Praetorian Cops Are Above the Law

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If “speeding” – defined as driving faster than the legally posted maximum velocity – is necessarily “unsafe,” why do cops do so routinely?

The answer, of course, is: Because they can.

More precisely, they can do so with impunity. Who watches the watchmen, after all?

Here is a recent – and particularly egregious – example:

Denver cop Derrick Saunders was caught doing 143 MPH in a 55 – while legally drunk (.089 BAC). The repercussions? A 42 day suspension. At first, he was at least fired. But Saunders, who like a lot of cops apparently does not believe that “speed kills” when he is the one speeding – appealed his firing. And the police union backed him up. To repeat: a drunk cop doing 143 MPH in a 55 is demanding his job back. And the police union is helping him get his job back. The full story is here.

Meanwhile, let’s consider what would have happened to a non-anointed Mere Ordinary in my own state of Virginia:

Va. defines “reckless driving” as exceeding the posted maximum speed by more than 20 MPH – or any speed over 80 MPH, anywhere. Note carefully that one’s driving is considered legally reckless merely as a function of speed. It is not a viable legal defense to argue that you were sober – and in full control of your car and posed no danger to anyone. Merely to be caught driving 80 MPH of faster ( that’s all of 10 MPH over the highway limit of 70 MPH) or faster than 20 MPH over any posted limit (so, for instance, 56 MPH in a posted 35 zone) constitutes “reckless” driving – ipso facto – which in Va. is a Class 1 misdemeanor criminal offense, not merely an infraction – like a standard speeding ticket. If convicted, you will have a permanent criminal record that will be indexed in the NCIC database (where murderers, rapists and others are cataloged), spend up to a year in jail, pay a $2,500 fine, and face the strong likelihood that your driving privileges will be suspended for six months – and the absolute certainty that you will pay extortionate insurance premiums for at least the next five years.

Mind: This is for doing 80 MPH on a highway posted 70 – or 56 in a 35 – situations where (as we all know) the average speed of traffic is typically already close to 80 (in the first case) and not far below 56 in the second. it is all-too-easy to get slammed with a “reckless driving” cite.

But can you imagine the rain of shit that would descend upon a non-annointed caught doing 88 MPH over the limit? While drunk? Well, I can – because a local kid on a motorcycle was caught doing pretty much the same thing as Officer Saunders – at least, speed-wise. The kid was caught doing a mere 126 MPH. He was not drunk. But he wasn’t anointed. The court (in Botetourt County) sentenced this kid to six months in the Graybar Hotel. If he’d been even slightly drunk, a 3-5 year prison sentence would not be out of the question.

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Eric Peters [send him mail] is an automotive columnist and author of Automotive Atrocities and Road Hogs (2011). Visit his website.

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