Peter Vieth//December 19, 2011
Peter Vieth//December 19, 2011//
A lawyer from Lynchburg is ready to take on Sussex County over a charge of driving without proof of insurance.
M. Paul Valois said he was appalled at his recent experience as a traffic defendant. Not only was he charged with a crime that doesn’t exist in the code, he said, but he claims the judge and bailiff put pressure on defendants not to contest any charges.
Valois said he was stopped by a town police officer as he motored through Waverly on Labor Day weekend. He was charged with driving 62 mph in a 45 mph zone. He said the officer asked for his insurance card and charged him with failure to provide proof of insurance when he did not produce one.
Because violation of Virginia Code § 46.2-707 – the statute in the charges – is a Class 3 misdemeanor and involves making false statements, Valois determined to go to court to contest the case. “That’s a crime of moral turpitude,” he said. “I’ve got to fight it.”
Valois contended the charge is inappropriate. “Virginia is not a mandatory insurance state,” he said, and he argued the statute does not require drivers on the road to be able to prove their insurance status.
Valois traveled to his court date in Sussex prepared to make those arguments to a judge and was surprised at the traffic court procedures. Valois said he twice listened in shock as the court bailiff went through the process, telling the waiting defendants that if they planned to plead not guilty they should be prepared to prove their innocence.
Court bailiff Corp. Larry Murray confirmed that, at the direction of Judge Steven D. Bloom, he explains to traffic defendants their options. They can plead guilty, not guilty or no contest. He tells them if they plead not guilty, they “have to have proof of being not guilty.”
That flies in the face of the presumption of innocence in American criminal law, Valois said.
Valois said he took up the issue with Bloom, who confirmed he had directed the bailiff to give defendants advice on the choices of pleas. The judge denied imposing any extra penalty for drivers who plead not guilty, Valois said.
Bloom did not return a call seeking comment.
Valois said the bailiff was also the officer involved in some of the traffic cases. He said he was considering filing a JIRC complaint against the judge.
As for Valois’ case, Bloom took both the insurance charge and the speeding charge under advisement after considering Valois’ argument that the insurance statute did not apply. Another hearing is scheduled for Jan. 24, according to Valois and online court records.
Valois said he suspected the insurance charge was part of a small town speed trap shakedown. “It’s one thing to set up a guy to get every speeder and take their fine money,” he said. “It’s another to take court costs for a fake, false law. They’re charging people with crimes that don’t exist.”