was just doing his job and tried to be a role model of how to show respect to law enforcement. Underneath my calm exterior, I was furious and worried to death I was going to lose my license for something I didn't do.
The next morning, after I calmed down, I examined the ticket and discovered he had clocked me at Creedmoor Road. I didn't even get on I-540 until Six Forks Road. It was obvious that he made a mistake. I called a couple attorneys I had been told were the best in the business. Both had horrible things to say about this particular trooper. And both advised me to plead to a lesser charge because going to trial was going to be my word against his and there was the possibility I would lose and lose my license. What? This was a simple error on the trooper's part. Why can't they just say "oops" and make it go away like at the phone company? Apparently, the law doesn't work that way.
I hired one of the lawyers, paid him $350 and had to take time off of work to sit in traffic court one afternoon a month only for the case to be continued each time. (Because of the severity of the crime, I had to be there in person.) And during all of this time, I never once met my attorney. Just talked to him for a total of about 7 minutes on the phone. In February (7 months later), I finally got my turn. My attorney was ready. Our first consult in the hallway consisted of me explaining my innocence, the exact same story I'd e-mailed him 7 months earlier that was surely sitting in his folder. He seemed convinced, but prepared me that we may be looking at 40 hours of community service unless I wanted to risk losing my license. I wanted to stand tall on principle -- I didn't do it, I'm not going to admit that I did -- but I have two young children I need to shuffle to school and appointments and I work 30 miles away. After shedding a few tears about my fate, I said, "Okay. Preserve my license."
One other unforeseen circumstance was the trooper had mistakenly been assigned to another courtroom. My lawyer was fighting for me and the judge may have let me off completely, except without the trooper there to admit he could have made a mistake, he couldn't let me go scot-free. He did lessen the sentence to 24 hours community service to be completed by June. My lawyer assured me my insurance rates wouldn't go up and this wouldn't show up on my record. I don't mind volunteering. I actually like giving back to the community. But everything I've done to serve out this sentence I resent with a passion. It's turning out to be a year of my life affected by this mistake. When I add it all up (attorney fee, parking, gas, lost wages), I spent $6,185 to fight something I didn't even do. And I still had to "serve time."