If the criminal justice system could bring charges based on the motive of one’s heart, every good (or bad) person would be in jail. Some of the glue which holds our society together is a personal conviction to deny the impulse to commit crimes. Unfortunately, there have been instances where truck officers have written overweight vehicle citations for crimes which had not yet been committed, but because the driver intended to do so. These are informally called “attempted overweights” and they are wrong.
The legal term mens rea is Latin for a “guity mind”. There are some crimes in Illinois which have an attempted version. Murder and kidnapping are two which come to mind quickly. In truth, when an attempt is listed as a statutory element of the offense, it is usually reserved for more serious crimes.
How many times does the word “attempt” appear in the size and weight section (Chapter 15) of the Illinois Vehicle Code? Zero. Zilch. Nada. Nowhere is there a specific statute titled “Attempted Overweight” nor is there language for any violation reads which “a person who operates or attempts to operate”. Not once.
There is however, conditional language. Conditional language means if a driver does X, and then does Y, he is guilty of crime Z. Here are two instances of overweight violations the ITEA has dealt with in recent past, when truck officers have invoked mens rea for overweight vehicles even though the statute does not have such an element of the offense.
IDOT’s one-mile Reasonable Access Rule for Oversize and Overweight Permits
When a vehicle is operating on a state highway owned and maintained by the Illinois Department of Transportation, and the vehicle is oversize and overweight, it needs a permit. If the vehicle is appropriately permitted, it enjoys several protections under the law.
One such protection is the ability to go off-route for a distance of one-mile, onto a contiguous state highway, for certain reasons. One of the reasons is he can use the unassigned route (and only the unassigned route) to return to the assigned route.
In this case, the driver, on his assigned permit route from IDOT, made a wrong turn onto another state highway and stopped in less than a mile. He screwed up for sure, but that does not mean he violated the law. Along came the police officer who has the lawful right to investigate. As it turns out, if the driver continued down this wrong route he could arrive at his destination, but this is not the route prescribed by IDOT.
What the police officer cannot do is say “well, you intended (mens rea) to use this unassigned route to get to your destination, therefore your permit is void and you are back to legal size and weight. Here is your ticket.” Nor can he say “since your vehicle is too big to get turned around within the one-mile grace, your permit is void”. It’s a logistical problem, but it’s not a criminal problem. This is an attempted overweight, which remember, is not a crime.
20-mile Tow Truck Weights
Sometimes wreckers have to pickup and tow heavy trucks which have crashed or otherwise become disabled. The law provides some grace for the recovery vehicles to operate overweight, but only for a certain distance.
Here’s the scenario. A 70-ton rotator hooks up to an 80,000 pound semi on a local road where the truck broke down. By law, the rotator gets extra weight above the normal legal weights for twenty miles on all roads. He can also operate unlimited miles beyond the twenty miles, but must remain on state highways only.
In this case, the tow operator was planning to drive five miles on the local road, then fifty miles on the state highway and then five miles onto another local road.
During the first five-mile portion, a truck officer (who had the legal authority to investigate this move) stops the combination. The driver tells the officer his plan to tow this semi across the state. The clever (yet wrong) police officer invoked mens rea and said “well, since you intended to use another local road past the twenty miles at the end of your move, you do not get credit for the extra weight at the beginning of your move. Here’s your overweight ticket.”
This is an attempted overweight, and it’s wrong. The driver had not yet violated the provision. If the police officer in the destination town made stopped this move, he has the driver dead to rights. The police officer in the origination town does not.
Creative reading of the law yields creative interpretations, which is almost always wrong. Truck officers should stick with the crimes of the present, not the supposed crimes of the future.