Compensatory Service in Lieu of Fine Amounts

Work it off or pay it off, the state of Utah now allows those convicted of an infraction or some misdemeanors to choose performing a compensatory service instead of paying a fine.

Monetary punishment

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Anytime someone is found guilty of a crime, they have to pay the courts a fee as part of the punishment for their crimes. Depending on the severity of the crime, the fee can also be accompanied with jail or even prison time. The greater the charge, the heftier the monetary fine will be. While some residents can afford to dish out money for fines, others have a difficult or even impossible time affording the fine amount.

Another option for restitution

For those unable to bear the financial burden that results from their poor choices, the State of Utah now allows individuals to work off fine amounts with compensatory service instead. HB0248 put into effect last week has adjusted the ways in which someone can pay for their legal mistakes. This bill introduced compensatory service which is “service or unpaid work performed by a person, in lieu of the payment of a criminal fine”. Not all fines can be worked off however. The new compensatory service only applies “when a defendant is sentenced to pay a fine for an infraction, class C or class B misdemeanor”. Only then shall “the court consider allowing the defendant to complete compensatory service”. The option of compensatory service is not available for fines associated with felonies or class A misdemeanors.

Hourly “wage” for service

If someone chooses to work off their fine instead of paying for it, the new section 76-3-301.7 states “The court shall credit timely completed compensatory service reported . . . against the fine or bail amount at the rate of $10 per hour and shall allow the defendant a reasonable amount of time to complete the service.” For more information on potential fine or compensatory service amounts regarding pending criminal charges, speak with your legal counsel.

Utah Pedestrian Laws

There are numerous laws that apply only to Utah drivers on the road however there is also a list of pedestrian laws for those navigating Utah streets on foot.

Traffic signals and sidewalks

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Utah Code 41-6a part 10 discusses the use of roadways by pedestrians and informs those out walking or running what is expected of them while on Utah roads. Beyond obeying “the instructions of a traffic-control device specifically applicable to the pedestrian”, pedestrians are also expected to follow the rules regarding where they are permitted to be while on foot. Most busy roads throughout Utah and several residential areas have sidewalks accessible to pedestrians. If a sidewalk if available, it is not just a suggestion for pedestrians to use- it is the law. 41-6a-1009 states if “there is a sidewalk provided and its use is practicable, a pedestrian may not walk along or on [a] . . . roadway”.

Sidewalk less roads

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There are areas in Utah such as rural neighborhoods or highways (paved roads with speeds above 35 mph) where sidewalks are not available. When this is the case, Utah Code 41-6a-1009 instructs residents to think safely and “walk as near as practicable to the outside edge of the roadway”. They also note that “if on a two-way roadway, [pedestrians should] walk only on the left side of the roadway facing traffic.” This does not pertain to freeways however, as “a pedestrian may not walk along or on a no-access freeway facility except during an emergency.” Additionally, pedestrians are warned not to “impede or block traffic” along any interstate, freeway or state route highway unless during an emergency. These areas include “shoulder areas . . . ; on ramps; . . . and [the] area between the roadways of a divided highway.”

Yield right-of-way

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Some pedestrians assume that when they step into the roadway, drivers are solely responsible for avoiding a collision. While drivers should use caution when foot-travelers are around, pedestrians only have the right-of-way when they are in a crosswalk (marked or unmarked). Otherwise, the drivers have the right-of-way on all Utah roads while pedestrians “may not suddenly leave a curb or other place of safety and walk or run into the path of a vehicle which is so close as to constitute an immediate hazard” as stated by Utah Code 41-6a-1002. Most pedestrian violations will result in an infraction, while some violations such as blocking traffic on a highway could result in a class C misdemeanor. One thing is certain: if pedestrians do not use caution while on roadways, the odds will always be against them when a moving vehicle is involved.

Police Use of Radar Guns to Detect Texting and Driving

Radar guns have been used by police since 1949 to catch speeding drivers and are now being developed to also detect those texting and driving.

Distracted driving

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According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, distracted driving is dangerous, claiming 3,477 lives in 2015 alone [and] 391,000 were injured in motor vehicle crashes involving distracted drivers. ( . . . ) [T]exting is the most alarming distraction. Sending or reading a text takes your eyes off the road for 5 seconds. At 55 mph that’s like driving the length of an entire football field with your eyes closed.” The NHTSA also announced that “During daylight hours, approximately 660,000 drivers are using cell phones while driving. With smart phones offering consumers communication, shopping, entertainment and so much more on the go, it is hard to not look at our phones- even on short trips in the car. Ignoring the sound of a notification or delaying the sending of a quick message to a friend takes a lot of willpower to avoid.

Texting and driving

Many individuals that text and drive can appear to do so stealthily, often without being noticed by other drivers or law enforcement until their distracted driving gets them into trouble. Cell phone use prior to an accident is extremely common, so common in fact that those at fault are often blamed for using a cell phone use whenever a vehicle accident occurs from a driver who was distracted. Following an accident, law enforcement can usually determine whether or not a cell phone was actually in use leading up to the collision. Now however, officers would like to detect texting and driving prior to a potential accident.

Texting radar guns

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A company called ComSonics has been working on a radar gun that can help police detect whether or not a cell phone is being used in a moving vehicle. The texting radar gun, named Sniffer Sleuth uses radar technology to detect radio frequencies that are emitted from a cell phone during use. Every time a text is sent, a call is made, or the phone is otherwise being used by a distracted driver, the Sniffer Sleuth will be able to pick up on the change in frequencies, alerting the officer on the other side of the gun.

A work in progress

While the Sniffer Sleuth seems like a great idea to catch those who text or Facebook while driving, there are some concerns with its accuracy and thus its validity as proof of distracted driving. For one, a speeding radar gun targets the entire car yet a texting gun is going to pinpoint where in the moving car a phone is being used? Unless a driver is alone, it seems highly unlikely that a radar gun would be able to determine from where in the car the radio frequencies are being discharged from. Another issue is for those who are texting or calling legally through the use of hands-free technology such as Bluetooth connections in their vehicle. Although law enforcement should be able to note a driver is using one of these hands-free options after viewing the driver’s phone, that driver still has to deal with the embarrassment of being pulled over along with the loss of time from the traffic stop. The other major concern that is at stake is the privacy of the public. Will the texting radar guns be able to pick up any content of messages and if not, won’t law enforcement then be able to use more privacy concerning gadgets such as the Textalyzer? Finally, will officers use this new technology as a means of pulling over a suspicious vehicle whose driver is otherwise following the law?

Criminal Charges

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If someone is found guilty of texting while driving, they will face a class C misdemeanor or a class B misdemeanor if they cause an accident where someone is seriously injured. Utah Code 41-6a-1716 states unless for navigation or during an emergency, “A person may not use a handheld wireless communication device while operating a moving motor vehicle on a highway in this state to manually:
(a) write, send, or read a written communication, including:
(i) a text message;
(ii) an instant message; or
(iii) electronic mail;
(b) dial a phone number;
(c) access the Internet;
(d) view or record video; or
(e) enter data into a handheld wireless communication device”

Anyone facing charges following law enforcement’s use of text-detecting gadgets such as Sniffer Sleuths or Textlyers should speak to an attorney about the reliability of the information collected and whether or not it will hold up in court.