A strange legal fight has been raging in federal courts, as judges answer questions like “is robbery a violent crime?” The answer is often “no”, for the same reason you can be convicted of “aggressive driving” without doing anything out of the ordinary.
When Congress prescribed extra punishment for people with a prior conviction for “burglary” they had in mind gangs of armed thieves breaking into houses full of sleeping children. Now imagine reaching through an open sunroof to take a pair of dollar sunglasses. Where I live that is also burglary. Rather than get into endless arguments over what really happened, judges decided a Massachusetts burglary conviction doesn’t count as a prior conviction of a crime of violence.
For a similar reason, federal law says judges are not allowed to count speeding tickets towards your criminal history. The vast majority of speeding tickets are not the result of conduct society is willing to recognize as wrong. A serial speeder is not a serial criminal. Disorderly conduct is also excluded from criminal history. Disorderly conduct often means contempt of cop.
Ten or twenty years ago a few states experimented with “aggressive driving” laws. Most of us figured out it was another meaningless label. And then there’s Maryland.
Maryland lawmakers want to create more aggressive driving. Once House Bill 881 passes, if you get off the highway after driving 75 in a 55 zone and the nose of your car stops over the white line at the end of the ramp, you are an aggressive driver. Because you went 20 over the limit (with the flow of traffic) and ran a red light (by going an inch too far). Two offenses in the same trip make you an aggressive driver.
Obviously if this is enforced as written it’s going to catch a huge number of drivers nobody would ever consider “aggressive.” How many drivers reach 75 in a 55 zone at some point during a trip? How many drivers hang their nose over the stop bar or creep ahead while waiting for the light turns green? Did you ever cut around the tail end of a traffic jam to take an exit, or cross the white line to get around a car turning left? That’s another aggressive driving qualifier.
I wrote before about what happens when Maryland creates so many criminals that it can’t keep track of specifics. When everybody is a criminal, the courts can’t tell which drivers need to be relieved of their licenses and which need to be relieved of their wallets.
So while lawmakers have visions of race car drivers weaving through traffic and gunning it through a red light, the reality is the “aggressive driver” is the one looking back at them out of the mirror.
Except they can tell the officer “do you know who I am?” and you can’t.
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