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A Tale of Two Phone Calls: Part 1

Everyone loves a coincidence! When two independent events mimic each other completely in their own universe, it brings a smile to people’s faces. That is unless the circumstances are not positive. The article this week will discuss two very similar situations which happened recently in Illinois truck enforcement.  Coincidental in scope, yet with very different outcomes.

The ITEA works hard to bring balance between professional truck enforcement and profitable industry. The people demand protective enforcement. The industry demands fair and quality enforcement. Regardless of political and social views, police work is here to stay. Qualify polcing, if you must, as necessary or unnecessary, evil or good, but the police are not going away anytime soon. The goal is to make sure all enforcement, favorable or unfavorable, is done with excellence.

Phone Call #1 – October 2013 The ITEA receives a call regarding an overweight citation that has been received by a heavy hauler. In this incident, the truck was on a county road and did not have a county permit. Weighing in excess of 190,000 pounds gross weight, the police officer had the driver dead to rights. All that needed to happen was to weigh the vehicle pursuant to the law, sometimes easier said than done with large and heavy vehicles like this one.

The Illinois Vehicle Code mandates if a police officer has reason to believe a vehicle is overweight, he “shall” weigh it on a scale(s). This did not happen. There’s no doubt an 11-axle, 190,000 pound load simply cannot be driven over any scale. It takes either a high capacity fixed scale or many portable wheel load weigher scales in order to lawfully weigh this combination.

The ITEA has these resources at its disposal, but the officer (who is not a member of the ITEA) did not utilize them. It was mid-morning in the middle of the week. There were a lot of options available.

Instead, the officer took the shortcut. He chose to not weigh the vehicle and based his evidence from a private scale weigh ticket the driver handed him from the day before. Total fine? $41,000.

The weigh ticket reflected a scale reading which was not witnessed by the officer, also known as hearsay evidence. Unfortunately, there has been (ill-advised) instruction by a leader in law enforcement that in situations like these, it’s ok to not follow the plain language of the law and use whatever means are available. 

To think law enforcement leadership would advocate such a blatant abrogation of constitutional rights to issue an overweight citation should consternate us all. So wrong in fact the very first Standard of Practice (SOP-01) written by the ITEA nearly four years ago spoke to this very topic. The end does not justify the means, no matter how wrong this truck driver was by operating overweight without the correct permit.

The carrier cited contacted a local trucking association, who in turn referred the case to an attorney. A nearly five-month court process ensued with the officer losing the citation in court during a stipulated bench trial. Why? Because the officer did not follow the law.

What good came of this? Well, if you are the carrier, you just successfully beat a $41,000 citation! How much did the attorney cost? How much lost time and wages were spent fighting the ticket in court? The reality is the highest fine was avoided, but poor enforcement methods still cost the carrier a lot of money.

Some police officers may say that is just desserts. Hey – they did wrong and they had to pay something, so be it. It is attitudes like this which have led to decades of scrutiny of the police. It is never appropriate for the police to take improper enforcement action (under the color of law), based on the perceived rights and wrongs of the actor. Never. If the case can be proven with the best, legitimate evidence, prosecute it. If the case cannot be made, let it go.

Had this officer been a member of the ITEA, things could have gone a lot better. Want to hear how? Check back in next week to hear about phone call #2.

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