By Jordan W. Charness

This isn’t even a “Peter” story: the facts are available to anyone who reads the court record. We have a system of open justice where court records are generally open to the public. The only records and trials that are routinely sealed and kept away from public view are those pertaining to family cases, like divorces and many cases dealing with minors.

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This case was none of the above: it was a simple case of a driving ticket that turned out to be not-so-simple in the end. In fact, because of a major paperwork error, “Dennis” spent Christmas Eve in jail!

The good news is that this is an American story, but similar snafus are not unknown in Canada. This story actually began 11 years previously and stretched from Alabama to Ohio before poor Dennis got locked up for doing absolutely nothing wrong… at least not this time.

In 1994 however, Dennis had his driver’s license revoked for driving while his license had been suspended as a result of too many speeding tickets and other moving violations. He was ordered to take a remedial driving course when his suspension was over. He completed the course in 1999.

In 2000, his Ohio driver’s license was once again suspended but this time for nonpayment of a traffic ticket he had received in Alabama. Ohio rules allow for suspension of your Ohio license if you ignore tickets given to you in other states (but not Canadian provinces). He paid the ticket and his driver’s license was re-issued in 2000. It was then renewed in 2003 in the usual way and Dennis had not had a traffic ticket since.

Shortly before 2 p.m. Christmas eve 2006, Dennis cut off another driver by pulling onto the street without properly looking around. This caused a minor accident which damaged the other car. A sheriff’s deputy was sent to the scene and ran Dennis’ driver’s license through the computer. The computer said that his driver’s license had been revoked in 1994 and therefore Dennis must be driving illegally.

Dennis heatedly pointed out that he had a valid driver’s license which had been renewed by the Ohio Department of Motor Vehicles in 2003. The deputy sheriff said, not so, at least not according to the DMV computers. Tempers frayed and Dennis was taken to the police station where he was locked up for 12 hours, right through Christmas eve.

His nephew brought money to pay for his bail and he was released at 2:30 a.m. Christmas day. He was also ordered to appear in Municipal Court on New Year’s Eve.

By the time he got to court Dennis was able to track down what happened in his file. In October 1999, Dennis had hand-delivered to the DMV office all the documents needed to lift his Ohio suspension and clear 12 points from his record. This included a certificate proving that he had passed the remedial driving course.

Unfortunately, the DMV did not file the documents in the right place or mark down that he had indeed passed this course.

To make matters worse, in 1999 when Alabama notified Ohio that the ticket had now been paid, the DMV lifted his suspension and ticked off the wrong box on the form. It told him to go and take a driving test and apply for a new license.

He took the test and got the new license but his original 1999 suspension still remained in the DMV computers and his 12 points were never cleared.

“This was the case of the right hand not talking to the left hand” said the DMV spokeswoman who was asked for her comments. “It’s definitely an unfortunate situation, and we would like to extend our apologies, but you know we’re glad we’re getting to the bottom of this.”

The DMV might be glad, but Dennis is still pretty annoyed that he spent Christmas eve in jail and is considering legal action against the department.

His troubles were not completely over. He still had to appear in court on New Year’s Eve. At that hearing the charges of driving with a suspended license were dropped, but he was still convicted of failing to yield the right-of-way and was ordered to pay a $25 fine and earned two demerit points on his new driver’s license.

This license was a brand-new one sent to him on December 26th, 2006 after he presented proof once again that he had passed the remedial driving course six years ago. This driver’s license was guaranteed by the DMV to be free and clear of the initial 12 points that cost him his license back in 1999.

So in January of 2007 Dennis had a new driver’s license with two new demerit points, had paid a fine of $25 and is waiting for the refund of his bail money! Happy New Year, Dennis!

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