Brutal review of San Diego traffic court

George Mitrovich is having none of San Diego traffic court:

Have you been to Traffic Court? Let me presume you haven’t. Great. Because you don’t want to go there. You will lose. The system is set up for you to lose. And, as systems go, this one is virtually fail safe.

Absent seeing an in-depth study of cases that come before Traffic Court, which I doubt exists, because it’s not a media thing, the odds of you winning are 99-1.

In conversations with attorneys, I have yet to find one who thinks my 99-1 odds are wrong. But let’s say I am slightly wrong, that the odds of a citizen winning in Traffic Court are 90-1 or even 80-1, does that change the inherent inequity? No.

The Traffic Court is the gift that keeps on giving to San Diego. Income derived by the city from fines and penalties in fiscal year 2014 was projected at $29.3 million. In a city with budget issues, $29.3 million, even if only 2.5 percent of the city’s total budget, is hardly insignificant.

And, there are additional benefits derived, specifically by police officers who are paid time and a half while in court – and to me police are always, “officers”, never “cops”, which I deem derogatory.

If police officers are to be paid time and a half, let them be paid time and a half while on active duty, not sitting around Traffic Court waiting for their case to be called; there is sufficient danger for police on the streets – but not likely in Traffic Court.

And no, this isn’t about me, but someone I know who carefully prepared their defense on a traffic violation; a defense with video evidence against the issuing officer, quickly dismissed by the hearing officer at Traffic Court.

The individual who dared to contest the citation was in court for nearly three hours before being heard and dismissed in minutes, guilty as charged. The city had its money. The police officer his time and a half. The citizen was out $332.

In this case there is cause to believe the police officer was not wholly forthcoming in his testimony; a polite way of saying he probably lied about where his black and white was when he decided a traffic violation occurred – a red light infraction on a right hand turn signal, mind you.

Thus I am weighing whether to file, as allowed by California Law, a public records request with the Traffic Court to investigate the ratio of citizens’ success in having their cases dismissed – and specifically to file for the records of the hearing commissioner in the case described, and other cases that commissioner has heard.

If I find I’m wrong, that the ratio isn’t 99-1, that it’s only 90-1 or 80-1, because fair is fair, and I’m nothing if not fair, I will duly report same – and apologize.

(There is a Web site devoted to helping citizens fight traffic courts. It claims to have helped more than 300,000 Californians alone. It’s worth checking out: https://ticketassassin.com/.)

I will end this by disclosing that I was stopped on a Saturday morning in Kensington, not by one, but two black and white police cars. Yes, that is not a misprint, not one black and white, but two (did you know Kensington is a high crime area, I live there and didn’t.)

The officer approached. I rolled down my window. He asked, was I using my cell phone? “No.” “Do you mind if I look at your cell phone?” I wasn’t required to comply, but knowing I had not been talking and driving, I handed it over. He looked at it, seeing no record of a recent call, told me that obviously I had deleted the call. That was irritating

So I told him I had indeed been talking, that while driving I often use the time to practice my remarks for speeches or sermons. I then told him I was speaking that afternoon at the ordination into the Christian ministry of a dear and beloved friend –
Herb Johnson of the San Diego Rescue Mission – and was practicing what I hoped to say on that Holy occasion.

He clearly did not believe me. Annoyed, yes, I was annoyed, it’s an Irish/Serbian thing, I told him, “Officer, you have two choices. Either believe me or write the ticket.” He wrote the ticket.

That was his mistake.

When the case finally came to trial in Traffic Court on Clairemont Mesa Blvd. (you know that ugly, hideous building, with its hearing rooms in trailers), I was prepared.
I had my phone records from Verizon, proving I had not been talking on my cell phone.

The hearing commissioner heard the policeman state his reasons for the citation, and having reviewed my evidence, quickly said, “You have failed to prove your case. I find in the defendant’s behalf.”

Was I elated “justice was served?”

Hardly, I knew I had not been talking on my cell phone, but the police officer, too arrogant and too cynical by half, having stopped me, flashing red lights and all, felt he had to write the ticket.

Even now, three years later, thinking about it while composing these words, it still annoys, even though on the day of the hearing, I had been exceedingly polite to the young officer, because that’s me, but politeness is not what he deserved.

Yes, I won and the cop deservedly lost. But in Traffic Court that day, he was being paid time and a half. No one was paying me for my nearly four lost hours.

Democracy is a great thing. Maybe someday it will come to San Diego’s traffic court.

George Mitrovich is a San Diego civic leader. He may be reached at, gmitro35@gmail.com.

Original article

Lane splitting legalized in California

By Keith Goble, http://www.landlinemag.com/

The practice of driving motorcycles between lanes of California freeway traffic to bypass congestion will soon be legal. California is the only state in the country that allows so-called lane splitting with motorcycles.

State law neither permits nor forbids the practice of riding motorcycles between rows of stopped or slowed traffic.

In 2013 the California Highway Patrol and California Department of Motor Vehicles posted on their websites and provided printed materials informing motorcyclists about the safety guidelines for the practice. The information was soon removed after a complaint that the guidelines could be misinterpreted as enforceable laws.

Read more…

Should some Californians lose ‘license to drink’?

By Beau Kilmer, The San Diego Union-Tribune

With traffic deaths climbing in the state, Californians should be thrilled that policymakers in Sacramento are discussing how to reduce impaired driving. This topic may be of special interest to San Diego County, where DUI arrests over the July Fourth weekend were up nearly 25 percent compared to last year.

In California, many efforts to reduce repeat drunken driving focus on the driving — such as restricting when (and if) offenders can drive, increasing penalties for subsequent DUI convictions and requiring offenders in some counties to install an interlock ignition device that prevents an automobile from starting if the driver has been drinking.

California also requires DUI offenders to attend education programs and its judges can order convicted drunken drivers to undergo drunken diverse treatment. A few counties even have designated court dockets that focus on getting DUI offenders into treatment and monitoring their progress.

Read more…

Fontana woman thanks police officer who gave her a ticket — and saved her life

By ALEJANDRO CANO, Fontana Herald News

When Officer Luis Valenzuela of the Fontana Police Department stopped Rhonda Lantz in mid-June for not wearing a seat belt, she was not especially pleased. But her feelings about the incident soon changed dramatically.

Lantz was ticketed by Valenzuela as part of the “Click it or Ticket” campaign on June 15. Ten days later, Lantz was involved in a terrible vehicle accident, but she survived because she was now wearing a seat belt — the very tool that she had avoided using previously throughout her life because she said it chokes her.

Read more…

Lady Gaga ‘Finally’ Gets Her Driver’s License

Dave Quinn, People.com

Lady Gaga is now a licensed driver.

After “years of driving with a learner’s permit” and “an adult present,” the 30-year-old singer and actress passed her road test in California, she shared on Friday.

“Thelma and Puhleaaaze,” Gaga captioned an Instagram shot of her and her friend, explaining her new license. “I’M FREE. Rollin’ with the homies,” she added.

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California law lets you fiddle with phone while driving – sometimes

Tony Bizjak, Sacramento Bee

A California Office of Traffic Safety study came up with this unsurprising but alarming finding last week: 1 out of every 10 drivers on the road is paying as much attention to his or her smartphone as to the road ahead.

That’s illegal, right? Not necessarily.

It’s definitely illegal in California to talk into or text on a hand-held cellphone. But it’s not explicitly illegal to scroll through your phone’s music playlist by hand while driving or to take photos with your phone’s camera from behind the wheel. The law also is silent on whether you can hold your phone in your hand to read the phone’s map, or search on an app for the nearest pizzeria or gas station.

Legal challenge to driver’s license suspensions over unpaid fines and fees

BY CAROL FERGUSON, EYEWITNESS NEWS

Local courts are watching what happens with a growing legal battle. Civil rights groups have challenged a practice in California courts that allow a driver’s license to be suspended, if someone doesn’t pay the fees and fines assessed for a traffic violation.

Last year, 25,792 suspensions were handed out in cases like that in Kern County.

That number comes from Kern County Superior Court Executive Officer Terry McNally. He also tells Eyewitness News local courts process 145,000 citations a year, so those suspensions represent about 18 percent of those cases.

Read more…

Report: More California Drivers Spotted Using Cellphones

ABC News
Don Thompson, Associated Press

The number of California drivers using cellphones is rising, as are deaths and injuries blamed on distracted driving, state officials said Wednesday.

However, the number of tickets issued by the California Highway Patrol has substantially declined, as have distracted driving convictions statewide by all law enforcement agencies, according to information provided to The Associated Press.

At least 12.8 percent of drivers were seen using mobile devices during a survey earlier this year, the California Office of Traffic Safety reported.

That’s up from 9.2 percent last year and exceeds the previous high of 10.8 percent in 2013.

Read more…

California DMV Releases New Digital Driver Handbook

NBC San Diego
Beatriz Cabanas

The California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) has announced the release of a digital version of the 2016 California Driver Handbook.

The free digital version is available for download in the Google Play Store for Android and through the iBooks Store for iOS phones which makes it easy for users wanting to study on the go.

According to the California DMV, the digital handbook will offer users a new learning experience with interactive material to prepare them for the driver license exam. This new material includes a summary of standard road signs, safe driving tips and a comprehensive overview of the rules of the road.

Read more…