It was an ordinary speeding ticket that went all the way to the Illinois Supreme Court, where a St. Jacob man argued on his own behalf, but ultimately lost.
On May 5, 2014, Christopher 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 —specifically, 80 mph in a 65 mph zone. Troy Police turned the ticket in to the Madison County Circuit Clerk’s office on May 9.
A month later, Geiler filed a pro se motion to dismiss the ticket, alleging that the four-day delay was in violation of Illinois Supreme Court Rule 552, which requires that all citations must be mailed or delivered to the circuit clerk within 48 hours of being issued.
The Madison County Circuit Court agreed and the citation was dismissed. State’s Attorney Tom Gibbons appealed the decision, but the Fifth District Appellate Court in Mount Vernon affirmed the dismissal in February 2015. The case was then headed to the Illinois Supreme Court.
On Friday, the Supreme Court reversed the decision of the appellate court and sent the ticket back to the circuit court.
Before the Geiler case, Troy Police would place the traffic citations in a secure box. On Mondays and Fridays, a supervisor would remove the citations from the box, review and record them on bond sheets, and deliver them to the courthouse — about 30-50 citations in each batch. This was a common procedure with local departments at the time, Troy Police said. Detective Todd Hays testified in the Geiler case that he did not read Rule 552 as “a mandate,” but more of a guideline.
The Supreme Court said the question was not whether the 48-hour rule was violated, but what the appropriate consequence should be. Gibbons’ office had argued that dismissal of the citation was not warranted unless there is harm to the defendant; Geiler argued that since his was not the only ticket so delayed, it showed a clear and consistent violation of the rule and was thus an “injury to the public interest.”
If a person’s rights are violated, that’s one thing. It’s a narrow and strict reading of a rule to get a dismissal on a technicality. That’s not the way the law should work.
Madison County State’s Attorney Tom Gibbons
Geiler argued his case himself without a lawyer, and the Supreme Court noted in its opinion that he performed well in his written brief and in his oral argument. However, they ruled that since there was no “showing of prejudice to the defendant” resulting from the violation of Rule 552, the ticket should not have been thrown out.
“The two-day delay in the filing didn’t in any way have a negative impact on the defendant’s ability to argue his case, to protect his rights in the case,” Gibbons said. “It had no impact at all on the case or his ability to present a defense.”
Gibbons said it was important to get the rule clarified as being “directory” because the reality of processing traffic tickets from multiple jurisdictions means not every police department has the personnel to drive tickets to the courthouse every two days.
“If a person’s rights are violated, that’s one thing,” he said. “It’s a narrow and strict reading of a rule to get a dismissal on a technicality. That’s not the way the law should work.”
Geiler could not be immediately reached for comment. Gibbons said it was “very impressive” that Geiler handled his own case.
Since the Geiler case, police have stepped up how often they have an officer drive the citations in to the circuit clerk’s office. Troy Police began mailing the citations in on Saturday morning because the span between Friday night and Monday morning is more than 48 hours, but the circuit clerk’s office is closed on the weekends.
Meanwhile, Circuit Clerk Mark Von Nida has upgraded to an electronic ticketing system where the ticket is entered directly into a computer in the officer’s squad car and uploaded to his office’s computers immediately. The Madison County Sheriff’s Department was the first department to get online with the new system, with other departments waiting for training and equipment.
Return to BND.com later today for more on this story.