Regardless of whether you are guilty or not, the law allows you to contest any traffic infraction. Some of the following steps may prove to be useful in fighting your traffic ticket. There are several initial options that may include:
- Try to negotiate with the district attorney to have your case dismissed. While this may be a long shot, it’s worth it if you can convince them that the officer made a mistake of some sort. Of course, this works well if you have a good driving record.
- Look up the exact statute of law that you violated. Carefully read each item to see if you violated all of the conditions or only some of them. If you can prove that you did not violate even one part of that specific law, the judge may dismiss the case.
- If you speed was determined by using radar or laser guns, they must be properly calibrated and the officer has to be certified in using these devices. It’s entirely possible that the officer ticketed the wrong vehicle if there were numerous cars on the road.
- Many states have laws that define how well an officer can conceal himself while conducting traffic enforcement. Check the laws of your state to find out if they prohibit speed traps.
Do Not Be Intimidated by the Court
Some people are intimidated by the court system and often just pay the fine. This is an admission of guilt, which will stay on a person’s driving record for several years. However, most jurisdictions allow you to submit your version of events in writing directly to the court. You don’t have to face the judge and police officers, and waste an entire day sitting at the courthouse.
You may be able to get a reduced charge by pleading guilty with an explanation. If you were issued a ticket for speeding, find out if the speed posted was an absolute speed limit or a presumed one. In some states, it is lawful to speed up to avoid an emergency or to prevent an accident. Speeding tickets are issued in the interest of safety. If you can prove to the judge that the speed you were traveling at was safe for the conditions, he or she may reduce the fine or reduce the severity of the offense.
Many states allow you to remove one traffic violation from your record by completing a defensive driving class. Some states even allow you to attend traffic school on-line. Community service may be an option in lieu of paying the fine for civil traffic violations. You must appear in court to obtain information for this option.
Contacting the Court and Obtaining Information
You can obtain information about your case by contacting the court specified on the Notice to Appear citation. Individuals can call or visit the traffic court’s office to find out what the procedure is for dealing with their traffic offense. It may be possible to find information on their website regarding when and where to appear. This may include instructions for paying tickets online, by phone, by mail or in person at the courthouse.
Some jurisdictions require a written notice be sent to the Clerk of the Court’s office outlining how you plan on handling your citation. Your options may be to request a court hearing, attend traffic school or submit an affidavit of compliance for cases involving safety equipment violations or “fix-it” tickets.
Gathering Research and Organizing Your Case
Diagrams, Maps, and Pictures
Pictures, eyewitness accounts and diagrams can be extremely helpful in winning your case. Review the notes and any diagrams that you made after the incident occurred. Analyze the facts and how they relate to the section of law that you were charged with violating.
You may want to make a drawing of the scene to show where your vehicle was and the location of the officer. This may be able to prove that the cop didn’t have a clear view of your vehicle at the time. If you have any photos of the scene, have them enlarged so that it’s easy for everyone to view them.
If you choose, you may testify on your own behalf; however, you cannot be compelled to do so. Defendants who are prepared to explain their version of what happened in a clear, honest and convincing manner have a good chance of winning their case. The prosecutor will have the opportunity to cross examine you and it’s important to stay calm and not react to statement the prosecutor may try to provoke you with.
You have the right to present witnesses who were present at the time of your violation. This may be an individual that was a passenger in your vehicle at the time, or it might be a pedestrian or the driver of another car that was present at the scene. Before you ask a potential witness to testify on your behalf, you want to make sue they agree with your version of the events.
If you have more than one witness, organize your case by determining what each witness will say and how their testimony will prove key facts about your case. Organize your witnesses by the logical sequence of events.
Begin by acquainting your witness with the various legal elements of your case and the strategy you plan to use for your defense. Their testimony should support one or more key aspects of your case. Every attorney rehearses a witness you should do the same if you plan to represent yourself in court. You may wish to put yourself in the role of the prosecutor and ask the witness some questions that the prosecution will use in their cross examination in order to properly prepare the witness for what to expect.
During your trial, you may request that witnesses not be permitted to sit in the courtroom before they give their testimony. This prohibits the witnesses from molding their testimony to what the other witnesses say.
Don’t let a witness bend the truth. Sometimes a friendly witness will volunteer to stretch the truth on your behalf. This is never a good idea and a skilled prosecutor may expose even a small lie. This will destroy any credibility of the witness’s testimony.
Obtain Officers Notes During "Discovery"
You have the right to demand access to the officer’s notes through a process called “discovery”. This involves making a written request for the disclosure of all notes or documents relevant to your case.
Not many defendants request to see the evidence against them. Often times, you may find that your discovery request is ignored. If you don’t get a response to your request within a certain timeframe, you will need to go to court and make a “pre-trial motion” to ask the judge to order law enforcement to release the notes to you.
If you receive a copy of the officer’s notes, Look for weaknesses, inconsistencies or provable falsehoods. Write brief notes for rebuttals to the officer’s notes.
Cross Examination of a Police Officer
The purpose in cross-examining the officer is to demonstrate that there is reasonable doubt that you are guilty. Your goal may be to have the officer admit that you did not violate every element of the law or that he was not in a position to see your vehicle clearly.
Since the he prosecution is the first to question the police officer, this is your opportunity to make note of any discrepancies in his or her testimony. There may be a difference in what the officer says and what’s written in his or her notes on the ticket. Limit yourself to short questions that are phrased to help prove your side of the case. Always remember to be respectful of the officer during questioning.
Going to Traffic Court
When you contest a traffic violation, the first time you appear in court is called an "arraignment". This is your opportunity to either plead guilty and pay the fine or enter a plea of not guilty and request a date for trial. It is your Constitutional right to a fair trial and you should take full opportunity of this.
Show up to your court early with all of your notes and be prepared to present your case. You have the option to be represented by an attorney or you may present your own case at your hearing. On the first day of trial, the judge will call the list of cases that are scheduled on the court’s docket. The judge will ask if you or your attorney and the prosecutor are ready to proceed to trial. The court will also determine if all witnesses are present in the courtroom and ready to give testimony in the case. At this time, you may request that the case against you be dismissed if the officer who issued the citation does not show up.
If all the parties are ready to proceed to trial, the prosecutor will present their case against you. The police officer will be sworn in and testify as to the facts as they remember them.
The defendant may offer opposing evidence, argue the law, present supporting witnesses and cross-examine the law enforcement officer who issued the citation.
Outline the key points that you want to present in defending your case. Point out any weaknesses in the prosecutor’s case, including any contradictory evidence. You may point out elements of the case that the prosecutor failed to prove and emphasize any extenuating circumstances in your favor.
Even when it’s evident that the defendant committed a crime, judges, defense attorneys and prosecutors may bend the law in order to obtain a desired result in order to avoid a lengthy trial.
Most traffic violations are heard before a judge. They rule on the admissibility of evidence and the methods of conducting testimony. Their job is to ensure that all of the court’s rules and procedures are followed properly. They also interpret the law to determine how the trial will proceed.
In many cases, the judge will order a pretrial hearing. This is done to listen to allegations and determine whether the evidence presented merits a trial. In criminal cases, the judge may decide that individuals charged with a crime should be held in jail pending trial. They also set the conditions for bail or if the person should be allowed release on their own recognizance.
A trial is a proceeding in which the prosecutors will try to convince the court that you have committed the traffic violation with which you have been charged. Even though traffic trials are somewhat informal, the court must comply with all of the established trial procedures. There are very specific rules regarding the types of evidence the court may consider and the manner in which the court can receive that evidence. These rules can be complicated, however, some basic parameters are:
- A person may testify to facts about which he or she has firsthand knowledge. This means that they can testify about things that they actually heard or witnessed.
- You may, but are not required to take the stand and testify on your own behalf. If you do so without an attorney, you may testify in narrative form rather than asking yourself questions.
- You cannot read from a prepared statement on the stand.
- If you wish to present evidence, such as documents, photographs or diagrams, you must fully identify the object introduced and tell the court how and when you obtained it. You must supply the court with enough information for it to determine whether such evidence is what it purports to be and if it accurately represents what it claims to depict.
- The court may refuse to hear certain testimony or review certain physical evidence based upon the “Rules of Evidence”. While the court will generally explain the reason for its refusal, it will be impossible for the court to fully apprise you of the sum and substance of the evidentiary rules at trial.
Both the prosecution and the defendant will have the opportunity to present their case to the court. The prosecution presents its case first. Normally, it will call at least one witness, which is usually the officer who issued the citation. You will be given the opportunity to cross-examine the prosecution’s witnesses once the prosecutor has finished questioning that witness.
After the prosecution has rested its case, the defendant is given the opportunity to present their case. This may include the defendant testifying on their own behalf in addition to witnesses that will help establish their innocence. Once you or any of your witnesses have completed their testimony, the prosecutor can cross-examine that individual.
Once all parties have completed presenting their case, the court will render a judgment.
Jury trials are only available for misdemeanors and felonies and not for a simple traffic infraction. In these types of trials, juries are selected in order to decide the guilt or innocence of the defendant. The right to a trial by jury in certain cases is guaranteed by the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution. Any individual who is entitled to a jury trial is entitled to a jury that represents the whole community. It is important that a fair cross-section of the community’s population is represented on the jury to prevent discrimination or bias.
Your Rights in Traffic Court
Your Constitutional Rights as a Defendant Include:
- To plead guilty or not guilty to any violation with which you have been charged.
- To enter a plea of no contest and allow the Judge to make a finding of guilty or not guilty from the facts of your case.
- To have your own attorney, or in certain cases, the public defender represent you.
- To be granted a continuance to allow you to get an attorney and prepare a proper defense.
- The right to an impartial jury trial.
- To subpoena witnesses to testify for you or on your behalf. This subpoena requires them to appear at trial.
- To testify or not testify on your own behalf. Only you can make this decision and nobody can require you to testify.
- The right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure
- The right against self-incrimination as the defendant can choose to remain silent.
- The right to a fair, public, and speedy trial. All defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty
- The right to be free from excessive fines or excessive bail.
- The right against double jeopardy which is defined as being tried more than once for the same offense.
- The right to equal protection under the law which means that all persons have the same access to the law and courts and should be treated equally by the courts and the law.
The typical stages of a jury trial include the following:
Opening statement: The attorney’s give opening statements outlining the facts involved in the case. They will declare what they intend to establish by the evidence to follow. These opening statements are not classified as evidence.
Evidence: The prosecutor will call witnesses and examine them in an effort to prove the charges against the defendant.
Rebuttal: The prosecutor may bring witness back that have already testified for the purpose of refuting new issues raised by the defendant’s witnesses.
Closing Arguments: Following the presentation of the evidence, the attorneys for each party will sum up their cases for the jury.
Jury Instructions: The judge will give instructions to the jury to define the issues and instruct the jurors on the laws that govern the case.
Deliberations: Following the closing arguments and jury instructions, the jury retires to the jury room to consider the case and reach a verdict.
After the jury votes, the presiding juror will fill out a verdict form. All six members of the jury must sign this form. The jury will then return to the courtroom where the verdict will be given to the judge who will announce the jury’s verdict in open court. Neither the judge nor the parties are allowed to make comments to the jurors about the verdict. The attorneys may obtain an order from the judge authorizing them to poll the jury. The judge will then dismiss the jurors and thank them for their service.
Selecting a Jury: If you are allowed to trial by a jury in traffic court, it will be comprised of six people, 12 people if the case involved felony charges. Any individuals that you are personally acquainted with or are related to you will be automatically excluded from serving on the jury.
The process of questioning jurors is called “voir dire”. Your goal is to select individuals who will be sympathetic to your side of the case. The best way to accomplish this is to ask questions that demonstrate a particular juror will have difficulty in finding you not guilty for the offense.
Some questions that may prove helpful are:
- Have you even been seriously injured in a traffic accident? People that have been injured in a traffic accident may feel that any individual charged with a traffic offense should be penalized.
- Have any of your family members been injured in a traffic accident? Individuals who have had loved ones injured in an accident may be harboring a grudge against individuals who are charged with speeding or involved in a traffic violation that resulted in an accident.
- Have you ever been charged with a traffic violation? If an individual has never been charged with a traffic offense, they may not be sympathetic to your case and believe that you are guilty of breaking the law.
- What is the highest level of education you have completed? An individual who has significantly less or more education than you may be prejudiced against you.
- Are you employed, and if so, what is your profession? You want to avoid individuals whose lifestyle varies significantly from yours, as they may be judgmental about your particular choice of lifestyle.
- Do you believe that a person can be innocent when charged with a traffic violation? You don ‘t want individuals on the jury who are sympathetic to law enforcement and always believe that the police are right.
- Will serving on the jury present a hardship for you? You don’t want jurors who will resent you for taking up their time or keeping them from earning a living, especially if they are self-employed.
You may request that a juror be dismissed by making a challenge against them. However, you are limited to how many challenges you are allowed, so make sure to use them carefully. In most cases, you will be allowed three “preemptory” challenges. This means that you can have a juror dismissed without a reason. After those automatic challenges are exhausted, you can only have a juror dismissed for “cause”. Showing cause may involve dismissing a juror because they have been previously employed in law enforcement, or have friends or family currently employed in law enforcement. If an individual has suffered previous injuries in a similar situation to your case, they should be dismissed. If an individual does not drive or has never had a driver’s license will not be helpful to your case.
How to Appeal a Court Decision
Every individual found guilty of a traffic offense has the right to request an appeal from the appellate court. You may present new evidence such as testimony, photographs, diagrams and other exhibits that were not produced at the time of trial. An appeal is a legal procedure in which the appellate court is asked to reconsider the case. In some cases, an individual may have reason to believe that the trial judge made a legal error in their decision.
There are several advantages to an appeal that may include:
- The prosecutor is under more pressure to settle
- Your sentence is suspended
- You may get a new trial
- Your conviction may be reversed
Some disadvantages may be that an appeal requires written legal arguments to be filed in a short timeframe. The odds of winning are slim and appellate courts don’t like to reverse convictions of the trial judge.
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