Fighting Speeding and Other Traffic Tickets
(Created 6/27/06; last updated 8/9/16)
First of all, let me say right up front that I am not an attorney, and thus could not give you legal advice even if I wanted to. It is recommended that you consult a competent attorney before any court appearance. This page is intended as a resource that citizens and attorneys alike may use to find sample motions, get ideas for strategies to fight traffic and vehicular equipment tickets, and generally fight back against a system that has become self-serving and abusive to its citizens. This site is not an authoritative source, but rather a growing respository of approaches, strategies and motion documents with empirical results. Your own state/county/city could have different laws, and will definitely have different judges and motion forms as compared with those discussed here. Keep this in mind; it is one reason why it's a good idea to retain competent legal counsel before trying to fight your own traffic tickets. Likewise, be aware that if you use this web site to advise another party, this may be considered the authorized practice of law. In any case, the author of this web site shall have neither liability nor responsibility to any party for any loss or damage caused or alleged to be caused by the use of the information provided herein. Let me reiterate that, by providing this information, I am not engaged in rendering legal services.
Why This Page?
When I was 16, I fought a ticket in New York using the principles laid out in a "How to Get Out of Speeding Tickets" article that appeared in a 1980's edition of the online magazine Phrack. The strategies failed miserably, and I lost. I later learned that the small town Claverack, New York court (led by a Justice Gibbon, the "Gibbon" part being far more representative of the man than the "Justice" part) had abused its discretion in a number of areas, including the judge writing in a corrected name, vehicle color, speed, and license plate number on the ticket at the time of trial! All were initially incorrect; years later, an attorney advised me the best strategy would have been to ignore the summons that was mailed to me, since my name did not equal the misspelled name on the summons, and my car was not the one described in the ticket; oh well, live and learn). Anyhow, this site is an attempt to provide tried strategies along with their outcomes. If there is a formulaic way to get out of any ticket, I have not found it, and I suspect anyone who says they have is trying to sell you something. There is no magic phrase that, when uttered to a traffic judge, will get you out of any traffic ticket. Each state has its own loopholes and technicalities that may be taken advantage of, and it will take some work to identify these. The strength of your case is up to you, and will depend on how much work you put into it (although this is not to say that you cannot win with a weak case that you did not have much time to prepare!) I am merely providing the tools and assistance so that you may work more effectively, whether you only have a couple of hours to spare fighting a ticket, or have many days to devote to the effort. All I ask from visitors is that if they use the information here to successfully get out of a traffic ticket, email me and let me know of your success. Likewise, if you filed your own motion with good results, send me a copy with your name/address/case number blanked out. This site will grow with member support, and hopefully we will all learn how to more effectively fight traffic tickets. Information on this site is catered to United States jurisdictions, but may have some relevance to other countries with legal systems based on common law.
Note that many of my examples here relate to Colorado. I chose this state because its state troopers are particularly abusive with regard to issuing massive numbers of speeding tickets, and because Colorado court rules are very unfriendly to motorists making it one of the most challenging places to fight a speeding ticket. If you can beat a speeding ticket in Colorado, fighting an identical ticket in a state like New York is a breeze.
The best way to get out of a traffic ticket is not to get it in the first place. If you get pulled over, be courteous to the police officer. He might be pulling you over because he's looking for a missing kid or because a vehicle similar to yours was just involved in a hit-and-run accident, and he is using a trivial infraction (e.g., driving 8 mph over the speed limit, too much window tint, etc.) Be nice and he may let you go once he sees you're not who he is looking for. Be antagonistic in the same scenario, and he might decide to write you a ticket for that same trivial infraction. Of course, some cops do pull people over and write tickets for driving 8 mph over. Unfortunately, it's hard to differentiate the good guys from the jackasses until they actually hand you a ticket, so until that point, remain friendly and courteous! Likewise, prior to receiving a ticket, do not ask to see the officer's radar or laser gun reading, since this implies distrust of the officer. And of course, don't incriminate yourself; when asked if you know why the officer pulled you over, the correct answer is that you don't know, because in truth, you really don't. Incorrect answers include "Because I was driving 90 in a 25?", "I'm not sure, but please don't look in the trunk", or variants thereof. Do not apologize, and do not mention that you didn't know what the speed limit was, because both of these types of statements can be used against you in court later on.
If you're reading this after you were stopped, and you made an admission, be prepared to explain it away in court. For example, if you get pulled over for going 75 in a 65 and told the officer "I was going 70, tops!" then explain to the court that this was not an admission of driving over 65, but rather a reflection of the fact that any speed measurement over 70 was completely beyond your comprehension.
One dynamic that may affect traffic stops in your state is the "Click-It-Or-Ticket" program. This program awards federal funds to local police departments in the form of overtime pay which officers may earn by working extra hours enforcing seatbelt laws. Unfortunately, if you live in a liberty-minded state where failure to wear a seatbelt is not a primary offense (i.e., you can't be pulled over solely for not wearing your seatbelt, but can be ticketed for it if pulled over for a primary offense such as speeding), then you get an especially raw deal. Officers eager for more money will gladly take the overtime, and proceed to pull people over for trivial infractions just so they can check for seatbelt usage. Of course, even after they've verified that you are, in fact, wearing your seatbelt, you'll still sit there for 15-45 minutes while they run your license and registration. What you end up with is a feel-good federal program combining with state policy that values individual liberty, with the perhaps unexpected result that drivers are more likely to be pulled over for no good reason. Critics believe this program in its current form incentivizes police harassment. At the same time, officers in such jurisdictions who participate in this program are just as much to blame. In any case, you may get pulled over simply as part of a seatbelt check; no point in turning an inconvenience into a ticket by beginning the encounter with antagonism.
Also, be aware that the officer may confront you with some random, goofy stuff like "You don't look like this picture on your license" or some comment on your vehicle and its condition. If you look suspicious to the cop, chances are he is using these challenges to try to get you to do something suspicious or volunteer something incriminating so he has probable cause (called "PC" in the law enforcement profession) to search your vehicle. Just give terse answers until the cop stops fishing and the conversation advances. And never consent to a search, since this can only hurt you later (watch this video for some tips on asserting your constitutional rights during a police encounter).
Better yet, instead of clamming up, use the officer's own technique against him! Once you've been handed your ticket (and thus, some time has passed since you were pulled over), don't hesitate to ask the cop questions about what he is alleging you did wrong. For example, if your ticket is for Following Too Closely, ask him what style and color of vehicle he claims you were following too closely. If he answers correctly, you haven't lost anything by trying. But, often times, the officer won't even remember, and if you're recording the conversation on your smartphone, or if the encounter is being captured by a police dashboard cam or lapel cam, this can later be used to undermine the officer's credibility in court.
Take careful notes during the encounter (or as soon as possible after, before you begin to forget details). Note the time, your precise location, whether it's light, dark, sunny, or cloudy. How many cops are in the police car that pulled you over? This one detail can be used to reveal an overtime scam some cops use where an officer who was not actually present at the time of the stop will try to cash in on overtime by appearing in court later.
If it's legal, using a smartphone app to record your encounter with the police can be worthwhile. The ACLU and other organizations offer free apps ffor this purpose. Check with your local laws to find out the legality of doing this in your state (legality of this seems to be increasing nationwide), and whether you need to inform the officer he or she is being recorded. If it's not legal, but you made a recording anyway, it can be helpful for accurately quoting the officer in court documents, even if the recording itself is inadmissible in court.
OK, so you got a ticket, known in many jurisdictions as a "summons and complaint". The ticket is a "charging document" in that it charges you with an offense. It contains lots of blanks that the officer must fill in, and thus has lots of opportunity for error. If you find such an error, you can argue that the charging document was insufficient, thus violating your due process rights.
The first thing you should do is look the ticket over. Is any information on the ticket, including the location of the offense, incorrect? If so, you have a great chance at getting the case thrown out. Even if the location is correct, is it outside of the officer's jurisdiction (e.g., a sheriff's deputy from County X gave you a ticket in County Y, or on some types of federal land)? Along similar lines, does the court of law listed on the ticket have territorial jurisdiction over the location (e.g., your ticket says Court of Town X, but the offense occurred in Town Y)? These are likewise grounds for dismissal. Also look at the law you were alleged to have violated. Is there a statute number? If not, you have a good shot at dismissal. Visit a local law library (you'll find them at law schools and/or your local county courthouse; many states also have their statutes online, Findlaw.com is a great place to start looking for your state's laws) and look up the statute to make sure the statute number/section/paragraph cited is correct. Did the citation on the ticket exactly match a statute? If not, you can move (a.k.a. motion when used as a verb) for dismissal. (This is useful because older cops will often cite obsolete statute numbers out of habit, especially during off-hour shifts.) Did the officer sign the ticket? If not, it is arguable that you were never charged. If the officer used block letters instead of cursive in the signature, you can discover or subpoena his pay records to see if he normally signs things in block letters. This goes to prove intent; if the officer normally uses cursive but on your ticket simply wrote his name, you can often get the ticket dismissed. One other point worth knowing is that many police agencies do not allow off-duty, out-of-uniform officers to issue citations for traffic infractions (e.g., see Denver RR-304). Generally, off-duty officers who witness serious or flagrant violations must summon on-duty personnel to execute a stop of the violator, or must confer with an on-duty supervisor to obtain approval prior to issuing a citation or arresting the violator. If an off-duty cop attempts to ticket you, challenge him on this; if that doesn't work, use it as a grounds for dismissal in court!
Errors on your ticket represent procedural issues, and are a great thing to focus on in court. Why? Because procedural errors in your charging document don't require a lot of factual support (the ticket says what it says, you don't need witnesses or testimony or cross-examination to establish the content of the ticket), and the issues are usually relatively clear cut. Often the officer will simply admit the error, and then you're left only to argue the legal side of things. When dealing with factual mistakes on the ticket, it's important to remember that as a defendant in court, you need only show that you didn't commit the specified crime at the specified time, specified place, in the specified manner, and while driving the specified vehicle specified on the ticket. If any of those elements were recording incorrectly on the ticket, you've got a strong case for dismissal, or at least a verdict of Not Guilty. (Even if you committed a very similar crime several blocks away, or the next calendar day, or in a vehicle other than the one specified, that would be an entirely different matter, and not the specific offense you have been charged with.)
Note that more minor mistakes, e.g., listing your car as black when it is actually dark blue, are less helpful, but can still be of some use. See the section on cross-examination below.
If you got a ticket, don't let it ruin your day. The average traffic ticket is simply a form of taxation of drivers which is randomly applied. If the government really didn't want you speeding, they'd require speed governors on cars or have criminal penalties for minor speeding infraction. In summary, your local government depends on traffic ticket revenue, and wants you to speed so they can continue to earn revenue from you. It's that simple. Don't take it personally, and remember that you don't need to take it lying down either.
The instructions on traffic tickets can be confusingly worded, often intentionally so. Sometimes they make it totally clear how to plead 'guilty' and pay the fine, but it's not at all clear how to proceed if you wish to plead 'not guilty.' If you're even a little confused about the proper procedure, call the phone number on the ticket (usually this is the number for the court clerk) and make them answer your questions.
Of course, you may encounter the same sort of outrageous behavior when you deal with the court clerks. Say you ask for a continuance to get your trial moved out a three weeks. They may tell you patently untrue things like "This judge only allows maximum continuance of two weeks" (ridiculous! what if you're out of town on business for three weeks?) Or they'll tell you the automatic plea deal on the ticket expires before the new date you're asking for (yet, the DA will always offer you at least that good a plea deal, and most times better, if you show up to trial). In short, take any "rule" the court clerk tells you with a grain of salt. The clerks are accustomed to dealing with people who let themselves be bullied; this doesn't mean you need to be!
Just What is Traffic Court?
Traffic court is a strange mix of the two wings of the justice system, that is, civil law and criminal law. When you got your driver's license, you signed a contract with the state wherein you agreed to abide by the state's rules in exchange for the "privilege" of driving on its roads. Thus, when you violate that contract, say by exceeding the speed limit by 15 miles per hour, the state can come after you for a civil penalty in the form of a monetary fine. More severe violations, like exceeding the speed limit by 50 miles per hour, transcend your contract with the state and begin to approach doctrines of criminal law like reckless endangerment. Now you may be in the realm of misdemeanors or even felonies, with fines turning into jail time.
Okay, So What Does This Mean?
Traffic courts nationwide represent what many legal critics call "Supermarket Justice", geared more toward getting through a large volume of cases and collecting your money than dispensing justice. The fundamental rights guaranteed to the accused in other criminal cases fall by the wayside; good luck getting a public defender, a jury of your peers, or even a stenographer, in traffic court unless you're there for a felony (this policy would seem to reward felons for committing more serious vehicular crimes!) Fortunately, traffic courts nationwide have another thing in common: these systems all try to separate you from your money as expeditiously as possible, and in doing so rely on the average driver's ignorance of the law. In some states, it is easy to take advantage of this weakness; in New York, for example, you can request what is called supporting deposition (a statement of facts surrounding the violation that the officer must write before the court date). If the supporting deposition is not written, you can request that the case be dismissed. Likewise, if the officer does not show up to court, the state has no witnesses against you, and you can likewise ask the judge to dismiss your case. (In very small towns, the judge may have a vested interest in bringing your money the town coffers; in such a place, you must ask quite forcefully, although keep a civil tone as you can be jailed for contempt of court if you are openly disrespectful of the judge.) Most drivers who show up to traffic court are not aware of their rights, or do not stand up for themselves because they are afraid of getting in even more trouble if they put up a fight; I have seen many drivers be cowed into taking a plea bargain instead of motioning for dismissal, or even worse, agreeing to schedule a new court date to a time convenient for the absent officer! Remember, an officer who misses a court appearance or does not submit required paperwork is not only wasting your time, he is wasting the court's time; a sign of an objective traffic judge will be that he shares your consternation with the officer in question. Also note that some states have a legal requirement that charges be dismissed if the officer fails to appear (e.g., see Rule 10 of the Colorado Rules for Traffic Infractions, Title 15, Chapter 1, Subchapter I.124.9 of the NYCRR in New York, etc.) If any requirement like this exists in your jurisdiction, be sure to print out the relevant rule or statute and bring it to court so you can cite it with confidence to the judge. If no such rule exists, tell the judge "I respectfully motion to dismiss for lack of sufficient evidence." (Of course, if the officer does show up to court, you can always motion for a continuance because you need more time to prepare for the case, and then you'll get another chance for the officer to not show up for the second date!) Be aware of your rights, especially your right to remain silent (said silence cannot be used against you to establish guilt).
Note also that you might have friends, relatives, or a spouse who can't understand why anyone would bother fighting a ticket. "Just pay it," they exclaim, "it's easier than fighting it and you'll just lose anyway!" This passive, "go along to get along" attitude is what allows the traffic fine system to thrive in its present state. In contrast, if even half of licensed drivers fought every traffic ticket they got, the police wouldn't bother pulling people over for trivial crimes, because it just wouldn't be a profitable endeavor. Remember, if the founding fathers had had such a passive "grin and bear it" attitude, America would probably still be a British colony. By fighting a ticket, you're merely requiring the government to live by its own book of rules (the fact that this book of rules is quite extensive and full of technicalities which may help you is merely a bonus).
The strategies enumerated on this page are equally applicable to urban courts with full-time, career judges as they are to small-town courts (I literally had one case in upstate New York where the court was in the judge's living room; his wife was the "clerk" and held the cashbox! The mockery of justice that these courts represent have been around for a hundred years... they are so old that FDR tried, unsuccessfully, to abolish them when he was governor of New York!) In the second situation, you'll just have to take a more active role in educating the judge on state law and your rights. Your rural judge or justice probably only serves this role for 1-2 hours a week, and has a day job which has nothing to do with the legal profession, and your pointing out a law might be the first he has heard of it. Note that just because you've got a career judge in a big courthouse does not mean you are guaranteed a fair trial. For example, Larimer County, Colorado, has a large number of career judges and is based in a $26 million facility, but its county and district courts are among the most corrupt in the state. I'll be posting documents related some of their antics as I get them, but they include magistrates blatantly lying to defendants, frivolous motions systematically filed by the district attorney to prevent defendants from appealing (behavior which the judges refuse to sanction), and a severe bias against defendants in all traffic cases.
You needn't be nervous about making a court appearance. As long as you do not lie or insult the judge, the worst that can happen is that you have to pay the fine on your ticket, and possibly an additional $10 to $25 or so in court costs in most jurisdictions. And given the salaries of the judge, clerks, bailiffs, courtroom security, cop, and other court personnel, believe me, this $10 is a bargain -- by going to trial, you are easily costing more money than it stood to make from your fine. And remember, this is the worst-case scenario, because if your case gets dismissed, you pay neither the fine nor court costs.
One-Stage vs. Two-Stage Trials
Two types of traffic courts are prevalent in the United States. The first type uses a one-stage trial, wherein you show up to court, enter a plea, and if that plea is "Not Guilty", a hearing then takes place immediately after. New York has this type of a traffic court system. One advantage of this single-visit system is that most people who show up are just looking for a plea bargain, and so many times the police officers who issued the tickets will be complacent about showing up, thus giving you reason to ask for dismissal. A disadvantage is that you do not know how good a plea deal you will be offered until you show up to your sole hearing. So if you're not sure whether you want to accept a plea bargain, you'll probably need to prepare your defense in advance of the hearing in case the deal isn't worth taking. Note that in a two-stage trial, you may be offered a first plea bargain offer upon your first appearance, and a second, more generous plea bargain offer by the officer (who is not happy about having to be there on his day off!) upon your final hearing. In this case, it is advantageous to plead "Not Guilty" at your first appearance, however you want to be sure that this is the policy of the prosecutor or issuing officer's police department before relying on it. In some jurisidictions, may have to pay another $10 or so in court costs just for causing things to advance to the final hearing stage even though nobody was sworn in or gave testimony.
Other states use a two-stage trial. In the first stage, you show up to the court on the date cited on the ticket. When you show up at court, you'll be given a chance to enter a plea, and probably be offered a plea bargain. This first court appearance is called an arraignment (also known as a "first hearing"). In some states, you appear before a judge for the arraignment, and thus probably ought to try and look respectable. In other states, you simply interact with a clerk at a walk-up window, and thus needn't bother with pleasantries like a tie or even bathing. Note that Colorado uses this type of traffic court system, and to maximize the inconvenience to you, the ticket-fighter, Colorado rules require a personal appearance by you or your attorney simply to enter a plea. Note that in most places, entering a plea can be done by mail.
In a two-stage jurisdiction, it is generally advantageous to gather as much evidence as you can prior to your first appearance. For example, try to obtain speed studies (also called traffic engineers' surveys) prior to your arraignment. If you show the assistant district attorney evidence that the speed study was problematic, you are both demonstrating your willingness to aggressively defend yourself, and showing the DA that there may be problems with his case. In either case, the DA will likely want to be rid of you, and may offer you a more attractive plea bargain than he otherwise would have. Note that in some jurisdictions (where supermarket justice has been elevated to an art form), plea bargains are determined solely by a table of reductions used by the court clerks. If you are in one of these places, your sole opportunity for back-and-forth plea negotiation will be with the officer who issued the ticket. This puts you, the defendant, in a tough spot. You could plead not guilty and hope for a favorable plea bargain to be offered before the trial. But if the cop doesn't like you, or doesn't understand your argument (e.g., lacking legal training, he may not appreciate how much a given procedural error may weaken his case), you may not ever get a viable plea offer, and thus could be left at the last minute with no option but to go to trial.
Pleas and Plea-Bargaining
A plea is defined by Black's Law Dictionary as an accused person's formal response of "Guilty," "Not Guilty," or "No Contest" to a criminal charge. The Guilty and Not Guilty pleas are self-explanatory. However, be aware that it is perfectly legal to plead Not Guilty to a traffic violation that you really did commit. There is nothing wrong with forcing the state to present its case against you!
No Contest (a.k.a. nolo contendre) is a plea which neither acknowledges nor contests guilt. Advantages of the No Contest plea are that they may not be used against you in a subsequent civil case (e.g., if you are accused of running a stoplight and hitting somebody, pleading No Contest will resolve the case and allow you to be fined or sentenced without giving the victim ammunition against you in a personal injury case). No Contest pleas can sometimes be used to get a more lenient sentence from a judge than would be gained after fighting a losing battle in court. Another application for a No Contest plea is when you want to admit that you were speeding, but have a really good excuse (e.g., medical emergency) and want to throw yourself on the mercy of the court. To accomplish this, you would enter a plea of No Contest, and ask the judge for a right of explanation. You would then explain the extenuating circumstances, and ask the judge to withhold adjudication (or suspend sentence, depending on your jurisdiction) in light of the circumstances. Note that in some states (e.g., Colorado), imminent harm (such as a medical emergency) is an affirmative defense to speeding. In such states, you'll probably want to plead Not Guilty, and use the affirmative defense, rather than plead No Contest.
Plea bargaining refers to the process by which the state offers you a decreased fine, decreased number of points, or other break in exchange for pleading guilty to a lesser charge (e.g., a 4 point Speeding ticket may be plea bargained into a 3 point Failure to Obey a Traffic Signal charge). In some jurisdictions, the officer who issued the ticket offers the plea. In other jurisdictions, assistant district attorneys or their minions will offer the plea. View plea bargain offers with a high degree of skepticism! I once had a New York State Trooper offer to "reduce" a "Speed Unreasonable" charge into "Failure to Obey a Traffic Signal" charge in exchange for pleading guilty. It turns out the fines and points for the two charges were identical. Fortunately, I turned down the plea deal, and ended up getting the case dismissed because the Trooper forgot to write a supporting deposition (discussed above). To frost the cake of that court appearance, the judge berated the Trooper for wasting the court's, and my, time. I drove (well actually, sped) home feeling gratified.
Beware of Police Intimidation Tactics! Less honest police officers (especially state troopers) will try to deceive you in an effort to dissuade you from going to trial. Here is a sample script I've seen New York State Troopers use on people who show up to fight their tickets:
Trooper: (Friendly I'm-doing-you-a-favor tone) Hi, I'm Trooper Smith. Trooper Jones, who wrote your ticket, is running late. I just spoke to him on the radio, and he won't be getting to the court for another hour. He did authorize me to offer this plea bargain on his behalf...
Soccer Mom: Oh... I don't have that kind of time, I have to go pick up my kids at school. Darn, I wasn't even speeding, either. But I guess I'll just take the plea bargain, I've already wasted enough time on this...
(Soccer Mom accepts plea; Trooper Smith turns to me) Trooper: So, you probably heard about Trooper Jones running behind. He authorized me to make this plea deal...
Me: No thanks. I can wait an hour.
(At this point, Trooper Smith disappears to his car, allegedly to check on how Trooper Jones is coming along. After several minutes in his cruiser, he comes back in)
Trooper: Actually, it's looking more like it's going to be two and a half hours until Trooper Jones can get here and your hearing can start...
Me: (Cheerfully) That's fine! I've got all day.
Upstate New York Justice (who has been watching this charade all along without interceding): Well, I don't have all day. We'll have to reschedule.
Me: Your honor, I don't have any room in my schedule for a further hearing. I'm afraid I have to move for dismissal.
(Dismissal was granted; if Soccer Mom had seen through this technique, she too could have had her ticket dismissed!)
The moral of the story is don't take legal advice from the cops in the courtroom. Despite how friendly and/or helpful they may seem, they did not come to court to help you! They are there because they chose write someone in the courtroom a ticket, and now they want to make sure it sticks!
CLERKS (No, not the movie!)
The court clerks are your friends. If they are not, then they should be! The clerk's office is in charge of scheduling trials, processing motions and subpoenas, etc. If you are nice to them, they will often try to help you with scheduling flexibility, information, or advice. Take such advice with a grain of salt, of course, because clerks are not experts on the law. Nevertheless, whenever a clerk informs you of a deadline or a procedure, make notes on what you were told, by whom, and the time and date. Judges will often be more forgiving of a procedural error on your part if you can point to misinformation given to you by the clerk's office (I once had a motion to set aside a default judgement granted after the statutory limit for such a motion had passed because I was able to point to misinformation given to me by the clerk's office, and an unreturned phone call to the same office). If you need something from the clerk, and just aren't getting any cooperation, see if there is a Judicial Administration office to which the clerk's office is ultimately accountable, and consider seeking assistance there.
Whenever you file any document with the clerk's office, bring an extra copy of the document with you, and ask the clerk to stamp it. This stamped copy serves as your proof that you filed the document. If you file a document and do not get this proof, and the document is lost, so are your legal rights associated with that document!
PRE-TRIAL MOTIONS, AND IDENTIFYING YOUR OPPONENT
A motion is simply a request (usually written in the case of pre-trial motions, or oral if you're already before the judge) for the court to decide on something. There are a few important things you should know about motions. First, expect lots of back-and-forth on any motion you file. Your traffic court judge will probably resist any but the most customary motions you make. Unfortunately, your typical traffic court judge is more interested in facilitating the transfer of your hard-earned money to the local government than in justice or objectivity. In jurisdictions where the police officer who wrote the ticket represents the prosecution (instead of, say, an assistant district attorney), your opponent is probably the judge. The officer will likely know very little about judicial rules, important cases, and traffic case jurisprudence. You might think this would present a strategic advantage for you, but chances are, the judge will step in and do the cop's legal research for him. Try making a motion of any kind, and watch as the officer stands idly by; the judge will be left to come up with reasons why your motion should be denied on behalf of the cop, and then will proceed to rule on the objections the cop never made. As you might imagine, any justifications the judge comes up with on his own are probably more compelling to him than whatever you came up with!
If your motion gets denied and you think it unfair, or think the judge missed something, then file a Motion to Reconsider Defendant's Motion for X, where X what you motioned for initially. If the prosecution files a motion, you argue with it by filing a Reply to Peoples' Motion. You can argue with the prosecution's reply to your motion by filing a Surreply to the Prosecution's Reply, a Surreply to Prosecution's Surreply, and so on. If you'd like to bring up a motion for the second (or tenth) time, perhaps after new evidence or argument has been offered which strengthens the case for such a motion, then you can Renew your motion any time up through the end of the trial (because you can't generally make a new motion for the same thing).
Some motions must be filed pre-trial or you will lose your right to make the motion. Check your local judicial rules to be sure, but these types of motions usually relate to a lack of jurisdiction over you (personal jurisdiction) or the case (subject matter jurisdiction, such as errors on the charging document (a.k.a. the ticket/summons), or violation of your right to a speedy trial). Just to be safe, you always want to present these types of Motions for Dismissal right up front (personal jurisdiction first, followed by subject matter) before any testimony is offered!
Of course, you can also motion during your trial. If your issue is fairly complex and could involve harmful precedent the judge is apt to discover if he looks deep, it may be best to make such a motion during the trial so the judge has less time to dig around and do research! But if it's not advantageous to catch the judge and/or prosecution off-guard, then you might as well file the motion in advance -- you might succeed, and save yourself a trip to court!
Sometimes, you may find yourself in a situation where the judge has ignored a pre-trial motion you filed. This can be a tricky situation and can require some tact to resolve. In some cases (e.g., Motions for Post-Conviction Review) there is a statutorily-specified deadline by which a court must rule on the motion. If you don't get a response within the specified period, you can petition the court above the one you're currently in for a writ of mandamus. These types of motions are rarely filed, perhaps partly because they tend to piss off the judge (as with many government employees, judges often respond poorly to being asked to do their job; of course, by seeking mandamus, you are giving up on the judge and appealing to, essentially, his or her boss to force action). As such, they are generally used only as a last resort. For an exemplary Petition for a Writ of Mandamus which resulted in an immediate and favorable ruling, click here. Note that the standard for issuance of such a Writ is high; the judge must have a legal duty that has been neglected.
In a case where there is no statutory time limit for having your motion ruled upon, the best approach may be a very friendly and polite call to the court clerk's office. Often, the judge has simply forgotten about the motion, and having a court clerk approach them to ask when a ruling might be expected will result in that ruling being issued in very short order!
Your Right to Discovery
As with any court case, pre-trial discovery can be a powerful tool in fighting a ticket. Discovery is defined by Black's Law Dictionary as "compulsory disclosure, at a party's request, of information that relates to the litigation". Generally speaking, pre-trial discovery is intended to give you access to the government's evidence against you. This access is necessary for you to prepare your defense. Practically speaking, a motion for discovery is used to gain access to pieces of evidence which may be used to find weaknesses in the opponent's case. Most states are obligated to comply with any reasonable discovery requests you make. Note, however, that there are some exceptions to this. For example, Colorado goes the extra mile in denying basic legal rights to motorists with Rule 8 of the Colorado Rules for Traffic Infractions, which disallows discovery prior to your hearing. But you have no actual right to examine the evidence against you before deciding how to plead! In such a case, you can go to the police agency that issued the ticket and try to request the documents. Do so well in advance of your hearing! Some jurisdictions will not allow you access to original documents, and you will have to wait for a government employee to find and copy the requested evidence. You may have to pay for these copies, which is unfortunate since you will be paying for document copies before you even know if the document helps your case. In some particularly abusive jurisdictions (e.g., Larimer County, Colorado) you can be charged $7.50 for something as simple as a one-page photocopy of the officer's copy of your ticket! Not only does this system help to dissuade people from standing up for their rights by denying them immediate or direct access to relevant documents in the case against them, but it also makes a tidy profit for the county sheriff even if you win your case. If course, if you're pretty sure you want to go to trial, and are comfortable examining lots of evidence quickly, you could file a subpoena duces tecum which, while not really pre-trial, force the officer to bring all the records you request with him to court for your examination (see below). Be aware that some law enforcement agencies have rules requiring officers who receive subpoenas to make a court appearance (e.g., see Denver RR-502). It is often unclear how much enforcement of these rules exists. However, if you live in a place where officers frequently blow off court appearances for traffic infractions, this may affect your decision to file a subpoena.
To further confuse things, Rule 216 of Colorado Municipal Court Rules of Procedure does allow for discovery. What does this mean? Essentially, if your Colorado ticket was written within city limits, you have a right to conduct pre-trial discovery, but if the ticket was issued within unincorporated county land, you cannot. Determine what discovery rights are available in your locality before you spend time on any discovery requests. If you are unable to make this determination, then at the very least submit your discovery motion as early as possible so you are not surprised at the last minute by a lack of access to evidence.
Note that it is illegal to file a motion for discovery for large numbers of documents purely to inconvenience your opponent. Our goal here is simply to find out all the facts relevant to our case. You're going to have to miss work or sacrifice some family time to fight this ticket, and may have to pay a fine, so don't feel bad about standing up for your rights. The fact that a lengthy discovery request could cost the government more money than they stand to collect from you if found guilty of the traffic violation is not a legitimate reason for filing a discovery motion; rather, it is simply an added bonus. Note that whenever you file a motion, whether it be for discovery or anything else, always bring a second copy to the clerk's office and have the clerk time-stamp the copy. Without this time-stamped copy, you have no proof your motion was ever filed should the clerk lose it!
Each section of traffic code has its own associated factual and evidentiary elements. For example, in a speeding case, the officer must have identified your vehicle, and also you as the driver of that vehicle, at the time of the alleged infraction. You must have exceeded the posted speed limit, and the posted speed limit must itself be legitimate (e.g., set according to local rules, or state and federal rules if it is a state or US route, and posted on signs which must also meet those same requirements). Look up the specific traffic statute you are accused of violating (it should be listed on your ticket), and check each element of the law as written (e.g., each noun and verb). Do not take anything for granted, even something as simple as the definition of what a 'road' is, because if even a single element is missing or inapplicable to your case, then you can get the case dismissed. Also note that each element might be something for which you should file a motion for discovery (e.g., battery replacement records for a tint meter unit in a window tint case), or simply something you should look up (e.g., state standards relating to paint and reflector types used to signify a no-passing zone; at least one California passing-in-a-no-passing-zone ticket has been defeated due to improperly spaced reflectors on the center line!)
What to Discover
With just about any type of ticket, it is worth filing a motion for discovery of all the following:
What to Discover: Speeding
With a speeding ticket, it might be worthwhile to add some or all of the following to your motion for discovery:
What to Discover: Window tinting
With a window tinting ticket, it might be worthwhile to add some or all of the following to your motion for discovery:
Discovery: The Prosecutor's Response
The "People" (also known as the assistant or deputy prosecutor) will generally respond to your motion for discovery and employ two strategies to limit your pre-trial access to information. The first is objection: the prosecutor will often argue that one or more of your requested items is "irrelevant" and/or "unduly burdensome". You'll generally want to file a counter-response which argues that the information you've requested is absolutely relevant to some important set of issues or facts, and you'll want to cite those issues/facts. Likewise, argue against "unduly burdensome" objections by arguing that the "probative value" (the value of the evidence to prove something) far outweights the burden to "the People".
The other strategy the prosecutor will use is to not actually object, but to agree to do something which doesn't actually provide you with pre-trial access to the evidence against you. For example, you'll file a motion for discovery of records relating to the officer's training on a given speed measurement device, and the prosecutor will respond with something like "No objection. Officer will testify to these matters as part of the People's prima facie case." Don't stand for this; the purpose of pre-trial discovery is to have access to the evidence against you before the trial. The idea that the officer's testimony after the trial has begun somehow satisfies your discovery request is absurd. If the judge sides with the prosecutor, insisting that the requested data can only be transmitted via a narrative from the ticketing officer, then demand the right to depose the officer before the trial so you can know the evidence against you that will be presented in trial. During deposition, ask the officer questions just like you would during a cross-examination. Mix up the question ordering, and non-consecutively repeat inquiries using different phrasing to encourage contradictions or other slip-ups. And remember: every minute the officer is sitting in that room answering your questions, he's not out giving tickets, and thus the government is losing additional ticket revenue as a consequence of the prosecutor's lack of cooperation. (Note that the previous comment does not apply to cross-examination, since there, the judge and possibly a jury are observing, and if it appears you're wasting their time with meaningless or barely-relevant questions, they can and will punish you!)
No Right to Discovery?
As noted above, some particularly draconian jurisdictions (e.g., non-municipal courts in Colorado) forbid pre-trial discovery. If you live in one of these places, all is not lost! The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and its state-level equivalents are often tremendously useful when fighting the government in any court case. In many states, filing an FOIA request may be more fruitful than filing a motion for discovery. Why? With discovery, the opposition can refuse to furnish evidence by arguing that it is irrelevant, unduly burdensome to produce, or other such reasons. Perhaps even worse, the government can agree to the request but then furnish only a small, irrelevant subset of evidence you request. Either way, you've got to fight to convince the judge to grant you access to the evidence. In contrast, government agencies usually do not have these "outs" when responding to FOIA requests. You'll want to check your state's FOIA laws, but some states give FOIA requesters an amazing amount of latitude when requesting government documents. For example, in California, the courts have established that "idle curiosity" is sufficient grounds for any citizen to make a request under the California Public Records Act (CPRA). Further, if a government agency turns down your request and you successfully sue to force compliance, the agency must reimburse your legal expenses! The CPRA is not unique in the latitude that it grants its citizens; check your state's FOIA-equivalent and you may be surprised to find out just how much power you have to access government records.
The easiest way to file an FOIA request is using this automatic request generator on the RFCP site. Simply select your state (or use the federal form if you are fighting a ticket from a National Park or other federal jurisdiction), fill in the form, and paste in the evidence you wish to see (see the exemplary discovery request items, above, for some suggestions). Remember that an FOIA request is technically not connected to your trial; as such, do not mention "discovery" in your request or it will just cause confusion. Also, file your FOIA request as early as possible since the police agency may, by law, take a considerable amount of time to get back to you -- check your local FOIA law to learn more about the possible timeline -- and the court may be unwilling to grant you a continuance while you wait for the FOIA request to be processed.
Worst case, if your local FOIA laws are limited in scope (see the RCFP Open Government Guide for state-by-state FOIA rights and restrictions), you can subpoena the officer who issued your ticket and make him bring the evidence you seek with him on your court date! This has some obvious disadvantages over pre-trial discovery, namely that A) you won't get to see the evidence until your trial, B) the officer may be more likely to show up to court since you subpoenaed him, making a dismissal for failure to show up less likely, and C) you will probably have to pay for the officer to be served with your subpoena.
The reason for C) above is that, while process serving requirements vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, one common denominator is that the person who serves the document must be an adult who does not stand to gain regardless of how the trial goes. So barring additional restrictions in your jurisdiction, you can have a friend serve the officer with your subpoena, but you (or a family member) could not. Note that many sheriff's departments offer service of documents for a nominal fee (usually around $10), and that State Troopers are not affiliated with the sheriff and thus can served in this way!
Requesting that the officer bring evidence with him requires a special kind of subpoena known as a subpoena duces tecum (duces tecum means, literally, "bring with you"). Here is a sample subpoena duces tecum that one reader used to fight a ticket in Larimer County, Colorado. It has a different format than a discovery motion, but the list of documents being requrested is essentially the same. Check with your court clerk to make sure, but generally you'll need to make two copies of your subpoena. One gets stamped by the court and served to the officer, while the other is kept on file by the court.
In many jurisdictions, the courts have defined a subpoena duces tecum as "an order to produce documents or to show cause why they need not be produced." If the cop in your case shows up without the evidence you subpoenad, insist that he make a showing why they need not be produced!
In some states, you can motion the court to compel the prosecution to release any records of known instances where a police office has lied on the witness stand.nbsp; These are generally known as Brady disclosures, but each state has its own requirements and procedures. In California, the request is called a Pitchess motion. If you live in a state which allows Brady disclosures and have filed one, we'd love to have an example to post here.
The trial (sometimes called the "final hearing") is where all your preparation comes together. Here is where technicalities will be exploited, or failing that, you will cross-examine the cop who issued your ticket. Now, the question often arises as to where you draw the line when making arguments. For example, it's quite conceivable that you'll want to make an impassioned plea about your due process rights being tramped as a result of an incorrect license plate digit on the citation. But arguing for a trial-by-combat* is probably over the top. The standard that is taught to future litigators in most American law schools is that of the "straight-faced argument". More formally, the attorney has a duty to make any and all arguments on behalf of his client, only withholding such an argument if it is so patently absurd that he cannot present it to the court with a straight face. I think that is a great standard to use in traffic court; your medical, insurance, and consumer product bills are all higher as a result of this rule being taken to the extreme in tort cases, so you might as well use it to your advantage in this one case.
* Arguing for trial-by-combat, while certain to fail, does have a legal basis in some jurisdictions. For example, when Colorado became a state in 1876, it adopted the British common law as it stood in the year 1607 (see C.R.S. 2-4-211). However, trial-by-combat was not eliminated from British common law until the 19th century, and since it was never "repealed by legislative authority" as CRS 2-4-211 requires, technically you still have the right to challenge the prosecutor to an all-day quarterstaff smackdown wherein the last man standing wins his case. Remind you of Thunderdome? (Note: if you make this argument, please email me a full account and I'll post it here. I may try it myself next time I get pulled over by the Colorado Troopers just to watch the juducial wheels turn, although in this day and age I fear it may be construed as a death threat.) Important note: Read this Wikipedia section on binding vs. non-binding (a.k.a. persuasive) precedents before you begin your legal research, and review it before your trial. &nsp;It's important to understnd the role of each type of precedent, and inappropriately citing a non-binding precedent is a rookie mistake which may significantly lower the judge's opinion of your legal reasoning.
Quick tip: if you're ever asked whether you have any more questions for the judge, any more exhibits to enter, any additional comments you'd like to make, etc., never say "no"! That's far too absolute an answer, and may lead to the judge ending your trial before you're done. Always respond with "not at this time" to keep your options open later.
Standards of Proof
In many jurisdictions, the standard of proof for civil violations (e.g., lesser speeding tickets where jail time isn't an issue) is a preponderance of the evidence. This means that the judge need only be 51% certain of your guilt to convict you of the charge. The right to this higher standard of evidence is another area wherein your basic rights have been thrown to the wolves to make traffic court a more efficient and profitable endeavor for the state. For felonies, the standard is beyond a reasonable doubt, wherein the judge or jury must be approximately 90% certain of your guilt. Here we again see that those traveling at feloniously high speeds are rewarded with additional rights in court!
Of course, it would be naive to think that, in a matter of your word versus that of the police officer, that the judge will not believe the officer over the defendant. This is why testilying is such a powerful and widely-abused practice. This is also why bringing in police records, your own photographs, affadvits from friendly witnesses, and printouts of statutes is so crucial as such documents often have an inherent credibility that you, as a nervous first-time defendant stammering before the podium, will not.
But I Didn't Know the Speed Limit/Didn't Intend to Speed!
Saying one of the above phrases to the judge is probably the most common error I have seen defendants make. Why is it a mistake? Well, first, it doesn't help you at all! Speeding is generally a strict liability offense. This means that you may be found guilty of it regardless of whether the offense was intentional, and regardless of whether you committed the offense knowingly! Second, bringing this up in court (or in front of the officer when you get pulled over) is a very bad idea because it implies guilt. It can obviously be challenging to confidently present a defense that you were not speeding, when at the time you were pulled over, you weren't even aware of the speed limit.
The police will tell you that "ignorance of the law is no excuse." However, this isn't completely true. Ignorance by itself won't get you out of a ticket, but but many state DOTs (Departments of Transportation) and the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (adopted by many jurisdictions) require a speed limit sign matching certain specifications to be present when, say, the speed limit is reduced for a section of roadway. As a result, if the signage is improper or completely missing, you can argue that the reduced speed zone did not meet the notice requirement of the regulation and is thus not legitimate. The same signage requirement may exist for whatever you are accused of, be it speeding, loud mufflers, or having your dog off its leash.
Coming soon: Dirty tactics by judges, including:
1. Presenting a weaker, strawman version of your argument during his ruling and attributing it to you, so it's then easier for the judge to shoot holes in. Often accompanied by "Quiet, I'm ruling" if you try to correct him. Tough situation, but one approach is to interrupt as soon as the judge will let you with "Your honor, with all due respect, that's not the argument I was making today."
2. Magistrates who will block your objections and procedural motions with a weak explanation that this is an informal trial, but who then turn around and invoke formality whenever it suits them, generally to stifle you, the defendant.
One important note: Always assume that the judge has access to your driving record, and has reviewed it prior to your hearing. It goes without saying (but I'm saying it anyway) that you should be completely truthful if asked about it.
Another important note: If the clerk allows you to pick the time of day for an appearance, recent research suggests that judges are most likely to rule on behalf of defendants first thing in the morning (just after breakfast), or immediately after lunch.
Once your hearing starts, the officer who wrote you the ticket will give a standardized spiel about how he observed you speeding, passing illegally, or whatever. By "standardized spiel" I mean just that; the cop will look at the checkboxes on the back of your ticket (containing such information as traffic volume, road conditions, weather, etc.) and your information on the front, and give a scripted (and usually at least somewhat inaccurate) narrative of what happened. After this narrative, you will get a chance to question the officer.
Police officers who dedicate much of their time to writing tickets have a lot of standard scripts they use, and a lot of times those scripts reveal just how divorced from reality they really are. For example, a couple of months back I had a State Trooper in an unmarked car tell me "I was concerned when you passed me going 78 [in a 75 zone], but when you then accelerated to 81 I decided to pull you over." Now honestly, did seeing somebody going 78 in a 75 (3 miles per hour, or 4 percent over the speed limit) actually cause him concern? Maybe he is a fruitcake and the answer is yes, but more likely, this is just a standardized line he uses on everybody, and he simply fills in your numbers as he says it. When the officer starts using standardized descriptive language like this on the stand, you can often use it to attack his credibility as a witness. So if you heard anything inaccurate or improbable during this narrative, be sure and ask some questions about it.
For example, in a speeding case, the officer nearly always says "I observed (your car description here) going approximately (your clocked speed here) miles per hour, and then confirmed that speed with my radar unit." They will say this even if they were traveling the opposite direction as you, it was at midnight with a new moon, and it was snowing. But in reality, it's nearly impossible to estimate the speed of an oncoming car at night, since all you've got to judge it by are how fast the headlights are converging. And whether you're driving the speed limit, or twenty percent over, that rate of convergence is going to be pretty similar. So if you hear something like this, drill down into it. Ask questions about what exactly the officer saw that led to his estimation. In the above example, you'd get him to admit that all he could really see was your headlights and not much of the surrounding terrain. Wrap it up with an "Officer, are you telling this court [the officer can lie to you all he wants, but lying to the court is perjury, thus the choice of grammar here] that you can tell whether a car is going [your accused speed], versus [the speed limit], simply based on how fast the headlights are converging?" If he sticks to his story, then ask some even more detailed questions, e.g., "How fast to the headlights on an oncoming car converge at x mph? How about y mph? How about z mph?"
Likewise, ask questions about details the cop did not write down (you'll know what was, and was not, written down after you get a copy of the front and back of the officer's copy of the ticket from the court clerk). If the cop only wrote down a vague description of where he stopped you (e.g., on x road between y road and z road, as opposed to 20 feet forward of mile marker 162 on Highway 6), then drill down into this by asking a couple of specific questions about your orientation relative to certain landmarks in the area. The checkboxes on the back of the ticket may simply say that traffic volume was "medium". In this case, ask about the car immediately ahead of you, or next to you. What color was it? How far away from your vehicle was it? What speed did you estimate that vehicle was going? (Chances are the cop won't remember, and you can perhaps then build a case that this other vehicle is what the radar unit locked onto, and not yours.) This is also where you want to bring up minor descriptive errors on the ticket, such as saying your car is dark green instead of dark blue. This type of error can be used to create doubt as to the officer's observational capacity, and/or to conditions at the time (such as darkness) that would make observations difficult even by a professional trained to make them. Alternatively, if there a car near you that was the same color as the one incorrectly stated on your ticket, perhaps the officer confused the two vehicles at some point during apprehension?
Obviously, everybody in the courtroom knows that the cop doesn't remember your specific traffic stop because it happened months ago and was probably just one of hundreds. And yet highlighting inadequacies in the officer's recollection will still tend to create a perception of unreliability of the witness. Just a reminder that this is why it's a bad idea to do anything memorable during your traffic stop, like go on a tirade about how you're just an honest tax-payer trying to get to work, or complain that it seems like you get a ticket on this road every other week. Comments like these will be written on the back of the officer's copy of your ticket, and used to refresh his memory prior to cross-examination!
If you're asking the cop to confirm something that's obviously a bit of a stretch, it may help to preface your question with "Reminding you that you are under oath, officer,".
I highly recommend you check out The Ten Commandments of Cross-Examination. It's got some great examples and cross-examination strategies.
Rules of Evidence
Depending on how formal traffic court is in your jurisdiction, you (and the prosecution) may be bound by the Rules of Evidence. These rules dictate how and when evidence is admissible, how witnesses may be questioned, and so on. Personally, I'd rather argue in a court run by a judge and bound by the Rules of Evidence than before a magistrate in an informal hearing. Why? More rules = more potential for technicalities that may help you.
Additionally, the Rules of Evidence are mandatory for effectively cross-examining a witness. For example, you can use the rules to demand that the officer you are cross-examining limits himself to a response of "Yes" or "No" when answering one of your questions. If your traffic court is presided over by a magistrate, expect a more informal trial where the magistrate may take a more active role as a fact-finder. Note that in a hearing before a magistrate, the Rules of Evidence may be less strictly adhered to. A magistrate will often allow a witness to give explanatory qualificationsin when answering your yes-or-no questions, which can really undermines your control of the witness if you're not prepared for this eventuality.
Note that most states have adopted rules of evidence which are almost identical to the Federal Rules of Evidence. Even if your jurisdiction's traffic court doesn't strictly adhere to these rules, you should still familiarize yourself with them. Some concepts, like hearsay, admissibility of evidence, and whether a witness is qualified to make technical or legal arguments can serve you well even in the most informal of courts. For example, if key evidence against you is inadmissible, or if an officer tries to present a verbal account of the contents of a record (hearsay) when the actual records could simply be produced, or if the officer attempts to wax nostalgic about vicissitudes of Doppler radar despite having received only minimal training on the subject (not an expert witness), even the most informal courts will generally sustain your objection.
In case this comes up in court: judicial notice is when the court takes a well-established and well-documented fact for granted, thus removing that fact from contention in the courtroom. For example, if I argue that Main Street runs north/south, but the prosecution argues that it runs east/west, and the judge knows this is a matter of common knowledge, he can take judicial notice of the fact that it runs north/south and thus prevent the parties from wasting any more time debating the topic. Sometimes, the prosecution will ask a judge to take judicial notice of the fact that radar is an accurate way to measure vehicular speed. If this comes up, be sure and argue for a more limited version of the notice, e.g., "Under proper operational circumstances, radar can be an effective way to measure vehicular speed." Obviously, you would then proceed to argue that these operational circumstances (often as defined in the manual of the radar unit) were not met in your case.
In your closing argument, you should summarize all the facts and legal points that help your case. Since new flaws in the prosecution's case may arise during cross-examination of the officer, it's wise to reserve some space in the portion of your notes devoted to your closing statement so that you can add these new items and avoid forgetting them in the heat of the hearing.
Some ticket-fighting references suggest that, if the cop is the one who presents the case against you (and not a district attorney), that you should object if the cop attempts to give a closing argument. The grounds for this objection would be that the cop is not an attorney and thus would be engaging in the unauthorized practice of law by giving a closing argument. This argument does have some legal merit. After all, you can represent yourself because you are a defendant in a criminal proceeding. But the cop isn't representing himself, he is representing another (The People of your jurisdiction), and you can't represent another party unless you are a member of the bar.
However, depending on your judge and jurisdiction (and whether you're dealing with a magistrate in an informal setting), this may just piss the judge off. I say this for a couple of reasons. First, because I have often seen judges offer cops the opportunity to make a closing argument; were you to then object, you'd be implying that the judge suggested one of the parties do something improper. This is fine if you have something significant to gain, but I have never seen a police officer give a compelling closing argument. Besides which, there won't be a jury to hear it, so there is much less chance of the outcome being swayed by an emotion- or drama-packed summary. Finally, many jurisdictions are set up such that the district attorney never shows up and the trooper, deputy, or whomever is customarily allowed to make a closing argument, and objecting to this custom may just look like last-minute desperation to the judge.
Before the end of the case, and certainly before making your closing argument, always move for summary judgment! The importance of doing so cannot be overstated. You can move (a.k.a. motion) for summary judgment at any point in the trial (you can even do so before the trial, wherein your motion would take the form of sort of a preview of the legal issues you plan to bring up in trial), and you can do so repeatedly. In asking for summary judgment, you should make as compelling an argument to the judge as possible that, applying the law to the undisputed facts of your case, you are entitled to win (this is the legal standard the judge must use to deny or grant your motion). For example, if there is some legal technicality that applies to your case which renders all other issues moot (e.g., you have been charged with something that was not technically illegal according to the letter of the law), you would briefly summarize the situation, and state that because of how the relevant law(s) apply to your case, you respectfully move for summary judgment. If you've got several legal issues that favor you, then summarize all of them. It's far better to make a motion for summary judgment based on too big a list of reasons than too few, for reasons I'll explain. Remember, though, that summary judgment is for issues wherein the facts are undisputed: if a legal issue hinges upon a fact that you and the prosecution do not agree on, then it is not a good candidate for a summary judgment motion.
If your motion is granted, you'll win and your case will be dismissed. This would be a desirable outcome, but you should move for summary judgment even if you foresee no chance of it being granted by your judge. Why? Because the fact that you made a motion for summary judgment and were denied gives you a "hook" into the judge's decision which you can later appeal. You say you don't have any immediate plans to appeal? Motion for summary judgment anyway! It's important to leave your options open so that if you realize the day after your trial that the judge made a glaring mistake, you've got something to appeal. (This is far more common than you'd think; once the stress and adrenaline of your trial fade, and you've "slept on it", you may very well wake up the next morning with a strong case for appeal already in mind.
If you take away any fact about trials away from this web page, let it be this: if you didn't move for summary judgment on the grounds of a given issue, you will have little or no grounds for appeal based on that issue, and any future appeal will probably be dismissed without ever being considered no matter how fundamental or glaringly erroneous the judge's failure to deal with the issue. Put another way, if you don't force the judge to explicitly render an opinion on your strongest legal issue(s), then you'll make it very difficult for an appelate court to separate out or otherwise divine what the judge's thinking and conclusions were on that issue. Courts of appeals are not in the business at guessing at trial court judge's motivations, let alone overturning cases on such a basis. By moving for summary judgment, you separate out a purely legal aspect of your case in such a way that the appellate court can do de novo review; in contrast, if the appellate court can only look at the ultimate verdict with all your factual issues rolled in, you'll face a much more stringent standard of review.
Some Miscellaneous Motions
Some miscellaneous sample motions are presented below in no particular order. These illustrate not only how to ask the court to punish the opposition for deceptive or bad-faith behavior (or ask a higher court to force a lower court judge to do his job), but also show how to renew any type of motion that has been ignored, and how to request reconsideration of any type of motion that has been denied. For more examples of motions, check out our Guide to Appealing Traffic Court Decisions.
Example: Motion for Sanctions
Overview: The deputy district attorney in this case filed a motion to dismiss an appeal based on false facts and legal characterization. This motion asks the court to apply sanctions (called "Rule 11 sanctions" in some jurisdictions) against the prosecutor.
Comments: Judges are often reluctant to call out prosecutors when they misbehave due to the simple fact that the prosecutor is a repeat player. Next week, that same prosecutor will be before the judge again on some other matter, whereas the average traffic ticket defendant is not a regular in the judge's courtroom. A Motion for Sanctions is a great way to remind the judge that a district attorney is going over the line, and make both parties aware that you know your rights and aren't going to take this kind of crap. For extra style points, find yourself some of those Valentine's Day "Love" stamps at the post office, and use them for postage on the copy of the Motion for Sanctions that you mail to the prosecutor. If it's the wrong time of year to find heart-themed stamps, Looney Toons stamps can also send a message, as does Mickey Mouse.
Example: Renewal of Motion for Sanctions
Overview: As often happens, the judge ignored the motion for sanctions without ruling on it. This motion renews the earlier motion for sanctions.
Comments: Few things are quite so frustrating as when a judge completely ignores a filed motion. Perhaps the most diplomatic approach is to contact that judge's clerk and ask him/her about the status of the motion; often times, the motion will soon find its way onto the judge's desk and get ruled on. But when that doesn't work, a motion which ¿renews¿ the original request is the way to go.
Example: Motion to Reconsider Denial of Sanctions
Overview: Since the appeal had already proceeded to the next level in the judicial system, the judge evidently felt that there was no need to sanction the deputy district attorney for her frivolous motion and its false arguments. As a result, the judge ruled that the court no longer had jurisdiction to sanction the DA. This motion argues that such is not the case.
Comments: When you a judge rules against your motion, you can always file a motion to reconsider the denial of the original motion.
APPEALS AND POST-CONVICTION REVIEW
All court cases seem to be subject to what litigators call the "80-20 Rule". The 80-20 Rule says that 80% of the time you've got a slam-dunk case, you will win, but conversely, you will inexplicably lose that same slam-dunk case 20% of the time. Likewise, if you've got a case with no hope of winning, 80% of the time you will lose that case as predicted, but 20% of the time you'll win the case against all odds.
If you've lost a case and are not happy with the outcome, you've got two legal options: appealing the ruling to a higher court, and/or filing a motion with the traffic court for post-conviction review of your case.
This section has become large enough that it has been broken out into a separate page entitled The Free Existence Guide to Appealing Traffic Court Decisions.
What If I Don't Show Up To My Trial?
(Failure to show up to a scheduled court appearance is generally a bad idea. I'm only covering it here because lots of people seem to have this question.) If you miss your hearing (either preliminary, or final) for whatever reason, a default judgment of "Guilty" will be entered against you. A judgment of the non-plea-bargain charge, points and fine will likewise be entered against you. Generally, you will also have your license suspended because you weren't there to pay the resulting fine (although you'll typically receive a letter warning you about the default judgment, and giving you thirty days or so to pay the fine). Depending on your jurisdiction and the nature of your infraction, you may also have a bench warrant issued by the court for your arrest (a consequence of the contempt of court resulting from your failure to show up). With a bench warrant, the police will not seek you out and arrest you (unless the charge underlying your case is particularly serious, or unless they truly have nothing better to do). However, if you happen to run into any police officers (e.g., because you called the police to your house for some reason, or because you get pulled over for a broken taillight), the officer may legally arrest you. If you've got a bench warrant out for your arrest, try to resolve the root cause as soon as possible, and drive cautiously in the mean time. Also be aware that missing a court date will generally result in a forfeiture of bail money, if any, and if you are subsequently arrested you will be held without bail!
The Non-Resident Violators Compact: What Is It, and Why Do I Care?
The Non-Resident Violators Compact (NRVC) was formed several decades ago by the northeastern states and allows states to assist each other in enforcing traffic laws (perhaps more accurately, it allows states to assist each other with increasing revenues). When an out-of-state driver violates certain driving laws of a member state and fails to appear for trial or pay the fine imposed for the violation, the state may send a non-compliance notice to the driver's home state motor vehicle agency. The driver can subsequently lose his license for a violation in an entirely different state! Currently, all states are NRVC members except Alaska, California, Michigan, Montana, and Wisconsin.
Note that under NRVC, the jurisdiction that issued the ticket cannot not transmit a report on any violation if the date of transmission is more than six months after the date on which the traffic citation was issued. What does this mean? Well, if you get a ticket in another state, and manage to keep that ticket pending in the courts of said state until six months have passed, you may be able to ignore the ticket without worrying about your license being adversely affected back home. You will want to avoid driving in the state where you got the ticket, however, since you will likely be arrested if pulled over there again. Not a desirable situation for most people, but you should be aware of your options nonetheless.
Be aware that Connecticut and Arkansas have already joined the Driver's License Agreement (DLA), a more comprehensive version of the NRVC. The DLA is much more far-reaching, and allows court orders from other states to follow drivers back to their home state (often with absurd results). Likewise, moving violations from foreign countries can make their way onto your driving record back home. There has been some support for joining DLA from some of the other states, but the AAMVA (the mastermind behind the DLA) will not reveal which ones.
Coming soon: A discussion of international driving permits (which aren't actually a driver's license), foreign driver's licenses, and whether you can use the latter to dodge points.
Strategy: What if I'm Not a Lawyer?
Warning: this section will probably come across as me telling you how to "work the system". But if you're not a lawyer, it's important to try to turn your status as a non-legal-professional into an advantage, or at least to mitigate its negative effects. If you are a lawyer, skip this part, as it may make you barf.
Not being a lawyer hurts you, but can have some positive aspects as well if you adjust your strategy accordingly. First, the good. You can often get lots of help from clerks and judges (this assumes your judge isn't just trying to rake in revenue for his town). Also, judges will usually be more willing to forgive procedural errors (e.g., making a mistake on a form or a motion, or missing a deadline for filing something). Now, the bad. Judges will be far more skeptical of any legal arguments you make as a non-lawyer. Why? Because lawyers are "officers of the court" and thus have certain obligations that don't directly apply to you. For example, a lawyer has a duty to cite negative legal authority. He can't only mention a 1977 case that helps him, when he knows the case was overruled by another case in 1981. Likewise, a lawyer must make arguments in good faith (e.g., he can't file a motion purely to delay the proceedings in a case). If a lawyer does these things, he is subject to sanctions as laid out by the bar in his state. You, as a non-lawyer, are immune to these sanctions. The main power the judge has over you is contempt of court. What does this mean? It means you should absolutely avoid bad faith arguments (I would define this as arguments you are 100 percent sure have no legal merit; it we're only talking 99 percent sure, then go ahead and make them!) Like I said, you get the benefit of the doubt on a lot of stuff. It's harder for you to do legal research, so maybe that's why you didn't list an important negative authority in the motion you just filed.
Ever see the Saturday Night Live skit Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer? When confronted with legal complexity that hurt his case, our hero would say something like "I am but a caveman, and I do not understand your ways. But one thing I do understand is (whatever fundamental point he was trying to assert)." This is the card you want to be ready to play at any point that you need a little flexibility in a procedural rule, or need a procedural error forgiven. Let's say you're standing before a judge and have to enter a plea, and you've only got one real argument to rely on but you don't want to go to trial and then find out the judge isn't receptive to it. You might say something like "I'm sorry, your honor, I'm not a lawyer and I've never done this before, but I had a question about (your main argument). In light of that, should I even have gotten this ticket?" What this often does is get the judge to reveal a little about how heavily he would weight that kind of argument before you decide whether you want to go to trial. If he shoots it down right away, then you can take the plea bargain and save yourself some points on your license without going to trial before an unreceptive judge. If he indicates that your point would certainly be something that would be taken into consideration, then maybe it's worth going to trial. Just about everywhere, you have the right to talk to a judge or magistrate before entering a plea or accepting a plea bargain. If this option isn't offered to you, then ask for it!
Now let's say you missed a court appearance, a filing deadline, or filed a motion on the wrong form. You get a notice in the mail advising you of a default judgement, dismissal of an appeal, or rejection of the errant motion. Fortunately, Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer works by mail, too! Type up a motion asking for forgiveness. Cite the constitution, and remind them that you're not a lawyer. The phrase "All I want is my constitutionally-guaranteed day in court" is a good one. Once you've got the motion (to set aside a default judgment, to reconsider dismissal or denial, or whatever) exactly the way you want it, grab a blank motion form and neatly hand-write in the content you just typed up. Nothing screams "lack of legal sophistication" like filing a hand-written motion in a trial!
Can I Get My Ticket Dismissed If the Officer Was Verbally or Physically Abusive?
If this happened to you, you should strongly consider filing a police complaint. Injustice aside, there have been cases where filing such a complaint resulted in an off-the-record call from the head honcho at the police station offering to drop your ticket if you drop the complaint. The existence of a pending police complaint can also get you more leverage with the District Attorney when it comes to plea bargaining. But the strategy can backfire, since the District Attorney may be less likely to settle to ensure you are convicted of the originally-accused crime in order to undermine the perceived legitimacy of your complaint. Alternatively, if you are plea bargaining directly with the police officer, he/she may now have a grudge against you which could reduce the chances of a settlement. Of course, a pending complaint may make the officer more likely to agree to a favorable settlement, so it can definitely go either way. In any case, at least you know the potential risks as well as the potential gains.
Coming soon: Speed studies, an exemplary outline, and how the rules of evidence can work for/against you...
Note regarding school zones: I know more than one person who has been ticketed for speeding in a school zone on a holiday, because the speed zone sign was still flashing. However, it is important to note that many states make the lower speed limit contingent upon the conditions requiring the lower limit, and not upon the sign flashing. E.g., Colorado drivers see CRSA 42-4-1102, which relates to speed zones and state requirements for them.
Frequently Asked Questions
I missed my court date/didn't find out about it until after it went down. What now?
Call the clerk to check the status of your case. There's always a small chance that it got rescheduled at the last minute to the judge eating some bad clams, and there is no sense assuming the worst. If your hearing did indeed take place without you or anyone representing you present, chances are a "Default Judgment" was entered against you. Basically, it's like forfeiting a sports game; you didn't show up, so you lost.
If this is the case, your best option is probably to file a Motion to Set Aside Default Judgment explaining that your failure to show up was unavoidable and unintentional, and asking the court very nicely to give you a chance to have your constitutionally-guaranteed chance to defend yourself. The suggestions for Motions for Extension of Time on the Traffic Case Appeal Guide are definitely relevant for the Motion to Set Aside, including the one about going old-school and hand-writing your motion.
Is the prosecutor allowed to meet with the judge without me present?
No! This is called ex parte communication, and is forbidden by the legal ethics rules in just about every state! If you hear about the judge talking to the prosecutor without you, motion for dismissal, and consider filing an ethics complaint!
My ticket or summons is unsigned. Do I need to show up to court?
An unsigned summons is considered a minor error, and so the prosecution has the ability to amend the complaint with a signature right up until the time of the trial. It is possible that a motion to dismiss in advance of the court date would work, but then the prosecution could just re-issue the amended ticket and start the process over. In short, you might be able to buy yourself some time by getting an unsigned ticket dismissed, and there's always the chance that the officer would be too lazy or forgetful to re-issue the ticket, but in most cases, challenging an unsigned summons is unlikely to get you out of a ticket entirely.
What about those traffic ticket defense places that I see advertised on billboards?
These businesses, often set up in stripmall storefronts, are not the same as hiring a lawyer. Their business model is based on negotiating plea bargains en masse, with quantity emphasized over quality, for a low flat fee. Don't expect one of these firms to take the time to evaluate the individual merits of your case and put together a substantive argument. They'll show up to court, and motion for dismissal if the officer doesn't show up. If the officer does show up, they'll typically negotiate a plea bargain, which may in many cases be worse than the plea deal you'd have been offered if you showed up to court.
Take, for example, a Florida firm that guarantees no new points on your license, or your money back. How do they do this? They'll offer a plea deal where you pay hundreds of dollars in excess penalties in exchange for zero points. Greedy municipalities often want revenue more than they care about your driving record, and will be happy to take such a deal. One Florida reader writes that she paid one of these firms $100 to handle her ticket. Then, instead of getting her ticket dismissed, she ended up on the hook for an additional $362 in fines and court costs for what was only a trivial speeding offense. She received zero points on her license, but at a very high cost.
This is not to say that there aren't reputable traffic ticket defense attorneys who advertise by billboard, just a warning to read the contract terms carefully, see what the firm promises and what it does not, and be very sure of what you're getting into!
What about DUI offenses?
It's been asked a lot, so I wrote up a quick explanation of why I don't cover DUI and DWI defenses on this page along with a bit of advice for those falsely accused.
Is it true that you can be "too intelligent" to be hired as a police officer?
Yes. Obviously, each municipality will have its own rules, but some police departments will not hire people who score too high on an intelligence test. It may sound crazy, but the courts have affirmed this practice. A Connecticut man named Robert Jordan brought suit against the New London Police Department for discrimination because he was excluded for having an IQ of approximately 125. Sadly, the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that since all applicants with an IQ of 125 are similarly excluded, Mr. Jordan was not discriminated against. Given the recent eminent domain abuses in New London, perhaps this IQ cap applies to all government employees in that city.
Is it legal to flash your headlights to warn other drivers about a speed trap?
I haven't researched the issue thoroughly, but I have come across several state cases where headlight flashing was held to be free speech protected by the 1st Amendment. While it's hard to imagine how encouraging others to obey the law could be illegal, I believe this is the case in the United Kingdom (not sure about Canada, though). See the news articles, below, for more information on recent decisions in favor of drivers.
Is it legal to give the finger to a cop?
Flipping cops the bird seems to be protected free speech under the First Amendment, at least if you live in the 2nd Federal Circuit (which includes New York, Vermont, and Connecticut). Check out this link for a particularly amusing example.
Is it legal for me to videotape or otherwise record my traffic stop?
Due to the rapid growth of police power in many parts of the US, the answer is not the unqualified "yes" one might expect. Presently, the situation varies by jursidiction. As of 2010, at least some states (e.g., Ohio) regard recording your traffic stop, even if it is in a public place, as a Class I felony punishable by 4 - 15 years in prison. (See this article and this one for more specific information on some recent and still-pending cases in various states.) Since judicial common sense has been abandoned in so many of America's courtrooms, the best solution is for the states to pass laws explicitly legalizing videotaping any government employees' actions in any public place to safeguard against apathetic judges and corrupt police agencies. However, given the power of police unions and their lobbyists, getting such laws passed may be challenging.
Update: In 2012, the Illinois courts struck down a law making it illegal to record officers as unconstitutional. The US Department of Justice also recently affirmed the right to record police. Some helpful tips for recording police can be found here. Also, check out this handy smartphone app from the ACLU which will record your encounter with police, and stream it live to the ACLU's server so the footage cannot be erased by the police.
Is America becoming a police state?
I wrote a brief essay on the psychological and economic trends of traffic enforcement to memorialize some of what I have learned from conversations with citizens and law enforcement officers.
Do I have to obey those yellow speed limit signs on curves/exit ramps?
In most jurisdictions, and persuant to the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices, these yellow signs are only advisory in nature, and thus merely exceeding the yellow posted limit is not, by itself, illegal.
What if a city cop tries to pull me over outside of city limits or other jurisdictional boundary?
Be very careful about making jurisdictional assumptions, no matter how logical they may seem! In many jurisdictions, officers are cross-deputized so they can operate in adjacent jurisdictions. For example, in Colorado, the Fort Collins City Police are also deputized in Larimer County, so they can technically ticket or arrest you outside city limits! Even more absurdly, this is also true of the Colorado State University Police; instead of merely having jurisdiction on their .9 square mile campus, they've got jurisdiction across the 2600+ square miles that comprise Larimer County!
The police are chasing me but I'm really close to a state (or other jurisdictional) border! Am I required to stop?
This probably isn't the best time for you to be surfing the web. Focus on the road, man! But seriously, exercise extreme caution. Many states (e.g., see Illinois 725 ILCS 5/107-4, Delaware Tit. 11 §1932, Washington RCW 10.93.120, and other "fresh pursuit" statutes) grant jurisdiction to officers from other jurisdictions (including other states!) involved in "fresh pursuit" (defined as the immediate pursuit of a person who is endeavoring to avoid arrest). The pursuing officer thus has the same authority to arrest and hold the motorist in custody as a local officer would have if the offense was committed inside the new jurisdiction! If the state you're hurtling towards lacks such a statute, the common law "fresh pursuit" exception is typically limited to felonies. Does the felony of evading arrest count? Quite possibly, so if there is evidence you are attempting to escape or flee the jurisdiction to avoid arrest (e.g., cop has been clearly following you with his strobe lights on for awhile), the lack of a fresh pursuit statute may not help much. But what if you blow past a speed trap half a mile from the border, and are in another state before the officer manages to catch up to you? You might be able to make a jurisdictional argument for continuing merrily on your way.
Is there anything else I should know about police evasion?
Know the pursuit policies of your local police agencies! Officers in some agencies may not be allowed to pursue you for anything short of a violent felony. Note that I definitely do not recommend that you evade the police. In fact, I hope you won't take my disclosure of the facts that the Ford Crown Victoria Police Interceptor, America's most ubiquitous police cruiser, was speed limited to 137 mph until 1998, and is currently speed limited to 129 mph, as motivation to make sure the next vehicle you purchase can comfortably exceed those limits. The Ford Motor Company seems to closely guard these statistics, and a fear of encouraging scofflaws to be successful in such endeavors is probably the reason! In the same spirit, I hope you won't use this handy guide to spotting unmarked police cars to avoid tickets.
Is it legal to obstruct or obscure my license plate number from traffic cameras?
No. But there are many tricks for doing this, some of which are less detectable than others. License plate imaging systems such as those used by speed cameras and red light cameras can be defeated in a couple of different ways. First of all, salt residue seems to block these cameras from operating properly at night (but not during the day!) If you live in a place where they use salt on the roads (or even if you don't), it would theoretically be possible to spray heavily-salted water on your license plate, let it dry, and then apply a layer of clear-coat paint to seal it in. The salt would not be visibly detectable, but would still blind traffic cameras at night.
If you're in a pickup truck, driving with the tailgate down will usually block the rear plate from traffic cameras.
Finally, it's legal to keep an EZ-Pass unit mounted above your license plate, which partially blocks it. However, EZ-Pass units have recently been subject to misuse by government agencies (see: this article), so some folks have advocated getting an EZ-Pass, gutting it of the electronics (so it's just an empty plastic case), and installing that it on top of the license plate to make it harder to read.
To read the full research on obscuring license plates and EZ-Pass exploitation, download this paper from DefCon 21.
Links of Interest
September 2014: Traffic cameras forcing governments to refund millions of dollars
Click here for some recent news stories of mass refunds caused by misconfigured speed cameras, or because drivers were never informed of their alleged infractions.
April 2014: Federal judge rules that flashing headlights to warn of speed traps is protected free speech
A federal district judge has ruled that the arrest and $1000 fine of a Missouri man who flashed his headlights to warn other drivers was unconstitutional, and that this was free speech protected by the 1st Amendment. For more background on this case, see this article. Even if your state does not have such a ruling on the books, one could always put together a defense using the same arguments used in this (and others) recent headlight flashing cases. Also check out this article on a Florida motorist who won a similar case in a local court.
April 2014: Ten Reasons not to talk to police
This video gives a great overview on the dangers of talking to police, even when you have the best of intentions. See also this article about when the police can, and cannot demand that you show identification. To summarize, if you think the cop is just fishing for reasons to search or detain you, ask: "Excuse me officer. Are you detaining me, or am I free to go?" If the officer says you're free to go, leave immediately and don't answer any more questions. Sticking around past that point only exposes you to liability, as illustrated by this article about asset forfeiture fishing expeditions.
July 2013: Man sues town over bogus red light ticket
A New Hampshire man is suing a town after being given a bogus red light ticket. If more people did this, the issuance of false tickets would lose profitability and this exploitive practice would cease.
May 2013: The danger and rampant corruption of traffic light cameras
Click here for a great article on the societal impact of red light cameras.
March 2013: Red light camera constitutionality
A recent court decision in Ohio provides a helpful outline of constitutional arguments to raise in a speed camera cases. Check out the news story for more about how a small town violated the rights of 19,000 people. The underlying legal decision can be read here.
August 2011: Red light cameras on their way out?
The campaign to eliminate red light cameras in Los Angeles has gained serious traction and is already having an effect; the Police Commission has decided not to renew the contract on red light cameras there (see: this video).
April 2011: Governments Balancing Budgets on Drivers' Backs
Corrupt local governments have begun balancing their budgets on the backs of drivers as states across the US triple speeding fines and add ridiculous surcharges to moving violations. The City of Los Angeles now makes $1.5 million a year from cameras at a single intersection in the San Fernando Valley. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the hit count on this page has gone through the roof in recent months!
August 2010: New court rulings on red light cameras
Between my own lack of personal experience fighting a red light camera ticket, and the fact that none of you have submitted filings from red light cases (remember, even filings that didn't work are helpful!), I don't have much written on this topic. However, a recent US Supreme Court ruling on a Massachusetts case requires that scientists be made available to testify in court cases about lab evidence they prepare before the government can assess criminal penalties. Unfortunately, in 21 out of the 23 states that use red light cameras, running a red light (like a parking ticket) leads to civil, and not criminal penalties. But for those living in California (and one other state I have yet to identify), this ruling has important implications. Already, California courts have tossed out entire groups of red light camera cases based on this due process issue.
September 2007: Speed legally in Sunriver, Oregon
Reason Magazine reports on an interesting experiment in private road ownership. This followup article also provides some coverage.
August 2007: Police Arrest a Man for Taping a Traffic Stop
Pennsylvania police recently arrested Brian D. Kelly for simply videotaping his own traffic stop. Police officers will customarily videotape you during any traffic stop, but in some states, those same officers will throw you in jail if you try to create your own tape. If you expect an abuse of authority, and do decide to record your encounter, check your local laws first; you may be legally obligated to make the officer aware that you are recording, which may make him less likely to say career-limiting (or at least, ticket-defeating) things.
October 2006: The Kangaroo Courts of New York State
Last month, The New York Times did a 3-part story on the corrupt and out-of-control "town and village courts" of upstate New York:
Not registered with the New York Times, and don't want to be? Yeah, me neither. Visit Bug-Me-Not for a free log-in you can use to view the stories.
June 2006: More Washington drivers are fighting tickets - and winning
(Washington has absurdly expensive traffic fines, so this trend does not surprise me!)
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