Sheriff Jim Hammond declines to answer questions about his authority to impose the transportation statutes on people in Hamilton County, saying he is unprepared to discuss the matter and that he will defer to traffic enforcement officials.
In an interview, Mr Hammond is impatient with a series of questions about his authority and whether there is any distinction between travel and transportation.
By David Tulis / 92.7 NoogaRadio
He wants to get on with more important matters and seems to think I am merely dithering in raising a question about limits on department authority. In question is its power to enforce the driver license law and rules of the road against people who are not in fact for-profit carriers for hire on the public roads.
Not exactly a riveting or hot topic.
My goal in meeting is to give this elected official administrative notice about the state of the law, on Tennessee government’s authority to enforce the transportation statute against private users. The notice is a 20-page document of legal research that cites Tennessee code titles, court cases, legal definitions of words such as “motor vehicle” and title 49 of the U.S. code.
My sunny TAN is a research paper and a history about the activity of transportation in Tennessee. It points out that from the very beginning, regulatory power was exercised upon all those using newfangled horseless carriages for profit on the people’s roads.
My first question is pretty simple: On the alleged distinction between travel and transportation, Mr. Hammond demurs. “I would have to understand the scope of where you’re going with this. What are the titles you are referring to?”
I give particulars.
“I would defer to my traffic division and the legal people from highway patrol on what all that encompasses,” Sheriff Hammond says. “I would have to research what those say and how it pertains to law enforcement.”
I ask him if it is possible for there to be someone on the road in a car or truck who’s there legally but not under the authority of the state through a driver’s license.
“Again, I would defer to the people that deal with that every day. That is a problem of the highway patrol can better answer that for you.”
Can you categorically say there are people who can be on the road? I ask.
“Not without research.” Here Sheriff Hammond’s delicacy comes to good turn for old-fashioned freedom. He is not willing to declare that everyone on the road absolutely is required to have a driver license. But let’s see if this point holds ground.
I assert that the general assumption of law enforcement is that everyone on the road is subject to the driver’s license statute and cannot legally be in a car without one.
General assumption of authority
“The general assumption is if you are going to be on a public road, you have to have some kind of a license to give you the right to operate that piece of machinery on that road,” Sheriff Hammond says. “That is the general assumption. As to the specific question that you might be referring to, I will defer to the highway patrol.”
I press the point, saying that there “is no way any of my listeners could be on the road apart from a license.”
“I’m not going to say anything without research.”
When I ask Mr. Hammond if he thinks that the 1937-38 passage of the driver’s license act, rewritten in 1988, is constitutional or did it destroy any constitutional right that existed prior to its passage, he interrupts me and does not let me get the words out.
“Again, you are throwing questions at me that I’m not prepared to answer, whether I am checking the manual and talking with the experts that deal with it.”
When I parse the distinction differently, between commercial and private, Mr Hammond is unmoved.
“Again you’re asking me questions I defer how to deal with it everyday. If you were going to ask me those kinds of questions, you’re going to have to give those questions in advance so I can make sure my answers correspond with the law.”
I insist that I’m not asking questions just about law, but about the practice of his department. Sheriff Hammond says a discussion of enforcement “all revolves around what the law is.”
Yes, exactly. So Sheriff Hammond won’t declare either the law or the practice on the record, except a few hints and implications.
“The Hamilton County Sheriff’s department has a responsibility to follow state law, so whatever is in state law regarding our roadways and our traffic enforcement is what we can and often do enforce.”
Clearly after a four-minute conversation that’s going nowhere, it is time to give to Hamilton County’s chief protector and most powerful enforcer of state law a TAN, a transportation administrative notice. It lays out all the law with which this law enforcement chieftain seems so unfamiliar.
Officer personal liability
Administrative notice undercuts state actors’ defense when they are sued for violation of private citizens’ constitutionally guaranteed God-given unalienable and inherent rights by acting outside the scope of their authority. That defense is the good faith defense: The officer didn’t intend to oppress the citizen and didn’t knowingly do so.
If reforms are not made at the top of administration in Hamilton County and in the city of Chattanooga, that leaves individual officers badly trained in the law, and exposes each deputy or cop personally to litigation for tortious conduct.