A St. Jacob man’s fight against a speeding ticket will soon go to the Illinois Supreme Court, and may change the way police departments process their paperwork.
On May 5, 2014, Chris Geiler, of St. Jacob, was stopped by a Troy police officer and given a ticket charging him with driving 15 mph over the speed limit. The ticket was turned in to the Madison County circuit clerk’s office on May 9.
A month later, Geiler — acting as his own attorney — filed a motion to dismiss, alleging that the four-day delay was a violation of Illinois Supreme Court Rule 552, which requires that citations must be mailed or delivered to the circuit clerk within 48 hours.
St. Jacob resident Chris Geiler argued the four-day delay in turning in his speeding ticket to the Madison County circuit clerk’s office was a violation of Illinois Supreme Court Rule 552, which requires that citations must be mailed or delivered to the circuit clerk within 48 hours.
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A Madison County judge agreed, and the citation was dismissed. State’s Attorney Tom Gibbons’ office appealed the decision, and when the 5th District Appellate Court in Mount Vernon affirmed the Circuit Court, filed a petition for rehearing.
That was in February, and now the case is headed to the Illinois Supreme Court. On Sept. 30, the high court agreed to hear the case, though it will be months before arguments are made.
It isn’t often that a speeding ticket goes to the Supreme Court, but to Gibbons, it’s really about the proper application of Supreme Court rules.
“The decision by (former Judge Elizabeth Levy) to dismiss this case, as well as a whole host of other cases, is based on a very narrow reading and understanding of the Supreme Court rule on proper filing times,” Gibbons said. “Our interpretation, based on prior case law, was that the Supreme Court rule indicated a 48-hour time period that was not mandatory. It was a guideline, not a strict interpretation, and there was case law to support that.”
Gibbons said the state’s attorney’s office actually has up to 18 months from the date of a misdemeanor or petty offense to file the charges, and if strictly interpreted, the 48-hour rule conflicts with the statute of limitations.
State’s Attorney Tom Gibbons says his office has up to 18 months from the date of a misdemeanor or petty offense to file the charges, and if strictly interpreted, the 48-hour rule conflicts with the statute of limitations.
“We had never run into this as an issue before, and it’s not a case where it was causing harm to the defendants,” Gibbons said. “No one was, say, holding onto tickets for 17 months to harass a defendant.”
Geiler, who represented himself without a lawyer before the appellate court, could not be reached for comment.
Troy Police Chief Brad Parsons said because it was still in the courts, he could not talk about Geiler’s case specifically. However, he said general policy at the Troy Police Department had been to take tickets into the circuit clerk’s office on Mondays and Fridays.
“I know it was (intended) to eliminate departments holding tickets for an excessive amount to time, while people couldn’t post cash and get their license back,” Parsons said. “I didn’t think there was any actual harm to be suffered by a violator.”
I know it was (intended) to eliminate departments holding tickets for an excessive amount to time, while people couldn’t post cash and get their license back. I didn’t think there was any actual harm to be suffered by a violator.
Brad Parsons, Troy police chief
Parsons said since the court rulings, they have modified procedures so that an officer takes the tickets in on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. He was stuck, however, on what to do about Friday night tickets.
“If we arrest someone on Friday night, there is no one (in the circuit clerk’s office) to accept paperwork on Saturday and Sunday,” Parsons said.
Now, Parsons said, he has a shift commander sitting at the post office on Saturday mornings, mailing tickets from Friday night so that they have technically been transmitted within the 48-hour time period.
“It should be acceptable that anything done Friday night can be turned in Monday morning,” Parsons said. “We are complying, but we are hoping (for changes) after it’s reviewed.”
Parsons said a police department such as his, with 19 officers at his disposal, is at least able to comply with this structure. But smaller police departments such as Marine and St. Jacob may only have a few officers, he said. “We can’t have them constantly dropping off tickets instead of working,” he said.
Gibbons said he believes the decision was incorrect, and is glad the Supreme Court will be hearing the case. “I appreciate the court taking the time on something that might seem small,” he said. “It seems like a solution in search of a problem.”
Bypass the problem: electronic ticketing?
One way the entire problem could be solved is through technology. In most departments throughout the country, officers are still writing traffic tickets the same way they have since the 1940s. They might have laptops in the squad car to look up information about the driver, but then they’re copying information by hand into a ticket book with carbon copies.
The top copy goes to the offender, then the carbons go to the station, where a clerk types the information into the police department’s internal system. Another carbon goes to the circuit clerk, where another clerk types information into their system.
Madison County Circuit Clerk Mark Von Nida says the system is slow, inefficient and leads to errors. If the errors involve court dates, it can be a real problem with real consequences for citizens.
“What other use do you know of for carbon copies?” Von Nida said. “It seems like such a no-brainer in the 21st century.”
In 2012, Von Nida set out to automate the system, and immediately found “it’s not so easy to change.”
“It’s not just a matter of getting software that works,” Von Nida said. “There are several procedural hurdles that have to be satisfied by the courts to make sure everyone’s rights are preserved and the laws are properly enforced.”
Earlier this year, he received permission from the Illinois Supreme Court to explore digital ticketing. He has contracted with Saltus Technologies for digi-Ticket, which uses a scanner attached to the officer’s laptop to scan the driver’s license and bring up the information on the computer. It creates the traffic ticket, and a small printer in the car prints out multiple copies.
Another program, called eCriminal, was approved in July to allow criminal dockets to be filed electronically. It will allow departments to connect to each other as well, Von Nida said. Granite City Police Department has been part of a pilot program on this system since 2010, he said.
Who’s paying for it? Since 2009, a $5 e-citation fee has been charged on traffic citations that go to court. Of the $5, $3 goes to the circuit clerk and $2 to the policy agency. That fee has built up to a couple hundred thousand dollars that can only be used for this purpose, Von Nida said.
Beginning with the Madison County Sheriff’s Department, he said, departments will be added to the system. His office pays for the software, and the police departments pay for the hardware, though he said he expected to assist some smaller departments to get them on board more quickly. The sheriff’s department should be deployed by the end of the year, he said.
Once it’s all in place, Von Nida said, problems surrounding officers driving boxes of carbon copies to the county courthouse will be over.
“It will be a problem of the past,” he said. “It’ll take less time with more accuracy.”
As a bonus, Von Nida said, the system takes the average traffic stop down from 15 minutes to 3-5 minutes.
“It’s bad enough that you’re getting a ticket, but you’re probably already late — that’s why you were speeding,” he said. “In a funny way, it’s good customer service.”