"I don't live in this state, your laws don't apply to me."
October 12, 2001 1:49 AM   Subscribe

"I don't live in this state, your laws don't apply to me." The Supreme Court of Illinois threw out a traffic ticket because the driver is not a resident of Illinois. Granted its just a no-insurance ticket but this looks like a very bad precedent.
posted by skallas (17 comments total)

This post was deleted for the following reason: Poster's Request -- frimble

But suppose it had been upheld? Then every driver who crosses a state line would be responsible for knowing the exact auto insurance laws of every state he drives through. A family driving from New York to Florida might have to learn the differing insurance requirements of seven or eight states. If one state in that chain required more insurance coverage than his own state, he would have to up his liability insurance, just for that one state. Or break the law. Or make a huge detour around, say, the state of Virginia. Even Virginia doesn't want that. They want the tourist buying at their gas stations and eating at their restaurants.

Everyone agrees that drivers have to obey local traffic laws, and some are going to get burned. The Pennsylvania guy who flies into California, rents a car, and doesn't realize that you have to yield to pedestrians. Too bad, it's the local law. But I think there are huge practical problems in enforcing auto insurance regulations on out-of-state travelers.

The appropriate solution is for states to write into their insurance laws provisions that state that out-of-state drivers must be in compliance with their own state's insurance regulations. Anything else is folly.
posted by Slithy_Tove at 2:12 AM on October 12, 2001

Is this even a precedent? This seems like the result almost any court in the country would have come up with in a case like this. The state Supreme Court didn't even make the decision; it just upheld the rulings of two lower courts that already said the exact same thing. It doesn't look like anything more than a stupid-on-its-face law (I can't image a federal court ever allowing a law like this to stand, once challenged) that was overzealously prosecuted by a local DA either because his cronies wanted to keep on being able to get the extra money from the traffic tickets or because he personally wanted a chance to make a bit of a name for himself.
posted by aaron at 2:29 AM on October 12, 2001

Do you think that this defence could be applied to that bloke who 'cracked' the Adobe e-book security? Does DMCA apply to a Russian programmer working in Russia?
posted by snowgum at 3:05 AM on October 12, 2001

DMCA is a different - it has a highly powerful lobbying force behind it :(
posted by Maxor at 4:06 AM on October 12, 2001

hmm... I grew up very near Davenport and Rock Island, and I can say for sure... These places are very very close to each other, the residents of one place will have almost certainly visited the other more times than one could count. Most people on either side of the river comply with the laws on the other side, or they don't go over. If he knew the laws, and chose not to comply, he should have stayed out of IL.

This isn't the same to me as an out-of-state driver from Pennsylvania driving through California... These towns are literally right next to each other. But I suppose it all has to be treated the same in court?
posted by FortyT-wo at 5:29 AM on October 12, 2001

One state should not be able to mandate how you behave in another state.
posted by rcade at 5:35 AM on October 12, 2001

works in much the same way as inspection/emission stickers. Oklahoma no longer requires them, but when i drive into Missouri, i don't have to stop at the border and have an emissions test done just to get the little sticker thing to put in my window.
posted by tolkhan at 6:10 AM on October 12, 2001

Given the current legislative/judicial situation, it seems like the court acted in an unsurprising and correct way -- but to me what this points up is the increasing difficulty of having all these various legal codes in our country. People move around almost effortlessly now, but the legal situations change far too easily for most of us to keep track of. Think about the differences in the mandatory penalties for drug possession that you find in a state like New York and compare them to other states. Ideally, I'm supposed to understand the local laws of any place when I go there. But practically speaking, this is not going to happen.

(I'm trying to think about whether this is going off-topic. I think I'm just within the guidelines here.)

I don't think it's practical to get rid of states as legislative entities per se -- it would put us at too great a distance from legislators. But in the age of rapid interstate movement, I'm surprised that there isn't more pressure for states like Iowa and Illinois to get on the same page about laws like this.
posted by BT at 6:32 AM on October 12, 2001

I think you're quite on-topic, but you're envisioning something that can never possibly happen without implementing changes to the Constitution far beyond any ever made in the history of the country. States are not merely a lower, more intimate level of "The Government." They are political entities unto themsleves; the US only exists at all because the individual states have all agreed to, well, unite. Many powers were delegated to the feds, but everything else - ALL other powers not assigned to national government in the Constitution - rest in the hands of the states.
posted by aaron at 6:54 AM on October 12, 2001

BT -

As a defender of the 10th Amendment, and someone who would like to see the Socratic choice (ala, the Apology, wherein Socrates talks about making a choice of where to live based on its laws) become more viable within the US as a true testament to plurality, I welcome differences between states' laws.

Economic unity does not require legislative unity. Differences between states add to the rich diversity that we (should) value. Strong federalism is an unfortunate (and perhaps irreversible) trend.
posted by yesster at 6:59 AM on October 12, 2001

States are not just minor political entities. State government is actually the most relevant in our personal lives. Almost every individual interaction with government is at a state, county, or city level. Criminal laws, civil laws, infrastructure, law enforcement, court systems, schools, universities, business practices, professional certifications... even local defense (in the form of the national guard) are all powers of the states, and the federal government in its current state does not have the capacity or the ability to run these things (not to mention the whole Constitutional thing). The US works really well in this form, and I don't think we should change it.

The federal government might have a say in dealing with interstate disputes like this, or making rules about what states can require of out-of-state drivers, but even that's iffy.

Auto insurance law varies quite a bit from state to state and I can't imagine that any sane Illinois executive really thinks it is important whether Iowans driving their highways have the same level of insurance as native residents.

But I'll stop babbling now.
posted by daveadams at 7:30 AM on October 12, 2001

Auto insurance law varies quite a bit from state to state and I can't imagine that any sane Illinois executive really thinks it is important whether Iowans driving their highways have the same level of insurance as native residents.

Guess you've never been involved in an accident with an out-of-stater. I live in Massachusetts, which requires certain types of coverage. A few years ago, a dolt from New Hampshire ran a red light in Boston and smashed into my car. Turns out said dolt didn't have insurance, because NH ("drive free and die") only requires insurance AFTER an accident (or at least, did at the time). Fortunately, one of those required Massachusetts coverages is to pay for accidents involving uninsured drivers, so I was only out the deductible. Why should I have to pay to protect myself from people like that? It's not like he was involved in interstate commerce or anything like that; he was just in a hurry to get somewhere in the Back Bay.

In any case, at least in Massachusetts, judges tend to hold that ignorance of the law isn't an excuse for violating a law.
posted by agaffin at 8:07 AM on October 12, 2001

There's already enough scope to exploit the disparities between state driving laws in a kind of arbitrage. College students will register their cars in their parental homes, if there are fewer regulations to follow.

Is there (or should there be) some kind of ad hoc interaction between state governments that ensures there aren't any potentially messy differences in state law? Harmonisation doesn't necessarily entail homogenisation: in fact, it means that the diversity isn't exploited. Fr'instance, is there anything to stop states operating border checks for emissions levels or fireworks in the boot, other than the bad publicity?

Right now, it's rather like registering your company in Delaware, or getting married in a state with fewer licence requirements... but, say, if one state makes it stupidly easy to pass a driving test, and its drivers end up in accidents out-of-state, isn't there cause for complaint? After all, those kind of base standards exist in the EU, which is much less federated than the USA...
posted by holgate at 8:48 AM on October 12, 2001

Exactly, holgate. While I'm actually pretty pro-Federalism (because it seems like an inevitable, an admission of the fact that the Confederacy-of-States notion, where we're really all New Yorkers or Kentuckians or Wyomingians(?) who tentatively agree to work together in a union, is completely out of date -- most of us aren't culturally or even practically "from" any single state), I recognize that we can't rejigger the apportionment of legislative power casually. And that it's a complex issue, beyond my ability to know how to resolve.

But while I respect the view of the states-rightsers, need this immediately invoke defense-of-the-constitution? In a highly mobile society like ours, major legal differences between adjacent jurisdictions have bad consequences because equal protection under the law is necessitated by comprehensible and consistent laws. (As holgate's examples show -- it just seems SILLY that one state's tax regs make it the place for all U.S. companies to incorporate. Doesn't it oppress all of the smaller companies which can't afford to be HQ'd in Delaware?)

When interstate travel and communication was infrequent and exceptional, it wasn't a problem. When it is the rule, as it is now, it seems to me that we ought to look to harmonize to avoid both the abuse of the legal differences, and the general confusion. When many Louisiana drivers go to work in Mississippi every day with no liability insurance (something that happened when I lived down near a big government work site in MS), doesn't this make the Mississippi insurance mandate pointless?
posted by BT at 10:07 AM on October 12, 2001

Leaving aside the issue of state rights, and returning to the issue of drivers or their vehicles having liability insurance, the Europeans have long required that non-residents carry a "Green Card" (not the INS one), which confirms liability insurance coverage for the country in which you are driving.

In fact, the card even has a set of boxes for the various countries where it is valid. So your green card may be valid in most countries but not in Yugoslavia or Bosnia.

The only time I was ever asked (by customs) to show the card was on driving from Hungary into Slovenia. I assume that if I had an accident or was stopped for a violation, I would have been asked to show it, but that never happened. Nevertheless, everyone knows that they have to have one.
posted by Geo at 11:35 AM on October 12, 2001

Maybe it's because I'm from Delaware, and it's such a small state that the importance of statehood is easy to understand.

I think that these days, the differences in state legislation is more important than ever. One of the strengths of this forum is the puralism that results in so many different opinions. Having fifty states offers the possibility of fifty different approaches to try different things.

There are attempts from time to time by a number of different organizations to gain consistency in legal approaches from one state to another. Sometimes, this is done by the federal government, and sometimes by different legal advocacy groups that put forth things like the Uniform Commercial Code, the Model Penal Code, the Uniform Agreement to Secure the Attendance of Out of State Witnesses, and many others.

The federal government often ties compliance with their requests to the allocation of federal funds (high-way funds and others). but some implementations of laws, such as the Clean Air Act set certain standards, and require a certain lessening of emissions, and ask the state legislators to come up with the methods of achieving those results. Many approaches, but sharing the information gained in the different attempts can be invaluable.

Some attempts to impose laws of one state upon residents of other states have no constitutional problems whatsoever. That's true for most criminal laws. Some have problems in that there is an interference with the flow of commerce from one state to another. There's a very large body of these cases, and because of the many that were litigated in the early 20th century, we don't see too many of these cases these days. There's also the privileges and immunities clause (14th amendment) which the Supreme Court has stated brings us a right to travel amongst the states. It would stop states from forcing drivers from other states to submit to emissions testing at borders, or to carrying different types or levels of insurance depending upon which state they were entering.

From the article: out-of-state drivers no longer have to have the liability insurance that state law requires of all Illinois drivers.

No. The truth is, they were never required to have that insurance. That's partially why Illinois legislators required that uninsured motorist clause in the insurance policy. Also, lack of insurance doesn't result in lack of a lawsuit.

Another example of one state's approach to different applications of laws which has been brought up here. There are a lot of small businesses headquartered around the world who incorporate in Delaware. The cost of the taxes are cheaper than a number of other states, but in most cases, not by enough to be significant.

There are only four states which have Chancery Courts - and only one of them has been granted jurisdiction over a wide range of statutes that involve the management of corporations. The Delaware Chancery Court has one of the finest reputations in the country. The opinions from the Chancery Court, and Delaware Supreme Court are the most popular choices of cases used to illustrate business formation laws in casebooks used by lawschools throughout the country.

Perhaps it's an opportunistic approach, but the State of Delaware earns about 30% of it's revenue from corporate franchise taxes. That's a very legitimate reason to devote resources to the Chancery Court, and the Division of Corporations of the State to make Delaware a popular place to incorporate. We also have no sales taxes - while being surrounded by states that do. We also oppose term limitations for senators and representatives (we only get one representative - so seniority counts.) I think it's important to retain these differences.
posted by bragadocchio at 12:38 PM on October 12, 2001

straying from the discussion a bit, I just wanted to point out that I am taking advantage of the difference in states in a small way - my car is still registered/insured in NY, but I'm in California. I don't have a front plate, which is against California law (particularly well enforced in LA). I've been pulled over twice, and in one instance the cop walked around my car to inspect but didn't say anything about it. After all, I'm just "vacationing" :) (and of course they really can't be expected to know that New York requires a front plate as well, nor can they ticket me for breaking NY law... can they?)

This is a harmless little thing... insurance laws are more serious. I would have to say that I'd be a fan of a law that there be some sort of agreed minimum coverage required in all states, to avoid problems like this court case and the NH person without insurance in Boston.
posted by Bernreuther at 1:57 PM on October 12, 2001

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