Welcome to Beerup Law
Ruth Beerup is a St. Charles, Missouri attorney who has practiced criminal defense and traffic law her entire 25+ year career. She knows just how tough trucking is because she is married to a million-mile driver. The job is inherently challenging, maintaining control of an 80,000-pound vehicle, backing it into spots barely wider than the trailer, driving in bad weather at all hours, and all while spending time away from your family. Not only that, but it can feel like everyone is trying to make it harder, from loaders who are in no hurry to get you on the road to DOT and law enforcement looking to jump on the slightest mistake and four-wheelers just flat out trying to kill you.
Ruth doesn't want to add to your troubles. She works hard to make the process as easy as possible to keep your record clean so you can concentrate on your job. Unfortunately, traffic law is not straightforward when a CDL is involved. The federal government uses anti-masking rules to interfere with a state's right to adjudicate cases as they see fit. These laws can make it very difficult for a lawyer to get a ticket amended for a trucker.
The federal anti-masking rule is found at 49 U.S. Code § 31311 (a) (19). It says that every state must report convictions for CDL holders and cannot do anything that hides or “masks” the conviction on a driver's record. Examples of this would be a driving class that, when completed, vacates a conviction or an amendment (changing a speeding ticket to parking) that hides the true nature of the offense. States that violate this are in danger of losing their Title 23 highway funding and their ability to issue commercial driver's licenses.
These rules have been interpreted in different ways, even to the extent that the FMCSA has issued contradictory information. Shortly after the anti-masking rules were implemented, Missouri asked for specific guidance regarding a hypothetical situation where an improper lane change was amended to a defective muffler. The FMCSA indicated that this was acceptable because there was no judgment of guilt being hidden. They have since modified that position to say that a prosecutor must have a legitimate factual basis to amend a charge. In other words, an improper lane change, which is considered a serious offense, can be changed to failure to yield, a less severe charge, if the facts warrant.
As you can see, anti-masking laws can greatly complicate getting a resolution on a CDL ticket. It is very important to hire a lawyer who knows the specifics.
Speeding in a personal vehicle is one of the most common charges we deal with for CDL holders. Even though the offense is not connected with the driver's job, it can have serious consequences, particularly if the speed is 15 m.p.h over or more. Some courts will work with an attorney because a prosecutor has discretion over how they handle cases. Others are hesitant because of an overreaction to the anti-masking statutes. Even within the confines of these statutes, however, a prosecutor should still be able to find a factual basis to amend a high-speed ticket to a speeding 1-5 m.p.h. over, which is a no-point violation.
If you are a CDL holder with a speeding violation, make sure you talk to an attorney who knows how to deal with them. The attorney should tell you exactly how the court you are charged in deals with them and what steps the attorney must take to work things out to a good resolution.
Red Light Tickets
Every truck driver knows that electric signals were not designed with a 70 foot long 40-ton vehicle in mind. Cameras on the red lights just compound the problem. Often, the safest thing to do when caught short on a light change is to proceed through the intersection in a reasonable manner rather than slam on the brakes. Safe driving will get your picture taken and a ticket in the mail. Thankfully, most jurisdictions in the St. Louis area that still use red light cameras are willing to amend them, particularly if the attorney knows how to present the issue. If you face a red light camera ticket in your semi-truck, make sure you call a lawyer who knows how to deal with them.
Left Lane Tickets
RSMo 304.015 (7) is the statute covering “high-dollar lanes” in Missouri. It states that a vehicle with a registered gross weight of over 48,000 cannot be driven in the far left-hand lane on interstate highways with three or more lanes in urbanized areas of the state. Violation of this statute is a class C misdemeanor unless the action creates an immediate threat of accident, in which case it is a class B misdemeanor. If the action actually causes an accident, it is a class A misdemeanor. The range of punishment can include jail time, from 15 days for a class C to 6 months for a class B and 1 year for a class A. Prosecutors will seldom ask for jail time for these offenses unless there is a serious accident, but the threat is still there.
There are instances in which a truck driver is allowed to use the left lane. The statute says the restriction shall not apply when traffic control devices direct the use of the left lane or when the right lanes are closed for construction. One could imagine other circumstances that would warrant an exception, such as accidents, debris on the road, or flooding blocking the right lanes.
Left lane tickets are serious. You need legal representation. Thankfully, these tickets can often be amended without running afoul of the anti-masking statutes. The more severe repercussions can often be avoided, and it is even possible to keep points off your record.
Sometimes you just have to make a move past that scale, hoping that it is closed. When it doesn't work out, the fines can be expensive. In Missouri, you will be charged $87.50 for the first 1000 pounds and 10 cents a pound after that ($100 for every 1000). Thankfully, overweight tickets are not point violations that you need a lawyer to amend. What a lawyer can do is work out a fine reduction. This reduction is almost always more than the lawyer's fees, a financial benefit, and it saves you a lot of hassle if the ticket requires a court appearance.
Serious Violation Reduction
Any CDL driver who receives two serious traffic violations within three years will receive a minimum 60-day suspension. Three in three years will get you a minimum 120-day suspension. Serious violations are, chiefly, speeding 15+ over, reckless or negligent driving, following too closely, improper lane change, overtaking on the right, texting while driving, driving without the proper license, and any accident with a fatality.
It is vitally important to get any of the above charges reduced to a lesser offense. You need a specialized traffic attorney who knows how to work around the anti-masking laws. These laws make it difficult to get an amendment, but a skilled attorney can do it. The federal government has held that a prosecutor must have a factual basis to amend a charge for a CDL driver. In other words, they cannot change speeding to parking without facts to support the parking charge. It is the job of the defense attorney to properly frame the issue so that a prosecutor can find their way to a fact-based amendment that keeps a serious violation off the driver's record.
Truckers don't have time for court appearances. Some courts require an in-person appearance for some tickets, and often a driver just wants to avoid having to go to a court that might be thousands of miles away. It is necessary in these cases to hire an experienced attorney who knows how to deal with CDL cases. There are plenty of ways to trip up, even if you are just trying to submit a guilty plea to get things over. You need a lawyer to make sure you are not pleading to a serious violation that could potentially suspend your license. Your lawyer must also know to steer clear of driver improvement programs or other diversions that run afoul of the anti-masking statutes.
If you are facing any kind of CDL violation in the St. Louis area, give attorney Ruth Beerup a call at (636) 940-1111. Not only does she have over 25 years of experience fighting traffic cases, but she is also married to a driver. She knows the industry well, and she has sympathy and understanding for just how tough a job truck driving is. Getting a resolution on CDL cases is tough. You deserve an attorney who knows CDL law and can fight for your rights.