5/25/2017Pennsylvania Appellate Court Revives Administrative Ticket Nightmare
Appellate court in Pennsylvania sends motorist back to square one on his four-year attempt to settle a speeding ticket.
A simple speeding ticket kicked off a four year legal ordeal for Connor Robert Vance. When the young Pennsylvania motorist tried to pay it, nobody would tell him where to send the check because the court with jurisdiction had shut down. Clerks gave an endless series of conflicting and circular advice on what to do. Meanwhile, the state had suspended his license.
On Wednesday, a three-judge Commonwealth Court panel decided that even though there had been a "breakdown in the administrative process" that Vance would be sent back to square one, forced to have to continue fighting the license suspension imposed by the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT).
Vance thought the nightmare had finally ended after he and his mother won their case before the Chester County Court of Common Pleas. The trial judge said it would be unjust to continue perpetuate the "never-ending bureaucratic odyssey of obstruction" that began with a speeding ticket issued on September 4, 2013.
Vance tried to pay that ticket, but he could never get a straight answer out of the Freeland district court in Luzerne County because it was being "phased out" after its senior judge decided to retire.
"Everybody is throwing us in a million different directions," Vance testified of his attempts to pay the ticket.
The Freeland court never bothered updating address records from PennDOT's database, so Vance never received the "failure to pay" notices. PennDOT immediately suspended his license. The first time that Vance learned he was banned from driving was after he drove through a speed trap on August 9, 2014. Telling the officer that he "had no clue" his license had been suspended, Vance found himself facing the much more serious charge of driving on a suspended license. The trial judge threw out the charge, but PennDOT appealed to have it reinstated.
Because Vance made a technical paperwork mistake, the three-judge appellate panel refused to allow him to participate in the appeal in any way. So the appellate judges only heard PennDOT's side of the story.
"The sole issues before this court or the trial court are whether the licensee was in fact convicted and whether the department acted in accordance with applicable law," Judge James Gardner Colins wrote for the panel.
The mere fact that notices were mailed, and that Vance had been convicted were sufficient proof that he had violated the law, regardless of the circumstances. The court did, however, note that this was an extreme case and that Vance would be given a way out -- eventually.
"[Vance] presented evidence to the trial court of a series of miscommunications and potential errors, including evidence that he received misleading information in the notices and restoration letter regarding the district court in which he could challenge his citations or pay the fines that led to his October 11, 2013 provisional license suspension, that the department and other district courts were unable to provide licensee and his mother with any information regarding which district court received the transferred docket," Judge Colins concluded. "Thus, we agree with the department that the narrow facts of this case may rise to the level of a breakdown in the administrative process that would justify a nunc pro tunc appeal of the underlying convictions."
This means that Vance will now have to go back to court and ask permission from a judge to retroactively fight his September speeding ticket, the license suspension and his 2014 conviction for driving on a suspended license.
A copy of the decision is available in a 250k PDF file at the source link below.