Messing with the stoplight thieves

June 7, 2010 | By | 4 Replies More

About a month ago I was traveling East on Manchester Road in St. Louis County, Missouri. I decided to make a right at New Ballwin Road but the light was red. I put on my brakes, slowed down to where my speedometer went to zero. I flipped on the signal, looked left and right and then made my turn. There was an officer several cars across from me as I made my turn and I had seen him as I stopped. I thought nothing of his presence until he hit his lights and pulled me over.

The officer was completely professional and courteous as he wrote me a ticket for not coming to a complete stop before making my right turn on red. I asked the officer whether he was a traffic officer or a regular patrol officer and he identified himself as a traffic officer. You see, traffic officers are those which choose to lay about in wait for giving tickets to unsuspecting alleged lawbreakers. Traffic officers do not arrest burglars, robbers or kidnappers or such unless there’s no one else to call upon for assistance. Traffic officers write tickets which generate revenues and make the city not have to raise other taxes or fees for their citizens.

The ticket was allegedly for my not making any “complete cessation from movement” before making the right turn. I explained to the officer that I had ceased all forward momentum, turned on my signal, looked around and safely made my turn and that as for any “complete cessation from movement,” that was not possible in our physical universe. The officer and I debated the language of the ordinance, which he said was not as I had told him.

Some readers know that I am an attorney. The whole “complete cessation from movement” thing seems like a scam so I did a little research. It seems that any “complete cessation from movement” actually does not naturally occur in our universe. At approximately – 459.67 degrees Fahrenheit (0 degrees Kelvin) molecular motion is slowed to its minimum but, such motion never stops.

So, I entered my own appearance to represent my self (notwithstanding the adage about lawyers and fools!) and filed a Motion to Dismiss the prosecution because the issue of whether there were any “complete cessation from movement” was open to an ad hoc resolution by any traffic cop, prosecutor, judge or jury that comes along wanting a few Tim stimulus dollars for the local economy. Just so, as was in my case here; I applied the brakes so as to stop all forward momentum but, the officer says I didn’t have a “complete cessation from movement.”

It seems the ordinance I’m dealing with comes from some common book of ordinances and my issue is open in almost every municipality in the United States! I called the University of Missouri Physics Department and a very nice person told me that it was not possible for there to be a “complete cessation from movement.” I then asked about Dr, Chu’s experiment where it is claimed he stopped an atom but, I was told that was only in relation to the movement of the Earth not the universe as a whole. The nice person agreed that in an absolute sense I was correct that there could never be any “complete cessation from movement” but, that insofar as it related to my individual automobile the sub-atomic molecular movement which would be constant is not currently measurable by our science. I don’t know if that hurts or helps but, I report it all here in the interest of completeness. Below is my “Motion to Dismiss”:

Prosecution of defendant for “Violated electric signal-operator failed to stop on the red traffic control signal prior to right turn on red” under the circumstances of this case violates Defendant’s rights to due process and equal protection as guaranteed under the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments of the US Constitution and Article I, Sections 2, 10 and 18(a) of the Missouri Constitution.

The ordinance Section 15-345 fails to provide fair notice of what conduct is prohibited and fails to provide adequate and explicit standards as to what conduct constitutes a violation of the enactment. Defendant here allegedly failed to have a “complete cessation from movement” at the red traffic control signal prior to right turn of red, which he denies.

A vague law impermissibly delegates basic policy matters to policemen, judges and juries on an ad hoc basis, with the attending dangers of arbitrary and discriminating application. Grayned v. City of Rockford, 408 U.S. 104, 108-9 (1972); Postscript Enterprises v. Whaley, 658 F2d 1249 (8th Cir.1981) (emphasis in original).

[A} statute may be vague to the point of unconstitutionality in one of two ways: (1) [if] it does not give a person of ordinary intelligence a reasonable opportunity to comply with the law. In effect there is no notice of what the law requires, and (2) if the law Alacks explicit standards for its application and thereby creates the danger it will be imposed on an ad hoc basis, with the risk if arbitrary and discriminatory enforcement. Brockert v. Skornika, 711 F2d 1376, 1381 (7th Cir. 1983).

Section 15-345, as charged, does not define what conduct is to be prevented by the enactment. No strict definitions of Astopped or Astop” are in the City of Ballwin Municipal Code. The Code says;

Sec. 1-2. Definitions.
The following words, terms and phrases, when used in this Code, shall have the meanings ascribed to them in this section, except where the context clearly indicates a different meaning:

“Stop. The word “stop,” when required, means complete cessation from movement.”

The enactment has an incomplete and inaccurate description of the physical universe which outlaws numerous and various acts or omissions in the opinions of police officers, prosecutors, judges and juries to be resolved on an ad hoc basis. There cannot be “… where the context clearly indicates a different meaning…” any “…complete cessation from movement” of any object in the physical universe; the object must either be annihilated or frozen to below zero degrees Kelvin (approx. -459.67 degrees F, the temperature at which nearly all molecular movement stops), which is impossible.

When violations carry criminal penalties, a strict test of specificity is applied in reviewing the vagueness of a statute.@ Village of Hoffman Estates v. Flipside, 455 U.S. 489, 498 (1982). A[T]here is a continuum of tolerance for vagueness. Vagueness is least tolerable in laws … that impose criminal penalties.@ (emphasis added). Brockert v. Skornika, Supra.

WHEREFORE, Defendant prays this court to enter its order, judgment and decree that the City of Ballwin Municipal Code Section 15-345 for traffic violations of “Violated electric signal-operator failed to stop on the red traffic control signal prior to right turn on red” are unconstitutionally void for vagueness as applied to the defendant in this cause and to dismiss such charges with prejudice.

I sent this all off to the city prosecutor who agreed that the case could be dismissed upon my payment of costs. I had done the same thing when I had been handling traffic matters for another small municipality in St. Louis County. Most defendants will just pay the costs rather than show up for a trial or motion docket, wait all night, likely lose and then certify the case to a higher court which starts the whole thing over again. And, if you lose, then there’s the issue of any appeal. But, since the issue from the beginning is whether the ordinance is constitutionally invalid, the Missouri Supreme Court has original jurisdiction (then on to the US Supreme Court!). I figure my time in the various courts would be about 40 hours. I bill my time at $200.00 per hour. So, do I pay the costs (about $60) or spend some $8,000.00 of my time in a potentially failed effort to redeem my honor and spare others less fortunate than I the travails of the perfidy of the stoplight thieves?



Category: Culture, Humor, Science

About the Author ()

imothy E. Hogan is a trial attorney, a husband, a father of two awesome children and a practicing Roman Catholic in St. Louis, Missouri. Mr. Hogan has done legal and political work in Jefferson City, Missouri for partisan and non-partisan social change, environmental and consumer protection groups. Mr. Hogan has also worked for consumer advocate Ralph Nader in Washington, DC and the members of the trial bar in the State of New York. Mr. Hogan’s current interests involve remaining a full time solo practitioner pioneer on the frontiers of justice in America, a good husband and a good father to his awesome children.

Comments (4)

Trackback URL | Comments RSS Feed

  1. Brynn Jacobs says:

    I say fight the man, but it's not my $8,000 on the line 🙂

    Reminds me of another item that's been in the news lately: the Ohio Supreme court ruled that police can now issue speeding tickets based on an officer's visual estimation of one's speed. (source)

    In what has to be one of the biggest violations of common sense and burden of proof in motoring news this year, the Ohio Supreme Court has ruled that officers can “visually estimate” how fast a person is driving… and give them a ticket for it.

    Thanks Ohio Supreme Court for giving cops the green light to make up speeding tickets.

    Supreme Court Justice Maureen O’Connor said “Rational triers of fact could find a police officer’s testimony regarding his unaided visual estimation of a vehicle’s speed, when supported by evidence that the officer is trained, certified by (the Ohio Peace Officer Training Academy) or a similar organization, and experienced in making such estimations, sufficient to establish beyond a reasonable doubt the defendant’s speed. Independent verification of the vehicle’s speed is not necessary to support a conviction for speeding.”

  2. Ben says:

    Is it just the monetary fine or will they put points on your license?

    If it is just a fine, then pay it. If there is points attached, then contest it. I don't know if you need all the legal mumbo-jumbo, just speak your case to the judge.

    I'm guessing you didn't come to a complete stop in this situation. Your car was probably *visibly* still rocking from the suspension absorbing the force of the carriage against it. (Incidentally that is how I drive also, unless I see a cop or there is somebody following too close behind me — then I come to a COMPLETE STOP in relation to the ROAD).

    If you ever get into an accident and you don't have insurance, just wave any piece of paper you have because the other guy may also not have insurance. (joke from tv's "last comic standing")

  3. Erich Vieth says:

    They ought to take all the revenue collectors disguised as police officers and give them different uniforms from the officers who are really keeping us safe from burglaries and violent crimes. Take away their badges so that no one mistakes them for real law enforcement officers. Paste a big orange sign on their backs saying something like "I'm NOT a police officer" or "I run speed traps to take your money, not for safety."

    Then, when they lie that you broke a traffic law, or even when they are in the process of hammering you for s-l-o-w-l-y rolling through a stop sign, you can say, "What seems to be the problem, NOT-officer?"

  4. Niklaus Pfirsig says:

    Something about the "complete cessation of movement" requirement made me think of Isaac Asimov's sci-fi mystery "The Billiard Ball".

Leave a Reply