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For years, officers who arrive on the scene of a traffic accident could not cite either driver with a traffic violation.  The theory behind this procedure was that if the officer didn’t see the wreck, the officer could not issue a citation.  This was contrary to many other jurisdictions in the United States.  However, this has now changed in Alabama.

In 2016, the following Alabama Code section was amended:

Section 32-5-171

Arrest without warrant; issuance of traffic citation.

(a) A law enforcement officer as defined in Section 36-21-40, may arrest, at the scene of a traffic accident, any driver of a vehicle involved in the accident if upon personal investigation, including information from eyewitnesses, the officer has reasonable grounds to believe that the person by violating Section 32-5A-191 contributed to the accident. He or she may arrest such a person without a warrant although he or she did not personally see the violation.

(b) A law enforcement officer, as defined in Section 36-21-40, subsequent to a traffic accident, may issue a traffic citation to a driver of a vehicle involved in the accident when, based on personal investigation, the officer has prima facie evidence demonstrating grounds to believe that the person has committed any offense under Chapter 5, 5A, 6, 7, or 7A of Title 32.

(Acts 1971, No. 1942, p. 3137; Acts 1983, 2nd Ex. Sess., No. 83-201, p. 379; Act 2016-292, §1.)

This will have a significant impact on proving liability in certain car wreck cases as the officer will now have the authority to find fault and issue a criminal citation subsequent to a wreck.  If the person cited does not fight it, pleads guilty and pays the fine, that person will have essentially admitted fault in a criminal court, and such guilty plea would presumably be admissible against them in a civil action.  Also, if the person fights the citation, it could lead to delays in the civil action, as the case may be suspended until such time as the criminal matter is concluded.

Is this a good thing?  As is usual in legal matters, it depends.  Some police officers do not conduct thorough investigations, and they may come to an incorrect conclusion.  If that occurs, it could really hurt those who are injured in an accident and deemed at fault when the facts point to the other person’s fault.  However, if the investigation and citation are proper, it will make it less difficult in the civil case because the issue will be a fight over the extent of damages, not the liability of the the other driver.

Of course, most cases today are fought over damages even in clear liability cases.  Defense attorneys will admit liability in many cases, especially a rear-end collision.  The defense strategy over the last 10-15 years has been to make the injured victim look like a greedy individual trying to get something for nothing or profit off prior medical conditions.  Unfortunately, this seems to have a strong effect on jurors.  The at fault driver has been made to be the victim because they are being sued, and the injured victim is made to be the party at fault even though the injured person has taken his/her time to go to hospitals and doctors and missed work.

What are your thoughts on this?



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