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How to best resolve a seemingly rigged speed trap situation?
July 11, 2011 12:34 PM   Subscribe

We got caught in an insane speed trap in a small Illinois town with a seemingly inactive construction zone. We had to post bond from the car, got a mandatory court date (400 miles away from our home of Chicago), looking at $1100+ in fees. Any ideas?

Anon as this is a potential legal situation and we are trying to figure out if there are any solutions beyond eating all the costs. I read a couple of the posts on speed traps, but this one has a few different factors at play.

The details: Husband, kids, and I were on the home stretch of a 2000-mile roadtrip, having just entered into our home state of Illinois via I-57. At the Missouri/Illinois state line, the speed limit dropped from 70 to 65. Husband was traveling around 70, so yes, speeding by 5-6 mp/h over at this point.

A construction zone sign quickly appeared, along with a series of orange road cones in the right lane. No apparent work was being done – it was a Sunday for one, but no bulldozers or workers were to be seen, and the road was perfectly intact. A county sheriff was stationed behind the sign and, of course, pulled us over. He cited 71 in a 55 construction zone, and my husband, acknowledging guilt of speeding (to me, not the sheriff), was prepared to pay the ticket and move on. This is where, IMO, it gets goofy.

The sheriff required a $120 cash bond to be posted then and there, or he would confiscate husband's license. I argued how we were supposed to get our family back home to Chicago, 400 miles away, without a license, but luckily husband had enough cash and paid up. He was handed the ticket and told he had a mandatory court date (again 400 miles away), or else he would face license suspension. Husband just wanted to pay the ticket, acknowledge guilt, and be done with it, but apparently this is not possible.

After calculating the court fees ($500), the ticket ($375+) and having to hire an attorney to appear in Mound City for him ($250+ or else, in theory, taking 1-2 days off work to drive 800 miles round trip), we are looking at over $1100 to get this resolved.

In looking online, I have found a number of mentions of this spot (not just Mound City but the entire county of Pulaski) as a speed trap, along with similar ticket situations, and questions as to whether this is not simply a semi-permanent "construction" zone speed trap erected to bring more money into the county.

So here's the question: is there a way of finding out if this is a legitimate construction zone, or any other routes to consider pursuing? He is prepared to pay up (and certainly can't risk having a license suspension), and knows he is guilty of speeding, but can't stand the feeling of this being a major shakedown and a rigged game. Thanks all!
posted by anonymous to Law & Government (28 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
 
IANAL and I am only answering your question about "finding out if this is a legitimate construction zone." Here's a list of Illinois DOT road construction projects - Pulaski County is in District 9 and there are two projects listed on I-57.
posted by desjardins at 12:40 PM on July 11, 2011


Having just dealt with a similar situation in a different state, I can tell you this: The handling of such tickets varies greatly state to state and even county to county. It may be possible to plead down to a lesser charge, and it may be possible for a lawyer to arrange things so that your husband doesn't need to appear in court. But ultimately you need a lawyer familiar with that locality. Many lawyers who handle speeding tickets will give you a free consultation, which is going to be much more productive than Metafilter advice. The lawyer fees I was quoted ranged from $150 - $500, and that was for a lesser speeding charge.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 12:48 PM on July 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


This sounds like a textbook shakedown, and I agree that your best bet is a local traffic attorney.
posted by Behemoth at 1:03 PM on July 11, 2011


IAAL, IANYL, TINLA, etc. You should consult a couple of good lawyers who handle traffic matters and/or DUI on a regular basis. They should be familiar with routine traffic violations, your jurisdiction's speed trap laws, and other things. It is not unheard of for cash-strapped local municipalities to rig things against motorists and require exhorbitant fees that are still too low to justify the cost of actually litigating the case. You may have a defensible case, and if the local authorities broke the law, there may be other remedies that justify the cost of a good lawyer.

Definitely seek legal advice. Also, in the future, caution your husband that in cases with any potential criminal element, including traffic violations, you have the right to remain silent and should exercise it. There's no points for admitting a violation, even if it's the truth because that's how the Framers of our constitution rolled.
posted by Hylas at 1:03 PM on July 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


What kind of radar? Depending on the type, I have had mild success fighting a ticket based on the fact that the radar was not properly maintained in that they did not have records for how often it was calibrated nor the tuning forks for calibrating them. Some newer radars use lasers.

If it were me and I am not a lawyer or your lawyer, I would plead not guilty and call the local DA and see if he would offer a plea. Most of these types of counties towns, want the revenue as you pointed out and will make a deal so that the most money goes local (not to the state) and to not have points on your license.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 1:03 PM on July 11, 2011


I'd have to concur with the hive on this one. The best solution to a crooked small town legal problem is a crooked small town attorney.
posted by frieze at 1:04 PM on July 11, 2011 [13 favorites]


Yup, llinois law enforcement are trying to show they are a revenue generator as state fiscal woes threaten their budget.This exact thing happened to me in Franklin Co. Illinois last year, except the violation was "passing a pulled over state police car on the interstate without changing lanes first to give him room" I moved over partially but not fully. The officer was miraculously able to drop his business on the side of the road and chase me down. The violation was quoted to me by the officer as being $900. I wasn't asked to post bond on the spot but was given a mandatory court appearance date. LIke you, I live far away from the jurisdiction (Philadelphia). I wasn't going to go to court.

Here's what I did. I called the states attorney's office and was nice as pie in explaining what had happened. I wasn't contesting it, just stating that I am from a different state and wasn't aware of the law, explained I work closely with many police and would NEVER endanger an officer at work. You can make the same case, replacing "officer" with "construction worker", embellishing as required -- maybe your father was a highway worker? Then I asked to speak with the state's attorney to explain myself. He was not in; she took a message. Probably I had this same conversation with this woman 5-6 times -- each time it ended in her promising to ask the SA to call me back, and also in her reducing the amount of money I needed to send in.

That's what you need to understand: the power to change the fine or drop it is formally that of the SA, but any number of people in the office can apparently do this. So be super nice to whoever you talk to, ask for them by name each time, and build a relationship.

The last conversation I had with Marge (that was her name!) was as cheerful as always and ended in her final offer, $0 fine and forget the whole thing. I accepted this offer and we parted friends.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 1:06 PM on July 11, 2011 [13 favorites]


Did you get a receipt for that cash bond?

I'd definitely, absolutely, positively be calling a lawyer familiar with that county about this.
posted by bilabial at 1:06 PM on July 11, 2011


So be super nice to whoever you talk to,

This cannot be stressed enough. It sounds like you and your husband are reasonable, nice folks, but in general, getting hot under the collar or impatient or indignant at the bureaucracy or unfairness is where these sorts of things veer off toward a bad ending.
posted by aught at 1:17 PM on July 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


This literally just happened to my husband in the same location about a month ago. He was cited going 62 in a 45 and given a mandatory court date. He did not have to pay a cash bond.

He went to his court date (July 5th) where he waited with over 400 people and was given a number. Get to the court date early and sign in immediately. He got there at 8:30 AM and was 90 on the list. You will be given an opportunity to confer with the state's attorney who will offer you a plea deal with a fine (500-600$) and a 30-day court supervision in return for a guilty plea. After the 30 day supervision they will file that the judgement be withheld so you won't get any points on your license or reporting to your insurance company. You will be expected to pay that day in cash - there are ATM machines conveniently located in the courthouse.

If you decide to plea not guilty they will threaten you with jail time and thousands of dollars in fines. There has not been a construction worker on that piece of highway in over a decade. Yes it is a scam. The state supreme court is apparently aware which is why the states's attorney is offering deals instead of trials because if they took it to trial they would be doing hundreds of trials a day.

It's very hot, pack a lunch. It will take all day. He adds not to wear a suit because it won't make a difference.
posted by janelikes at 1:18 PM on July 11, 2011 [8 favorites]


Wait. The cop made you pay a cash bond? You never pay a cash bond to a cop, and in any event, should only have to do so for a criminal matter, not a civil one.

This cop stole $120 from you.
posted by dfriedman at 1:21 PM on July 11, 2011 [4 favorites]


Wait. The cop made you pay a cash bond? You never pay a cash bond to a cop, and in any event, should only have to do so for a criminal matter, not a civil one.

This is not necessarily true in Illinois. Unless of course there was no receipt.
posted by desjardins at 1:25 PM on July 11, 2011


You never pay a cash bond to a cop, and in any event, should only have to do so for a criminal matter, not a civil one.

Traffic violations are criminal matters.
posted by foursentences at 1:32 PM on July 11, 2011


Hm. Looks like I stand corrected. Ignore my comment above. Mods, please delete if you think deletion is warranted....thx.
posted by dfriedman at 1:53 PM on July 11, 2011


Here's an angle I bet not many people know they can use.

In Illinois, just like pretty much every other state, there are design standards for lane closures. Regardless of whether it's a real or fake lane closure (because face it, 99.99% of the time they're real, even though in this case I believe it's fake), the State of Illinois requires that a posted work zone be set up in a very particular way, with minimum signage and taper requirements, for numerous different possible closure types. And if the closure deviates from the way that it is supposed to be in the standard, an Illinois professional engineer (PE) has to sign off on the changes. Typically this would be someone like the town or county Engineer.

Illinois is kind enough to provide its standards to the public, right here on this website!

I took a look at their documents to find what you need.

If you click on Highway Standards in PDF Format you'll see theres a mega long list of PDFs. I think the one that might be germane to your situation given how you described the zone would be this one: "212-701422-03_LnClosureMultiLn-45-55MPH.pdf" If it's not that one it's probably close to the right one, which should be close on the list because they are in a logical order.

What I would do, were I you, is bring a copy of the closest applicable standard(s) to court with you. Explain that you are a careful driver and law abiding citizen, but you happen to know a bit about lane closures and the one that was set up just wasn't safe, and no wonder so many people get caught at it! And produce Illinois' very own lane closure standard, and request that maybe, just maybe, it is set up incorrectly, unless their engineer has the design that he signed off on, because WOW look how wrong that is!!

Could it work? Dunno. I think it's worth a try.
posted by contessa at 1:55 PM on July 11, 2011 [8 favorites]


PS Anon: if you need help reading the standard, shoot me a memail; your identity is safe with me.
posted by contessa at 2:03 PM on July 11, 2011


Johnny Gunn & ssFlanders seem to have the best advice. After all, what's to lose? After trying that, I'd find a laywer in that area, who will come back with a deal of some sort. A cynic could argue that the lawyer is part of the shady system.

And contrary to Hylas:
1, the lawyer need not be familiar with your jurisdiction's laws, since it didn't happen in your jurisdiction.
2, I don't see a need to caution your husband to remain silent, since that is what he did, as the post clearly states.
posted by LonnieK at 2:20 PM on July 11, 2011


He adds not to wear a suit because it won't make a difference.

If you have a suit, and you go to court, wear it. No exceptions. Go as conservative as you can. Otherwise, wear your "Sunday best" or dress like it's a job interview. It's sometimes imperceptible, but people in that environment are conditioned to treat suit-wearing folks with more respect. It might not change the deals that are offered, but it can make a difference if you're trying to persuade someone that the facts and the law favor a different outcome rather than the "usual offer."

You shouldn't do this yourself, but if you do, be prepared to explain to the government's representative all of the reasons your case has a strong defense. The more they are worried about losing, the better the deals will get.

1, the lawyer need not be familiar with your jurisdiction's laws, since it didn't happen in your jurisdiction.

"Jurisdiction" means the locale which has authoritative power over this action, which may be the state or some political subdivision thereof. Probably, this problem will involve interpreting state law which, in OP's case, is still Illinois.

2, I don't see a need to caution your husband to remain silent, since that is what he did, as the post clearly states.


That was meant for future reference. It might be too late now. But, generally, there's never any benefit to giving a statement to an officer who is investigating you or accusing you of an offense.
posted by Hylas at 2:35 PM on July 11, 2011


As noted by stupidsexyFlanders, you might try arranging a plea bargain on your own over the phone with the prosecuting attorney. I have done this in Virginia.
posted by exogenous at 2:36 PM on July 11, 2011


"A construction zone sign quickly appeared, along with a series of orange road cones in the right lane. No apparent work was being done – it was a Sunday for one, but no bulldozers or workers were to be seen, and the road was perfectly intact."

Not to speak specifically about this construction zone but the idea that constructions zones are solely for the protection of workers is common and false. They are also for the protection of motorists (eg: no lines, lack of proper shoulders, slippery surfaces, gravel on ashphalt, lack of signage etc. ad nauseum) and for the protection of the road (eg: construction zones will often be set up on concrete roads and bridges while work is being done and for weeks after to reduce the vibration the concrete is exposed to during its cure period). So an argument before the judge that there were no workers present won't make any difference.
posted by Mitheral at 2:37 PM on July 11, 2011


"an argument before the judge that there were no workers present won't make any difference."

There may be one exception to this. You'd need to call around and find out if it applies in Illinois, though.

What caught my eye was the fact that this was a Sunday. I could be wrong (and feel free, anyone, to correct me if I am) but I was once told that some jurisdictions have requirements that road crews not unnecessarily obstruct traffic; i.e., that they take the cones down on weekends, etc., and not just lazily leave them there until work resumes on Monday.

The other thing would be to call the editor of the local paper or tv station and pitch them the story. You'd need to convince them to research the particulars, though, or offer to do it yourself.

- aj
posted by Alaska Jack at 2:53 PM on July 11, 2011


stupidsexyFlanders: " the violation was "passing a pulled over state police car on the interstate without changing lanes first to give him room""

This is (was?) a hot-button issue in Illinois. The law is called "Scott's Law" after a firefighter who was killed by a drunk motorist who didn't change lanes. (pdf explanation here) Sorry you got caught up in it.

OP, remember this thread: But at least I'm not from...?

Whatever you do, BE NICE, and do not, under any circumstances, reveal any contempt you might have for small town sheriffs, lawyers, courts, speed traps, construction zones or anything. Try not to use the "But we live in CHICAGO, it's too far away to come down there again" excuse right out of the gate, until you're reasonably sure that the person you are talking to will not hold it against you.

Good luck!
posted by SuperSquirrel at 4:21 PM on July 11, 2011


Unless there is something I'm missing, the license counts as your bond. Your (husband's) privilege to drive is not revoked, simply his possession of the card. You can drive on a ticket.

Second, this is why you get a AAA membership. The AAA card is also a bond card, up to $1000 I believe.

Third, $500 in court fees? How is that possible??
posted by gjc at 4:47 PM on July 11, 2011


There has not been a construction worker on that piece of highway in over a decade. Yes it is a scam. The state supreme court is apparently aware which is why the states's attorney is offering deals instead of trials because if they took it to trial they would be doing hundreds of trials a day.

Where is the news media on this? No construction work in a decade and this is going on?
posted by citron at 5:54 PM on July 11, 2011


According to Getting Around Illinois, an official website of IDOT, there is a construction zone on I-57 in Pulaski County between mile markers 2 and 7 beginning September 20, 2010 and ending December 31, 2011. There is a maximum width of 11'3" that on May 31 was reduced to 10'10". (This would presumably require cones regardless of the presence of workers.)

Additionally, according to this press relase, traffic was reduced to one lane at mile marker 5 for bridge work over the weekend of the 4th.

If this is a fake construction site, IDOT is somehow in on it. I do not believe this is a productive line of inquiry.
posted by dhartung at 6:03 PM on July 11, 2011


In future:

This is America. You never, ever have to pay a cop in cash- we have all sorts of anti-bribery laws about that. There's a reason that parking tickets have you send the cash to a centralized location. If you get this sort of demand again, you can tell the officer that you aren't comfortable dealing with the issue at that location and ask him to follow you to the police station. For good measure, (especially if he refuses,) you can call the cops yourself. There's always the chance that you're dealing with a case of impersonation.

That said, given the extreme sketchiness of the whole encounter as you describe it you just might be able to get off the hook if you have a good lawyer.
posted by fifthrider at 12:55 PM on July 12, 2011


@hylas -- thx for clarifying. Sounds good. I especially agree w the point on not talking freely with the police. If you went by TV cops shows, you'd think it's pro forma -- everyone just gabs and gabs. But in real life nothing good will come of doing that.
posted by LonnieK at 2:03 PM on July 12, 2011


fifthrider writes "You never, ever have to pay a cop in cash"

You don't have to pay your bond in cash but the only other alternatives in Illinois are depositing an approved bond certificate (AAA Card) or a current Illinois driver’s license.

Requiring a roadside bond is uncommon but wide spread in the US. Usually your copy of the ticket will act as both a receipt proving payment or as an interim driver's license. Some places will allow you follow the cop to the courthouse to pay the bond some won't and instead will bring you to the courthouse in the cruiser. The latter blows if you are alone as they won't bring you back to your car and often will tow it if you don't have a licensed passenger to drive it. Some places have CC machines like the ones found in Taxis and will allow you to post a bond with your Visa or Mastercard. A friend of mine was required to post a bond in I think South Carolina and the cop required him to drive to a post office; purchase a money order, envelope and and stamp; and then mail it to the courthouse in his presence. In that case the bond = the plead guilty cost of the ticket and he was driving with a Canadian License.
posted by Mitheral at 2:31 PM on July 12, 2011


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