Vermont Supreme Court Rules on Air Fresheners

The Vermont Supreme Court has ruled on a case that started with a pine-tree shaped air freshener. In State vs. Hurley, attorney David Scherr argued the Vermont law entitled "Obstructing Windshields" was too broad. The law bans anything be stuck on the windshield or hung from the rear-view mirror; that means a cop could pull you over for having an air freshener, a handicapped-placard or a GPS mounted on the glass. Hurley was convicted of a DUI after police pulled him over for having an air freshener hanging from his rear-view mirror. His case made it up to Vermont's highest court. In Friday's ruling, the Vermont Supreme Court upheld Hurley's DUI conviction but rejected the state's interpretation of the law. The Supreme Court justices decided police officers can now only stop drivers if the hanging or mounted item is actually obstructing the driver's view of the road. "I think this was a win for common sense, I think that's how most people think the law should be," Scherr said. He said the research he did to argue the case showed that most states agree with the Supreme Court's interpretation. "Which is that only times when the driver's view is actually obstructed, when there's actually a public safety concern...those are now the only times when someone can be pulled over." While the court sided with Hurley's argument, they ruled that the officer who pulled him over was reasonable in his interpretation of the law, and the traffic stop was upheld.

Pre-trial Diversion Programs for DUIs

In a recent Issue Brief, the staff at the Traffic Resource Center examines pre-trial diversion programs. The article highlights the differences seen in these programs from state to state. It also points out that in some states; both availability and eligibility for pre-trial diversion are not always uniform. The article also provides a helpful chart that looks closely at the statutory framework of programs in four states, as well as the criteria, process, conditions, duration and intended benefits of the programs.

Real DUI Trials Being Held in High Schools

Four California high schools will host real Driving Under the Influence court trials as part of a cooperative effort involving the Superior Court, District Attorney’s Office, Public Defender’s Office, Sheriff’s Office, County Probation Department, and participating school districts in Solano County. This is not a mock court, but rather an actual criminal trial. Conducting a real DUI trial in a high school setting is an innovative strategy to help reduce community alcohol problems, including motor vehicle crashes. Students will witness the legal consequences of drinking and driving, and learn about the defendant’s arrest, jailing, public trial and, if convicted, the imposed fines and penalties. They will also have an opportunity to learn more about the judicial branch of government. Following the trial, the judge will make a brief presentation and co-facilitate an interactive civics lesson. The intent is to allow for significant dialogue among the students, defendant, judge, attorneys, witnesses, law enforcement officers, teachers, and special guests.

Constitutionality of DUI Fee Law called into Question

In a March 9, 2015 report by a Tennessee NBC affliliate, the issue of money involved in thousands of DUI convictions is in the spotlight. The current state law allows the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) to receive an automatic $250 for test results leading to a conviction. Local attorney Jerry Summers says that law is unconstitutional. "The whole thing is to try to get people a fair trial," said Summers. "I'm not anti-dui enforcement." The issue has already been sent to a higher court, the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals, and Summers is asking the State Supreme Court to reach down and hear the case. It's something that could potentially affect all cases involving blood samples tested by the TBI. "There's a lot of money that could potentially be involved," Summers said. With over 20 of his clients, Summers is challenging the state DUI law that establishes a fee system for cases involving blood alcohol tests tested by the TBI. Summers argues the $250 fee per conviction violates due process. Now it's up to a higher court to decide. In TBI's latest DUI arrest report, there were nearly 30,000 DUI arrests last year. The report also notes an 89-percent conviction rate. Multiply that by 250, and if all those end up paying, it could be well over $6 million. Sixteen other states in the US have similar laws to the fee system one in question. Summers could appeal the issue up to the US Supreme Court.

Plan to Study use of License Suspension to Collect Court Debts Turfed
In Virginia, 37% of licenses suspensions in the state are due to unpaid fees/fines. The Virginia State Legislature wanted to know if suspensions were making it hard to pay off the court debts in the first place. On these points, the House and Senate were in agreement. The study plan collapsed, however, when the Senate insisted on having an equal number of seats on the study committee (4 House; 4 Senate) where the House wanted more (5 House; 3 Senate). The Senate refused to budge on this point and the plan to complete the study stalled.

Call for Article Submissions!!!

Trends in State Courts is an annual, peer-reviewed publication that highlights innovative practices in critical areas that are of interest to courts, and often serves as a guide for developing new initiatives and programs, and informing and supporting policy decisions. Trends is the only publication of its kind and enjoys a wide circulation among the state court community. It is distributed in hard copy and electronically. Submission for the monthly online version of Trends are welcomed. Please email abstracts of no more than 500 words to Deborah Smith at dsmith@ncsc.org for consideration. Visit the Trends in State Courts website at www.ncsc.org/trends 

NCSC Traffic Resource Center

The Traffic Resource Center is a cooperative effort between the Department of Transportation and the National Center for State Courts (NCSC) to establish a resource for judges, court administrators, court clerks, and other court staff on issues related to traffic adjudication. It is an integrated clearinghouse of information as well as a training and technical assistance resource to improve court decision-making and processing of traffic cases involving impaired driving, drugged driving, distracted driving, and commercial driving. The purpose of the Traffic Resource Center website is to provide a useful, ready reference for judges new to the bench or recently assigned to traffic cases, who may need quick access to accurate and timely information until they can receive more formal, structured education.

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