Road law
Barking up the wrong tree

By Jeff McConnell and James Mennella, attorneys at law

In this issue, we’ll tell you about a recent traffic ticket case where the driver represented himself in court, but didn’t get the outcome he thought he was going to. The driver tried to correct the problem by calling his home state department of transportation, but that effort got him nowhere. We’ll explain what the driver should have done instead.

I’m a truck driver and I received a ticket for “leaving the scene” of an accident in Ohio. The officer was wrong for giving me the ticket in the first place, because I didn’t know my trailer hit any private property signage when I made a sharp turn at an intersection. Also, I didn’t leave the scene because the sign the officer said I hit was on private property where I was delivering.

When I went to court for the ticket, I explained all of this to the assistant prosecuting attorney and he agreed to amend my ticket to “striking private property,” which he said was zero driver points.

I paid the amended ticket and now I got a Notice of Disqualification of Driver License letter in the mail from my home state of Pennsylvania because they say I was convicted of my original “leaving the scene” ticket in Ohio. I called the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation to tell them they’re wrong, but they wouldn’t listen. Now what do I do?

First, you’re barking up the wrong tree, because your home state (Pennsylvania) DOT isn’t the problem and they can’t fix this particular problem. To understand just how to fix your problem, let’s go back to the beginning.

You got an Ohio ticket, and your driver’s license is issued from Pennsylvania. So you need to remember that each state in the U.S. is really like its own little independent nation. Each state has its own motor vehicle code, and most of these various state codes don’t match up exactly with each other. So, when you receive a ticket in one state and you’re licensed in another state, you’ve got to be very careful about how your ticket will be treated back in your home state.

In this case, Ohio had more than one category of “leaving the scene.” So even though the assistant prosecuting attorney in Ohio thought he was doing you a favor by amending your original ticket to a zero driver point charge, your amended charge (i.e., “striking private property”) was still coded/listed as one of several types of “leaving the scene,” according to the Ohio Motor Vehicle Code.

When your amended charge was reported back to your home state of Pennsylvania, it was simply entered as “leaving the scene” because Pennsylvania only has one category for this particular charge.

So, now that we know what the problem is, the only way to correct it is to go back to the Ohio court and/or assistant prosecuting attorney and explain that the conviction of the amended charge you pleaded guilty to is still considered “leaving the scene” in your home state of Pennsylvania. Hopefully, the Ohio assistant prosecuting attorney will agree to have your conviction of “striking private property” rescinded or set aside and let you plead “guilty” to another charge that doesn’t carry a one-year disqualification in your home state of Pennsylvania.

You’ll want to take a copy of the relevant part of the Pennsylvania Motor Vehicle Code back to Ohio with you so you can share the same with the assistant prosecuting attorney and select a violation that won’t disqualify your Pennsylvania driver’s license before you agree to plead guilty to it. 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.