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hris Perri Law is a criminal defense law firm located in Austin, Texas.


Chris' Blog

The blog of Chris Perri Law, written by Chris Perri and Shannon Perri. Read the latest in exciting cases where justice is served.

Filtering by Category: Municipal Court

Not Guilty in Austin Municipal Court!

Chris Perri

“Not guilty.” Those are the two sweetest words that a criminal defense attorney can ever hear. Today, the jury returned this coveted verdict in a speeding trial at the Austin Municipal Court. Sure, it was just a speeding ticket. But for my client, who holds a commercial driver’s license (CDL), it was a very important case. Most people can easily get their tickets dismissed by taking a defensive driving course. However, under the law, anyone holding a CDL does not have this option. Instead, they must either fight the ticket or take a conviction. One of the most common misperceptions is that simply driving over the speed limit is against the law. In actuality, the law states that “an operator may not drive at a speed greater than is reasonable and prudent under the circumstances then existing.” See Tex. Trans. Code §545.351. I discussed this law with the jury panel during the voir dire process, and they were very surprised that there’s more to speeding than simply driving above the speed limit. As I pointed out to them, discovering the actual wording of the speeding law is analogous to finding out that there’s no such thing as Santa Claus.

There’s one wrinkle here: when the State proves that a vehicle was travelling over the speed limit, that’s “prima facie” evidence that the driver’s speed was not reasonable and prudent. I explained to the jury that this only means that if the State proves the speed was over the limit and I present no further evidence regarding the reasonableness of the speed, then I lose. But once I bring forth any evidence that the driver’s speed was reasonable, the State has the burden of proving the speed was unreasonable. Plus, this burden is a heavy one: “beyond a reasonable doubt.”

At the trial, we presented evidence that on the morning of the alleged speeding incident, my client was stuck behind a boat trailer on Highway 183. The boat was being hauled by an undersized pickup truck, and my client testified that he felt that the trailer was creating a hazard on the road. A car in front of my client passed the trailer, and my client followed suit. In order to do so, he had to increase his speed to about 78 mph on a highway that had a speed limit of 65 mph. Other vehicles behind my client also passed the trailer. I successfully argued to the jury that it could consider the other drivers’ behavior as evidence of the reasonableness of my client’s decision.

The State attempted to counter our evidence through the testimony of the police officer, who stated that my client was speeding before and after he encountered this boat trailer. The officer further testified that there was a curve on the road that made it unsafe to travel above 65 mph. The jury was unconvinced. After all, this was a dry day, and my client was a “professional driver.” He testified that he made a “judgment call,” and who was the jury to disagree with his professional judgment?

After about 20 minutes of deliberating, the jury returned its two-word verdict. My client exited the court triumphantly with his clean driving record intact.

City of Austin vs. Chris Perri

Chris Perri

A few weeks ago, I drove to Town Lake for one of my longer runs.  Despite being around 11 am on a weekday, all of the parking spaces were full.  I saw that some cars had driven onto a dirt area to park their cars, and I followed suit.  After returning from my run, I found a $50 parking ticket on my windshield for parking in a “Tow Away Zone,” despite there being no sign that indicated it was such a zone.  Needless to say, I was upset. Because I’d parked in this area on previous occasions, along with seeing other people regularly park there, I decided to contest the ticket.  According to the City of Austin procedure, violators are entitled to a hearing if they come to the Municipal Court within 30 days of receiving a ticket.  Also, being a criminal defense attorney, I figured it was my duty to fight the seemingly unfair ticket, rather than just pay it off.  At the very least, I could receive valuable information on whether I had illegally parked at Town Lake.

Today, I prepared my evidence and got in line.  After about a 15 minute wait, a “hearing officer” was ready to judge my case.  The hearing is very informal, as it takes place in a small office with an audio recorder.  After being sworn in, the officer asked me a few basic questions about the circumstances of me receiving the ticket.  Then, she allowed me to present my side of the story.  Using my three photographs as exhibits, I presented my case.

The first picture shows that there is a “No Parking” sign, but the arrows point to the left and right.  To a reasonable person, this sign indicates that there is to be no parking in the roadway.  To demonstrate that there was a roadway (and that I was not on this roadway), I showed this picture:

Finally, I pointed out that cars often park in this dirt area, as demonstrated by the minivan, along with the tire marks in the following photograph:

The hearing officer informed me that I was incorrect.  She pointed out that there was a curb that I had to drive over in order to park in the dirt.  I responded that it was a very low curb and functioned similar to a ramp, but she asked me whether it was indeed a curb.  On this point, I agreed.  She also questioned me whether there were any signs that indicated this was a legal parking area.  I answered that there were none.  Plus, the hearing officer pointed out that there are “2-hour parking” signs next to the legal spots.  For these reasons, I was parking in an illegal area.  She then proceeded to educate me regarding why the area consisted entirely of dirt: people like me park there, ruining the lush grass that had formerly been enjoyed by Austinites!

At this point, I was ready to leave, tail between my legs.  This criminal defense attorney had been whipped, and I knew it.  But, she stated that she was dismissing my ticket because I was correct when I initially pointed out that I was not in a “Tow Away Zone.”  Instead, the ticket-writer should have indicated that I had parked in a “Right of Way” area.   Due to the fact that my ticket had been improperly marked, I was relieved of any obligation to pay.  Ah, a technicality – a defense attorney’s best friend.

That’s right, City of Austin, don’t mess with the baddest lawyer in town!