The justices could clarify a gray area of the law where the rules are not well defined and past court decisions are all over the map. Their ruling could limit or expand police powers to make traffic stops.
As one driver’s attorney put it in a court filing, this case could “essentially give law enforcement authorities seemingly unfettered discretion to seize innocent drivers upon roadways in Tennessee.”
Both cases involve drivers who were stopped by police after crossing road lines only once and for a brief amount of time. The cases are from Williamson and Knox counties.
Each driver was charged with DUI. In each case, county judges said the single line crossing was enough for police to make the stop for not staying within a lane. The Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals agreed with the county judges.
But other high-profile cases have been dismissed by judges who say a single line crossing was not enough to justify the stop. Those cases include the dismissal of DUI charges against former Tennessee Titans quarterback Steve McNair in 2004 and against state Rep. Bill Beck, D-Nashville, earlier this year.
Those rulings are based on a case known as State v. Binette, said Rob McKinney, a DUI defense lawyer in Nashville. In that 2000 case out of Chattanooga, the state Supreme Court said it was impossible to drive a car in a straight line and that touching a road line a couple of times is not a violation, McKinney said.
— Note: For another take on the legal situation here, see Jamie Satterfield’s blog post, entitled Supremes enter the ring in DUI fight; the crowd goes wild.
The Senate has passed and sent to the House a bill that requires all law enforcement agencies to destroy all records of vehicles and license plates captured by their cameras after 90 days unless a picture is part of an “ongoing investigation.”
“The government does not need to know where all Tennesseans are at all times while we’re driving,” said Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown, sponsor of SB1664.
Kelsey said many police and sheriffs’ departments use high-speed cameras equipped with automated license plate recognition systems to search for “bad guys” with outstanding criminal warrants. But they are also capturing image of “the good guys” and there is no need to keep that data on hand, he said.
He envisioned situations where one party in a divorce lawsuit would subpoena a record to provide the location of another party at a given time and said that would be inappropriate.
The bill passed 29-1 with the only negative vote cast by Sen. Douglas Henry, D-Nashville, who told Kelsey during brief floor debate, “If I’m a law-abiding citizen I don’t see what harm it would be by having a picture of me with my license tag of my car in the police department’s file,”
“The harm is being done to the privacy of innocent Tennesseans who don’t need that information out there,” Kelsey said.
On the House side, the bill is sponsored by Rep. Jeremy Faison, R-Cosby, and faces its first committee vote this week.
After a Union County Republican event, Betty Bean reports that driving Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey around is more expensive than driving House Speaker Beth Harwell around. The Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security provides security to both the Senate and the House speakers. Ramsey’s driver, Bill Taliaferro, is paid $38.71 per hour, while House Speaker Beth Harwell’s driver makes $26.65 an hour. Both drivers are eligible for overtime and retirement benefits.
Both speakers have 2011 Suburbans, but Nashville resident Harwell’s expenses are considerably less than Ramsey’s – $3,392 in gas and maintenance so far this year to Harwell’s $1,249 – because of his long commute.
“The Lieutenant Governor and Speaker retain their responsibilities and title throughout the year and each is assigned security (state trooper) for protective services,” said Department of Safety spokesperson Kevin Crawford. The troopers are paid per diem rates for lodging and meals when overnighting away from home.
…The most common justification for such practices involves pointing out that it’s nothing new. But Republicans used to rail against Democrats’ profligate spending when they were running the show in Nashville, so more than a touch of irony sets in at the sight of members of the tough-talking, budget-slashing new majority happily settled into the practices that they once deplored.
And the sight of state employees driving state vehicles to tote politicians like Mr. Speaker around the state to purely partisan events is almost as disconcerting as realizing that they don’t give a damn what we think.
Beginning this spring, Tennesseans who apply for or renew driver’s licenses also are going to have their identities checked, reports the Chattanooga TFP. Customers at driver service centers or county clerks’ offices will leave with paper “interim” licenses. Meanwhile, the state will take a week to run their pictures through photo-recognition technology and compare them against 12 million images in a database.
“It is compared to many other faces to make sure you are who you say you are,” said Lori Bullard, assistant commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security. “It has a measure of security.”
Bullard said the new process and extra security checks are meant to clamp down on fraud and identity theft. As another layer of security, drivers will receive their laminated plastic permanent driver’s licenses by mail instead of at the counter of a driver service center. That helps verify where the applicant lives, Bullard explained.
The new process, called “central issuance,” is being piloted at the Hamilton County Clerk’s Office, which has been authorized to replace and renew driver’s licenses since 2004. Equipment for the process was installed Thursday.
….The change is part of a five-year effort to restructure the license application process since Congress passed the Real ID Act — a 2005 law requiring stricter, uniform requirements for issuing driver’s licenses across the nation.
All states were required to be compliance with the law by Jan. 15. Tennessee had already bought equipment to implement Real ID and had begun conducting background checks for all clerks involved in issuing licenses.
But in December, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security once again extended the deadline — though it has not released a new schedule. Only 13 states, including Tennessee and Georgia, have met the standards of the law, according to The Associated Press, while others have balked at the costs to come into compliance.
Phony drivers’ licenses from overseas have swamped bars and clubs around the University of Tennessee campus — so many some bars now ask for two kinds of identification, reports the News Sentinel. For teenagers, they’re a license to drink and to party. For police and for bar owners, they’re a neverending headache.
“I’ve seen trained law enforcement officers look at them and not spot the difference,” said Trevor Hill, owner of The Hill bar on Forest Avenue in Fort Sanders. “We’ve gotten them from different states and from 12 or 14 countries. It’s rampant on campus. My collection right now’s right around 300, and that’s not counting what we’ve turned over to the police. I’d say we’ll take up several hundred more in the first month of school.”
…ID Chief, the leading forger, operates from China and advertises its bogus wares on a website based in the Philippines.
Each fake comes with a duplicate for emergencies.
“If you lose one, you don’t have to pay for another,” the site explains.
Pick a name, state and address. Scan and send a photo and clear copy of your signature. Fill out the order form and pay by credit card or money order, then sit back and allow up to 10 business days for shipping.
Don’t worry about what happens to your personal information.A pair of fakes cost $200. Three pairs go for $600.Find enough friends and get a price break — special discounts for 10 or more. The site offers Christmas, Halloween and back-to-school sales.
Starting July 1, clerks throughout Tennessee gained the power to begin suspending driver’s licenses if court fees and fines go unpaid for a year. But The Tennessean reports that not a single license has been suspended, according to the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security. Even Tommy Bradley, chief administrative officer for the Davidson County Criminal Court Clerk’s Office and the man who wrote the law, is holding off until Aug. 1 to give debtors one last chance to pay at least something.
Other clerks are questioning whether to suspend licenses at all, out of logistical or moral reservations.
“I just want to wait and see,” said Wilson County Circuit Court Clerk Linda Neal. “I’m afraid this law is going to be hurting the people who would really like to put out the effort to pay and they simply can’t.”
Bradley acknowledges there is “widespread” opposition to the law, which he wrote to help collect hundreds of millions in uncollected court costs.
…Neal said that aside from moral qualms at saddling poor offenders with even more burdens, she’s not sure she has the money or staff to send out notices and then process debtors for suspensions.
“We’ve got all the work that we can say grace over now,” Neal said. “To me, it’s going to be more record-keeping and a little bit more difficult to keep up with.”
Neal said she’s more likely to just continue sending unpaid debts to a collection agency. It’s cheaper and easier on her overworked staff.
Thousands of Tennesseans who haven’t paid court costs and fines will start losing their driver’s licenses on July 1 under a law enacted by the General Assembly last year. Bob Fowler reports that county court clerks and judges, who are preparing to begin enforcing the law, have differing opinions about whether it’s a wise thing to do.
The law applies to misdemeanor and felony cases that were resolved after July 1, 2011. Defendants one year from the date of a guilty plea or conviction to pay off their court costs and fines and, if they don’t they are faced with loss of license. The revocations, thus, will begin after July 1, 2012. “Imagine the court having to have a hearing on every unpaid court cost case,” Anderson County Circuit Court Clerk Barry Pelizzari said. “It would be a burden that this system could not handle.”
“It’s going to be a huge mess,” Anderson County Criminal Court Judge Don Elledge predicted. He said he expects to discuss the issue with fellow jurists during a judicial conference in June.
Roane County Circuit Court Clerk Kim Nelson offers another view. She said she’s “thankful that the Legislature has provided court clerks with another enforcement tool in collecting court costs.”
…State Rep. Jim Gotto, R-Nashville, spearheaded passage of the law. His main reason: “There’s almost $1 billion statewide in unpaid fines and court costs,” he said.
Defendants facing the loss of their driver’s license will now have “an incentive to pay their fines,” he said.
Gotto said he was asked to introduce the legislation by representatives of the Davidson County Criminal Court Clerk’s office. “They see what a huge problem this is.”
Gotto said the law allows defendants unable to pay off their court costs in full within a year to either seek a six-month extension or set up an installment plan for paying.
“There are all kinds of safeguards to keep from disenfranchising any group,” he said, “but it brings some real consequences to folks who just won’t pay.”
Several clerks said they have either already sent out notices to defendants owing court costs in cases resolved last July, alerting them about the new law, or plan to do so soon.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A Tennessee driver’s license examiner has been charged with taking thousands of dollars in bribes to issue licenses to people who failed or did not take the written tests.
Federal prosecutors in Nashville said 54-year-old Larry Murphy of Nashville was a supervisory driver’s license examiner employed by the state Department of Safety and worked at the licensing facility on Hart Lane.
The complaint filed Wednesday in federal court says that between January and April, Murphy improperly provided several licenses to four undercover agents in exchange for payment. In one instance, the complaint said that Murphy made up a Social Security number when the undercover agent told him he did not have one.
An attorney for Murphy declined to comment on the charge when reached Thursday.
Gail Kerr has some advice for “the new, improved Gov. Bill Haslam” — He should use his new leadership to urge solutions to what is a messed-up voter photo ID law. He’s dropping hints that he might intervene, saying the state’s driver’s license stations were not ready for the lines of voters seeking a photo ID so they can vote.
Haslam is not asking lawmakers to postpone the law. But he used an interesting little word: “yet.”
“We haven’t made that recommendation to them yet,” Haslam said. The driver’s license centers need to be “a little more customer friendly,” the governor told reporters, and “they’re not where they need to be yet.” (Note: Actually, it was just one reporter.)
Haslam could do this and offer political cover to both parties. He could, for example, ask that the legislature push back the start date by a year to make more improvements to reduce driver’s license station wait times. He could float an amended bill, allowing college students to use their student IDs at the polls and exempt seniors.
He could push lawmakers to grandfather all existing registered voters in, and begin requiring a photo on voter registration cards from here on out. He could create a new system in which you get a new registration card with a picture taken at the time you go vote. That would phase in a new system nicely over time.
The names or more than 20,000 noncitizens who hold Tennessee driver’s licenses or certificates will soon be compared to voter registration records to determine if any have voted illegally.
The review, which follows a legislative mandate approved in May, was inspired by a similar check in Colorado that found 11,800 noncitizens were registered to vote and about 5,000 had cast ballots in the 2010 election.
State Election Coordinator Mark Goins said there have been isolated cases of noncitizens found voting in Tennessee, including one case in Houston County and another in Putnam County. But he said that, without the pending review, there is no way to know how common such things.
“I hope for four, or five. It could be 10,000,” he said Monday. “It’s a shot in the dark.”