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Top Massachusetts Court Upholds Pretextual Traffic Stops in Commonwealth v. Buckley

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court recently declined to hold that a traffic stop, conducted for a legitimate traffic violation, may not always meet the grounds for a "reasonable" "seizure" according to the constitution of Massachusetts. In Commonwealth v. Buckley, decided on February 14, 2018, the Court rejected the argument that a traffic stop, seemingly made for pretextual reasons, violated the defendant's constitutional protections against unreasonable seizure. In this case, the defendant was a passenger in a vehicle that was stopped for speeding after police observed the vehicle's occupants leaving an apartment suspected of housing drug activity. Once pulled over, the driver consented to a search of the car, at which point police found a firearm and cocaine. The defendant moved to suppress evidence from the traffic stop, but was unsuccessful, and was subsequently convicted of possession of cocaine. On appeal, while the Supreme Judicial Court acknowledged defendant's concerns about the role of racial profiling in pretextual traffic stops, the Court found that creating a new standard for the reasonableness of seizures in cases where there was a valid traffic violation would lead to legally inconsistent results and that defendant's constitutional rights were not violated. You can read the opinion of the court here, and for more background, you can read a Reuters article about the decision here. To read the ACLU's amicus brief in the case, click here; to see their statement about the ruling in the case, click here.

Delaware Considers Becoming Second State to Lower BAC Limit for DUI to 0.05

Delaware State Representative Joseph Miro has introduced a bill in the Delaware House to lower the state's BAC limit for DUI from 0.08 to 0.05. If the bill passes, Delaware would be the second state in the country to lower its limit for DUI from 0.08 to 0.05 (though this limit is the standard throughout most of Europe). Food, beverage, and tourism industry lobbying groups have suggested that criminalizing driving between 0.05 and 0.08 fails to address the real dangerous drivers on the road and that services such as Uber and Lyft have cut down on the prevalence of impaired driving. Similar criticisms have been leveled at Utah's 0.05 law, the first in the nation, which is scheduled to take effect at the end of 2018. Utah Governor Gary Herbert recently said that he thinks there is almost no chance that Utah legislators will repeal or delay implementation of that bill, something that had been previously discussed. Click here to read the text of the proposed Delaware law; to track its progress throughout the legislature, see this page from the Delaware General Assembly. For an article about the proposed changes from the Wilmington, DE News Journal, click here.

Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Courts Finds Search Under Car's Air Filter Unconstitutional

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled in Commonwealth v. Ortiz that police impermissibly searched under the hood of a defendant's car after receiving consent to perform a search of the car. In this case, police stopped the defendant and asked if there was anything "in the vehicle" that they should know about. Defendant said no, and said that police could look in the car. Police then searched the car, and when they found nothing in the interior of the car, popped the hood and removed the air filter, at which point they found a bag containing two firearms. The defendant challenged the admissibility of the evidence procured from the traffic stop, and the trial court found that the defendant had limited the scope of his consent to the search to the inside of the car and that searching under the hood was a constitutionally impermissible search. It thereby excluded the evidence from the search and also excluded defendant's statements to police as the "fruit of the poisonous tree," at which point the Commonwealth filed an interlocutory appeal of the ruling. In its ruling, the Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the lower court's ruling that a reasonable person, when consenting to a search of one's car, would expect the search to be limited to the interior of the vehicle, namely the passenger compartment and the trunk of the vehicle, and that the defendant had not consented to a search under the hood of his car. As such, the lower court's order to grant the motion suppressing defendant's statements to police and the weapons found under the air filter was affirmed. You can read the opinion here.

Virginia Kills Private Property DUI Law

The Virginia House Courts of Justice subcommittee recently killed a bill that would have allowed alcohol-impaired driving on one's own private property. In its original form, Senate Bill 308 would have made it legal to drive while impaired on any private property in the Commonwealth. That version of the bill was killed at the end of January, but was subsequently resurrected in an amended form. The new version of the bill would have permitted impaired driving on one's own residential property or the curtilage thereof, and this version of the bill passed the Senate in early February. The bill then advanced to the House subcommittee, where anti-impaired driving groups continued to speak out against the bill. The subcommittee finally voted for the bill to be passed by indefinitely by a vote of 7-0 on March 2, 2018, killing it for the rest of the legislative session.

Study Shows Florida Law Helps Prevent Pedestrian Deaths

A new study in the American Journal of Public Health has found that a Florida law requiring the needs of pedestrians and cyclists to be considered while designing and building new roads has helped significantly decrease pedestrian fatalities since it was implemented. Researchers with the University of Georgia College of Public Health found that while pedestrian fatalities have increased nationwide as a percentage of traffic deaths in recent years, Florida's pedestrian fatality rates have dropped significantly--more than other places in the United States--since it passed its Complete Streets law in 1984. The study estimates that the statute saved over 3,500 lives in the 29 years between its passage and the end of the period for which data was available. For an article that summarizes more key findings from the article, click here. To view the abstract for the study, click here.

Providence Courthouse Swarmed After City Installs Traffic Cameras

The city of Providence, Rhode Island installed fifteen traffic cameras around the city in January, which recorded over 12,000 speeding tickets in just over a month, a per capita rate approximately 27 times higher than neighboring Massachusetts. On Monday, March 5, 2018, when the first round of citations were due to be heard in court, thousands of people with citations descended on Providence's Public Safety Complex, many of them very unhappy with the process. Comments elicited from members of the crowd ranged from comparing the traffic cameras to "political terrorism" and "ambush mines" to concerns about some people's ability to pay the $95 fine to suggestions that those present "should start a revolution." The judge in charge of the morning's session was forced to enlist another judge to handle the evening's cases, and the court was forced to schedule those who declined to pay the fine and insisted on their innocence for hearings at a later date. City officials have subsequently discussed modifications to the program, and a Rhode Island lawmaker has introduced a bill to stop the use of traffic cameras by repealing the 2005 law which authorized their use. To read more about the efforts to stop traffic cameras in Rhode Island, click here, and to read more about the chaos in the courthouse in Providence as it attempted to hear thousands of traffic cases, see this article from the Boston Globe.

Self-Driving Uber Kills Pedestrian in Arizona

A self-driving Uber car hit and killed a woman in Tempe, Arizona on March 18, 2018. The woman is believed to be the first pedestrian fatality as a result of self-driving technology. The Uber car was in autonomous mode, but had a human safety driver in the car. The victim was crossing a street outside of a crosswalk when the car hit her. After the incident, Uber suspended its tests of self-driving vehicles in four locations. The incident raises new questions about laws surrounding the testing of autonomous vehicles just as California is poised next month to follow Arizona's lead in allowing tests of autonomous vehicles without a safety driver behind the wheel. The NTSB will be also investigating the crash. For more on the crash, see this article from the New York Times.

NCSC Traffic Resources - New Videos!

If you are not familiar with our Traffic Resource Center for Judges, we invite you to take a few minutes to browse the website here. We have recently uploaded the first two videos in a series of six videos on topics related to impaired driving adjudication. The videos were filmed in NCSC's EdTech Center, with the support of NHTSA, and feature three of the ABA's Judicial Outreach Liaisons. The first video deals with toxicology for substances other than alcohol, and the second video discusses witness testimony and standardized field sobriety tests. You can access both videos on our Videos page, which is also where we will release the remaining videos monthly. We also still have physical copies of our 2017 Traffic Issue Brief Compendium, which may be acquired by emailing Greg Hurley at ghurley@ncsc.org.

Upcoming Courses at the National Judicial College

The following courses are offered by the National Judicial College in Reno, Nevada, in the coming year. A limited number of scholarships are available through generous funding from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Please contact Katheryn Yetter at yetter@judges.org or (775) 327-8269 for more information.

FMCSA National Webcast Series (online webcasts; free)

  • Partners in CMV Safety: The Traffic Court and the Administrative Adjudicator - April 4, 2018, 12 PM PST

Ethically Adjudicating CDL/CMV Cases for Traffic Judges (various dates; online; free) This webcast will answer: (1) What constitutes a “conviction” under federal regulations? (2) What does “masking” mean? (3) Why Federal law prohibits the “masking” of CDL violations? NJC’s webcast will provide you with guidance on handling these technical and troublesome cases. Dates vary by state. Recordings available of past webcasts.

Drugged Driving Essentials (May 22-24, 2018; Reno, NV) Unlike alcohol-impaired driving, drugged driving has no bright line test for impairment. Drugged driving cases require a judge to utilize a variety of judicial tools to effectively adjudicate these cases. In addition to the ability to determine which kinds of drugs an individual may be using, it is important to know how these drugs affect the individual, and may impair their ability to function. It is also imperative that a judge knows how to effectively craft sentences, which include treatment options, in order to provide a participant with the most beneficial mode of recovery.

Drugs in America Today: What Every Judge Needs To Know (June 4-6, 2018; Las Vegas, NV) With opiate addiction at epidemic levels in both urban and rural America, the NJC has crafted a new course that focuses on the neurology of addiction with an emphasis on heroin and painkillers. This course will provide an in-depth analysis of the science behind addiction and will offer practical solutions for the judge to manage all case types affected by drug use.

Traffic Issues in the 21st Century (October 8-11, 2018; Reno, NV) Judges are facing more complex traffic issues as the law and technology progress. This course is designed to provide an overview of current traffic laws and technological trends and their applications to the judiciary. After this course, participants will be able to: improve public perception of the courts; manage and adjudicate fairly and efficiently; identify the behaviors that impair safe driving; explain the basic provisions relating to commercial motor vehicle laws and regulations; identify key issues associated with special driving populations, including younger and older drivers; summarize new technology and practices used in traffic law enforcement, adjudication and sentencing; and fully understand cultural diversity issues, including racial profiling.

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