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Guilty Plea - Big Mistake!

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk


Guilty Plea - Big Mistake!

Gus Philpott
Woodstock Advocate
June 22, 2008

Back in December I was contacted by a woman in Florida who had found The Woodstock Advocate and wrote to me for assistance for her Illinois son who had gotten a ticket for passing a stopped schoolbus.

Under normal circumstances this is a very serious traffic violation, but it appeared these were not "normal' circumstances. The driver had a local attorney in his small town near Champaign, and I offered him suggestions to discuss with his attorney.

Most importantly, it appeared that he had not violated the law! The schoolbus had been stopped in the school driveway for 12 minutes with the stop-arm out and the red lights flashing. There was no one getting off (or on) the bus. There was no one on the bus - not even the driver! The crossing guard said the driver was in the school delivering the morning mail.

In that small town there was no Vehicular Control Contract between the school district and the town; therefore, no violation occurred because the police had no authority to enforce State traffic laws on the school property. They didn't even know what a VCC was, when I called them.

The schoolbus red lights and stop-arm are to be used only when pupils are getting on or off the bus, so the schoolbus driver violated state law (except the law didn't apply on school grounds, because there was no VCC).

The ticket was written in November. Last week the driver pled guilty and was fined $300. And the worst part? He'll lose his license for 90 days, when the record of the conviction gets to the Secretary of State's office.

What kind of attorney tells or lets his client plead Guilty to a no-brainer case like this? The attorney should have immediately filed a Motion to Dismiss, based on there being no Vehicular Control Contract. The police had no authority to write the ticket in the first place!

The bus driver apparently claimed (not in court, of course) that she was on the bus and tying the shoelaces of a young girl? For 12 minutes? Making the girl tardy? Yeah, sure...

The school claimed it had a videotape of the driver passing the bus. Yet they couldn't produce it, when the driver's lawyer asked for it. Why? No videotape!

It looks to me like small-town lawyering is costing this driver a lot of money. As this case dragged on and on, I recommended to the driver that he get a second legal opinion. Instead, he "laid down." By pleading Guilty, he didn't even force the police to try to make their case against him.

My guess was that the bus driver never would have shown up in court. Automatic dismissal - no prosecution witness. Or, after the prosecution witness(es) testified, the defense attorney should have grilled them to get the truth. Then he should have asked for a Directed Verdict of Not Guilty; if the judge granted it, then the driver (defendant) never would have had to testify.

A decent attorney would have eaten the lunch of the prosecution and made fools out of them. But sometimes lawyers in small towns are careful not to ruffle too many feathers, because they have to make a living there. Is that what happened in this case?

Could the driver now withdraw his Guilty plea and ask for a trial?


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