As many truck drivers and motor carriers can attest driving through Hannibal, Missouri without getting a “red light ticket” has been a quite a feat. In Missouri, the battle has been mostly over ticketing a driver based on a vehicle license plate being snapped in a photo. In most cases, commercial motor vehicles are registered to the trucking company and not the individual driver. For municipalities like Hannibal, MO, it presents a challenge in issuing a traffic ticket if the driver cannot be identified. Although red light cameras have vanished from many areas of the state, this issue is still alive and well in Hannibal.
The visibility and timing of the light cycle at the notorious intersections in Hannibal makes it difficult for drivers to come to a stop in time. Unfortunately, truck drivers sometimes fall prey to this trap and the red light camera snaps a photo of the violation. The Hannibal Police Department sends the owner/president/CEO of the trucking company a threatening letter demanding the driver’s name be disclosed. If the trucking company refuses, the owner or President of the company will end up in court, charged with interfering with a police investigation. The fine for the interference violation is up to $400. The right light ticket is only half that amount, but the red light violation can end up on the safety record of the driver and the company. Most often, in light of the time, money and hassle to fight the red light ticket, the companies turn over the driver’s information, resulting in their driver being issued a citation.
In this situation, Frerichs Freight Lines decided to fight the Hannibal Police Department’s demand. Bill Frerichs teamed up with Steve Ahillen of our office and took on city hall.
Steve filed a Motion to Dismiss for lack of “personal jurisdiction”. It is a basic principle in a criminal case that some violation of the law must occur within the jurisdiction where the charges are filed. You cannot be charged with a crime in one jurisdiction for something you allegedly did in a different jurisdiction. Some criminal “activity” has to occur within the City of Hannibal. Bill lives and works in Illinois. On the date that Bill allegedly committed the offense, he was 150 miles from Hannibal. Therefore, the City lacked jurisdiction because anything that Bill did on that date could only have taken place in outside the City of Hannibal.
The City argued that Bill was being charged in his capacity as president of the trucking company. By doing business in Missouri, Frerichs Freight Lines had consented to jurisdiction in Missouri. Further, an officer of a corporation may be liable for the criminal offenses of a company. Therefore, the company’s refusal to provide the requested information about the identity of the driver was a violation of the ordinance and the City had jurisdiction over it.
Steve countered by successfully arguing that the prosecutor in Hannibal was misapplying the standard for criminal jurisdiction. There is no dispute that if you engage in some activity that violates the law while you are in a jurisdiction, you are subject to criminal penalties in that jurisdiction. The fact that a driver operating a company truck passed through Hannibal and allegedly violated the red light ordinance only gives the city jurisdiction over the driver, and only for the red light violation itself. It does not give the City of Hannibal jurisdiction over the president of the company for an entirely separate charge of “interference with an investigation”.
The Court agreed and dismissed all charges against Bill and Frerichs Freight Line. Over the past several years we have been asked by a number of out of state trucking clients on how to handle the dreaded Hannibal red light ticket and subsequent claim of obstruction of justice. We now have an answer thanks to Bill Frerichs and Steve Ahillen of Roberts Perryman who made a basic and timeless legal argument to win the day. We are confident that the City of Hannibal will not end this practice but we now have the law on our side.
Roberts Perryman has been a leader in transportation defense for over 50 years with offices in St. Louis and Springfield, MO and Belleville, IL. http://www.robertsperryman.com