California courts are processing correctable traffic violations wrong and the citizens are paying the price not only in improper fines but higher insurance rates. I don’t know how widespread this mistake is but I do know that the courthouse in Morgan Hill has been doing it wrong. But it may turn out that California is going to have to refund millions in improper fines that it collected over the years for correctable offenses that should have been dismissed. This will also save the People of California millions in insurance costs for traffic tickets that should never have been put on their record. The appeal attached to the case makes it clear, but what isn’t clear is if anything is going to be done about it.
A correctable violation is what appears to be a violation at the time but later proven to not be a violation. An example of this is proof of insurance or corrective lenses. I found out about this when I was pulled over for running a stop sign and was given 3 tickets totaling $1400 on November 25th 2013. Running a stop sign, no proof of insurance, and no corrective lenses.
Here is the dash cam video I obtained from the Gilroy Police Department of the incident. Unfortunately because it is at the wrong angle I couldn’t prove I had stopped. Notice however the police officer running the stop sign without turning on her lights. She’s actually the one who broke the law. Also notice that I’m going through the intersection at 1/2 the speed of the car in front of me who came to a full stop.
However after I was pulled over she asked for my drivers license and insurance. The insurance can in my glove box was old – but I had an app on my cell phone that Geico gave me that shows proof of insurance. I offered to show it to her and she refused to look at it. Then she noticed the corrective lens restriction and I told her that I had Lasik – and that Lasik was a corrective lens. She wrote me a total of $1400 in tickets.
Fighting the Charges in Court
I went to court to fight he charges. Before court I went to the DMV and got the lens restriction removed from my license. I argued that not only did I have perfect vision, but that the Lasik procedure carves a corrective lens into the eye and therefor was compliant at the time I was pulled over. I also argued that the law at that time didn’t specify that the proof of insurance had to be on paper and that the document on my phone – a PDF file – would have been the same document I could have printed on paper and put in my clove box.
Nonetheless – the court found me guilty on all 3 counts.But because they were “correctable” I was given a suspended sentence (no additional fine) and had to pay court costs of $25 each. They also went on my record as having been found guilty and increased my insurance rates. So I appealed.
I immediately filed my notice of appeal and filed my brief. In my appeal I argued that these were not correctable violations, but not violations in the first place. I appeared for oral arguments in San Jose in front of a 3 judge panel who seems very sympathetic to the idea that the police should recognize new technology and that this is the 21st century. Seemed like I had won.
The decision wasn’t what I had expected. In fact it took me quite a while to realize that not only had I won, but I won much bigger that I had thought. Although the decision reversed the lower court it didn’t address what I had considered the main issues I had raised on appeal. It didn’t declare that a cell phone was proof of insurance or that Lasik is a corrective lens. At first I though I had got screwed where the court was making me thing I had won when I had really lost. But it turns out that I hadn’t understood what it was the appellate court had decided.
It wasn’t until my final hearing in Morgan Hill dismissing the charges that I finally understood that I had won. The judge thanked me for bringing the appeal and he said that he had thought that they were doing it wrong all along and that it was going to change how he processes correctable violations. I complained that even though I had won that I didn’t win the way I wanted to. I asked the judge if I get my $50 back in court costs and he said yes. So I went back and reread the decision to see if I missed something and it turns out I had.
I had assumed based on what the court decided that a correctable offense means that you were guilty and that if you correct it then you are still guilty – but no punishment. But what the court did was rule that correctable offenses mean that you are not guilty and that the charge should have been dismissed. Thus the issues I raised on appeal were moot because it didn’t matter if I had proof of insurance on my phone or on paper – or no proof of insurance at all, once I showed the court that I had insurance at the time I’m not guilty. And that decision is huge!
What the Decision Means
I started wondering about the scope of the decision. It changed the behavior of one judge, but how much precedent does this decision have? It’s not like I won at the California Supreme Court level. Would it apply to just Santa Clara County? Was it even published? Would anyone else even find out about it? Maybe there should be a law based on this decision?
I started looking more carefully at the decision and it turns out there already is a law. But the California Courts aren’t following it. The decision refers to California Vehicle Code 40522 which states:
Whenever a person is arrested for violations specified in Section 40303.5 and none of the disqualifying conditions set forth in subdivision (b) of Section 40610 exist, and the officer issues a notice to appear, the notice shall specify the offense charged and note in a form approved by the Judicial Council that the charge shall be dismissed on proof of correction. If the arrested person presents, by mail or in person, proof of correction, as prescribed in Section 40616, on or before the date on which the person promised to appear, the court shall dismiss the violation or violations charged pursuant to Section 40303.5.
What this means is that the Courts aren’t following the law and that they are processing correctable violations as guilty with suspended sentence when they should be ruling not guilty and dismissing them.
What needs to be done now
What needs to be done is 2 things. First the California Courts needs to be made aware that they are doing it wrong and start following the law. But also there are probably tens of thousands of convictions that need to be reversed, the $25 court costs refunded, and the convictions removed from the record so that these people can get a refund from their insurance companies because they were being overcharged based on a wrongful conviction.
The Courts made a big mistake here and it costs the citizens of California millions of dollars and it’s time for the courts to fix their mistake and make it right. I’m sure the insurance companies are not going to be happy about this. I called my insurance company Geico and they said that they would refund the difference. I don’t know if other insurance companies have the same policy.
This all started when the Gilroy Police Department got greedy and decided to load me up with $1400 worth of tickets. I personally believe this was about raising revenue rather than doing their job protecting the public. If you watch the above video of the incident it shows me going through the intersection at 1/2 the speed of the car in front of me who we assume accelerated from a dead stop. So even if I hadn’t completely stopped this was not the kind of thing that the GPD should have been getting all hot and bothered about.
I feel that officers should think and use some common sense in giving tickets. I offered to demonstrate that I could read things far away and had Lasik. Had I lied and said I was wearing contacts the officer probably would have not given me the ticket. I also had an older proof of insurance on paper and offered to show her proof of insurance on my phone. It should have been enough to demonstrate that I did have insurance. But her choices were more consistent with ticket quotas and raising revenue than thinking it through.
The officer also marked the ticket as non-correctable offenses when they were correctable and had charged one offense wrong that would have resulted in $1800 in fines if I had just sent in a check rather than fighting it. Whether it was incompetence or deliberate will remain a mystery.
The bottom line question is what should the GPD be doing with its time? Gilroy has a gang problem and when the police shake down law abiding citizens for profit that’s time they could be devoting to fighting real crime.