Friday, April 26, 2013

Weight A Minute - Fun With Weigh Station Law In Michigan

Just wrapped up a rather interesting little case that shed some light on a pretty vague area of Michigan Law.

My client, a college student with a clean driving and clean criminal record was driving a light truck for his employer and, as he usually did, went past the weigh station on the highway in the firm belief that since his vehicle was under 10,001 pounds he didn't need to stop.

While this would be true in other states perhaps, it is rather interesting in Michigan. He received a misdemeanor ticket for failing to stop under MCL 257.724(5) (Actually the officer charged him under 257.724(4) which he couldn't have actually done but no matter - the prosecutor can amend that easily). We'll explain why it's interesting in just a moment.

The plan is to plead this down to a civil infraction to keep a misdemeanor off his clean record. So we're off to great start when we appear at the pre-trial and are immediately told by the prosecutor that the policy of the county it which the stop took place is that misdemeanors are never pled down to civil infractions. He offers a lower misdemeanor, but its still a misdemeanor. Not good.

I then explain why this one deserves a bit of leniency in addition to the kid's clean record, based on research I've done to prepare for the pre-trial:

The reason is the law in Michigan as to who needs to stop at a weigh station is quite vague, over-broad and can lead to some rather absurd results if enforced as written. So much so that the average police officer in Michigan not realize what trucks are subject to this law (an unscientific poll of multiple police officers I knew all when asked stated that it had to be over 10,001 pounds to have to stop. In addition even AAA gets the answer wrong.

Remember the truck in question is under 10,001 pounds, Here's what AAA has to say about Michigan :

Michigan

The following vehicles must stop: (1) vehicles with dual rear wheels transporting agricultural products; (2) trucks over 10,000 lbs. with dual rear wheels and/or towing construction equipment; (3) all tractor/semitrailer combination vehicles.

Since my client wasn't driving one of those we must be good right? Not so fast.

Well, lets look at how the Feds define a commercial vehicle under 49 CFR 390.5:

a commercial vehicle “means any self-propelled or towed motor vehicle used on a highway in interstate commerce to transport passengers or property when the vehicle – (1) has a gross vehicle weight rating or gross combination weight rating or gross vehicle weight or gross combination weight, of 4,536 kg (10,001 pounds) or more, whichever is greater

So he's good there, and considering the ticket referenced the CFR's catch-all as a motoring offense, you can see why this begins to get weird as he's not technically subject that that sectrion of the code by definition.

Just as you thought this case was a slam dunk for a dismissal on the merits, we hit the weigh station of Michigan law - MCL 257.724(5):

a driver or owner of a commercial vehicle with other vehicles or trailers in combination, a truck or truck tractor, a truck or truck tractor with other vehicles in combination, or any special mobile equipment fails to stop at or bypasses any scales or weighing stations is guilty of a misdemeanor.

It would seem that he's good there too right? He didn't have another vehicle or trailer in combination, he wasn't a truck tractor or a truck tractor with other vehicles in combination nor was he special mobile equipment.

The problem is the words "a truck or".

MCL 257.75 defines thew word truck as:

“truck means every motor vehicle designed, used, or maintained primarily for the transportation of property.”

That right there's the problem for my client. Under the law as written, vehicles as small pickup trucks and cargo vans have to stop at weigh stations along the highways in Michigan as they are clearly "designed, used, or maintained primarily for the transportation of property".

Of course this makes the other truck-type words in the statute rather surplus as "truck" covers everything in section 5 all by itself including all the combination listed.

I point this out to the prosecutor and he agrees it is not the run of the mill situation and is worthy of some introspection.

After further discussion, all the parties agreed that: a) my client will stop at weigh stations from now on, vagueness of the law notwithstanding; and b) the ticket is pled down to a civil infraction for impeding traffic resulting in no criminal record, no points, and just a $160 fine.

Everyone is quite happy with this result.

1 comment:

Isuzu Buyer said...

This reminds me of the man in Sparta charged with a felony for using the free wifi of a local coffee shop from his car. All without the shop owner never having filing a complaint.

I suggest everyone read; "Three Felonies A Day: How the Feds Target the Innocent" and then add in Michigan's laws.