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Court Says Driver Diversion Program Illegal

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A district court in Wabasha has ruled that safe driving courses offered as an alternative for driving violations are illegal. 
In Sibley County, if you get pulled over for speeding or ignoring a stop sign, you can either pay the $150 ticket, or pay $75 and attend a safe driving course offered by the Sheriff's Department.

But one judge, backed by the Minnesota Attorney General and Auditor, says that's illegal.

Erick Kaardal says, "They do this sham of a driver's safely class is so they can keep the revenue themselves to buy squad cars and guns and things they otherwise wouldn't have."

That ends up being about $25,000 a year in the case of Sibley County.

But the state and courts are used to getting a third of that money, and say the police and sheriff's departments are not authorized to go around the traditional process.

Law enforcement officials in support say it's a benefit for the people involved.
Sheriff Bruce Ponath says, "We charge $75 for attending this class. If you get the high school student who's going to the local convenience store to make $7-8 an hour and they make a poor decisions driving, do they need to go to court administration and pay a $150 fine?"

The district court ruling probably isn't the end of the debate, with other programs still running, and lawyers looking at reclaiming illegal funds, meaning more justice system infighting is sure to come.

Kaardal says, "It'd be a funny world to live in if law enforcement was allowed to violate the law, rather than enforce it. When they offer an illegal option, it's a bad situation for everybody."

Sheriff Ponath says, "I would be extremely disappointed to see this class go. It's been well received by the constituents in Sibley County."