Throw out insurance citations, MHP says

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, January 17, 2001

[01/12/01] The Mississippi Highway Safety Patrol said two citations issued by a Vicksburg Police officer at a roadblock Tuesday will have to be thrown out under provisions of the new state liability insurance law.

K-9 Officer Jay Ghrigsby waved cars over along Old Highway 27 Tuesday and gave out three tickets in about 45 minutes to motorists for failing to present proof of insurance. MHP spokesman Warren Strain said that was not allowed under the statute that went into effect Jan. 1.

“They should not be issuing the citation unless there is another offense,” Strain said.

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The provision that requires Mississippi drivers to have proof of liability coverage makes it a secondary offense. According to Strain, attorneys for MHP say that means the ticket can be given out only with some other moving violation, such as speeding.

Of the three citations issued by Ghrigsby Tuesday, one was with another violation and complies with the statute, but the other two were not with any other violation and do not meet with the requirements of the law.

“At least that’s our interpretation of the law,” Strain said.

Mike Lanford, head of the opinions division with the State Attorney General’s Office, said Wednesday that it was not clear if a citation could be issued when there is no other violation, but that the AG’s Office had not yet looked that closely at the law.

The applicable part of the two-page law reads: “Upon stopping a motor vehicle for any other statutory violation, a law enforcement officer, who is authorized to issue traffic citations, shall verify that the insurance card required by this section is in the motor vehicle. However, no driver shall be stopped or detained solely for the purpose of verifying that an insurance card is in the vehicle.”

Vicksburg Police Chief Mitchell Dent said he has received conflicting legal opinions about how the law is to be enforced and would be seeking further clarification.

“I’m asking (officers) to hold off until I can speak to our legal department,” Dent said.

The U.S. Supreme Court has said that police can use traffic stops to check for various violations such as sobriety, but has shot down other attempts to use roadblocks to detain motorists for searches. In a recent case, the high court said police could not use drug dogs at roadblocks without some provocation to conduct a search.

“From what we’ve been told, the highway patrol has issued a six-month grace period until they hear back from the attorney general,” Dent said.

Local law enforcement usually takes its cues from the state police force, but the final word will probably come from the State Attorney General, Dent said.

Under provisions of the state law, drivers failing to show proof of insurance can face up to $1,000 in fines for failing to provide proof of insurance.

Minimum coverage under the statute is $10,000 per person, $20,000 for bodily injury and $5,000 for property damages. A bill pending before the Senate this year would increase the minimum coverage to $25,000 per person, $50,000 for bodily injury and $25,000 for property damages.