Road law
Dismissals and convictions: The battle of courts, DMVs and CSA

By Jeff McConnell and James Mennella, attorneys at law

Say you get a ticket, you go to court to fight it, and your case is "dismissed" with payment of court costs. Congratulations. You pay your court costs on your way out of court, and two weeks later you run a new copy of your driver record.

I got a safety inspection and two tickets in Maine for Speeding 65/55 and Driving Under Suspension or DUS. I asked the officer why he thought my driver license was suspended. He said that my licensing state, Florida, had suspended my license because I didn't send the Florida DOT a copy of my new medical certificate.

I showed the officer my valid medical certificate, but he gave me the DUS ticket anyway.

The officer did tell me that if I could clear up my suspension within 24 hours, he'd tear up the ticket. The next day I called the Florida DOT, cleared up my suspension, and reported the same to the officer. The officer verified that my license was, in fact, valid so he tore up his copy of the DUS ticket. The only ticket that was left was the speeding ticket. I went to court for the speeding ticket and the judge dismissed it if I'd pay the $25 court costs, which I did.

It's been two weeks since I had my speeding ticket dismissed, and I just ran a copy of my driver record. My record says that I was convicted of the speeding ticket, and my CSA Report has both my speeding ticket and the DUS ticket listed. This has to be a mistake because my speeding ticket was dismissed and the officer tore up my DUS ticket. What can I do to fix these mistakes?

Let's start at the beginning. First, when you were stopped in Maine, three things happened to you.

  • 1. The officer wrote a safety inspection report;
  • 2. The officer gave you a ticket for speeding; and
  • 3. The officer gave you a ticket for DUS. Since the officer wrote a safety inspection report, both of your tickets are correctly appearing on your CSA report.

The first thing you should do is request a certified, file-stamped copy of your speeding ticket dismissal from the court clerk. Once you have that information, you should initiate a DataQ challenge for both citations.

The dismissal information from the court should be adequate to have the speeding charge removed from your CSA record; however, since the DUS ticket was never turned in, it is hard to say what the final determination will be with CSA. Be certain to provide the valid copy of the medical card at the time of the stop with a good explanation of what happened.

Last, we are seeing different results across the country regarding dismissals with payment of costs or fines. Depending on the state you are licensed, many agencies are using this standard: Any amount that you pay in court costs or fine that is meant to be punitive in nature rather than a cost is a conviction regardless of whether the charge was dismissed.

How can a dismissal still be a conviction?

The FMCSA defines "conviction" in sections 383.5 and 390.5. To simplify those sections, a "conviction" results when a guilty or no contest plea is entered and there is a payment of fine or court costs.

We are seeing different results across the country and with CSA regarding dismissals with payment of costs only. The CSA guidance is that a court cost can be considered a "fine" when the "cost" exceeds the amount that is generally assessed by the court, which makes the "cost" the same as a penalty. The unfortunate effect of this is that many agencies are considering any "costs" to be punitive in nature and marking the case as a conviction regardless of whether the charge was dismissed. LL

Send any questions or comments regarding transportation law to: Jeff McConnell and James Mennella, Road Law, 3441 W. Memorial, Suite 4, Oklahoma City, OK 73134; call 405-242-2030, fax 888-588-8983, or email roadlaw@att.net.

This column is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the opinions of Land Line Magazine or its publisher. Please remember everyone’s legal situation is different. Consult with an attorney for specific advice on your situation.