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Does it make sense for you to fight your traffic ticket in court? The answer is “it depends”.
It can be tricky to successfully fight your ticket, but in some circumstances, the effort can really pay off. A determined person can achieve great success in traffic court if he or she knows what to do.
In deciding whether to fight, you should first consider the consequences of giving up and paying the ticket. Will you increase your chances of losing your license? Can you get your case dismissed by attending traffic school? Will your insurance rates increase? Do you want to spend the time and effort it will take to fight your ticket effectively?
Once you understand the consequences of not fighting your ticket, you should try to determine your chances of winning. The first thing you should do is research the law with which you are charged with violating. Second, determine what your defenses will be. And third, plan on how to present your case to the judge.
Unbelievably, police officers sometimes do not know the exact wording of the law, and it is the exact wording of the law that is most important to you if you are going to fight your ticket. So figure out exactly which law you have violated. It is usually written on your ticket.
Next, look up the law and read it to understand every part of it. You can find the text of the law by going to leginfo.ca.gov/calaw.html and tying in the violation number on your ticket. You should ask yourself: “What are the parts of the law I am charged with committing?”
Focusing on each part of a law is often the key to unlocking an effective defense. That is because to be found guilty, the state must prove you violated each “part” or clause of the offense. For example, in the case of failing to stop at a stop sign, the state would have to prove each of the following facts:
•You were driving.
•You approached a stop sign at the entrance to, or within, an intersection.
•You failed to stop at the limit line, if marked, or before entering the intersection.
If you can show that your conduct did not violate even one element of a traffic law, you win your case. For example, if the area where you were ticketed there was no stop sign and the officer claims you did not stop, then you should be found not guilty.
Even if you cannot challenge the law you are charged with violating, all is not lost. You can challenge the accuracy of the police officer’s allegation on cross-examination. Cross-examination is a very important aspect to beating your speeding ticket. Actually, it is the highest probability way to beat your ticket.
It is essential that you have some good questions for cross-examination before you walk into the courtroom. These are some of the areas you should inquire into.
Was the officer’s view of what occurred obstructed by other moving vehicles or stationary objects like trees, fences or buildings? If so, you can ask the officer questions which show that he could not have clearly seen the alleged offense and this will give you an opening to sell your version of events to the judge.
Did the officer stop the right car? It is quite possible in heavy traffic for an officer to see a violation committed by one white pickup truck and to stop another almost identical white pick-up truck further down the road. Your ability to claim this happened goes way up if you can show that because of a curve in the road, construction project, or just heavy traffic, the officer lost sight of the offending vehicle between the violation and pulling you over. If this is the case make sure to ask the officer if he lost sight of your vehicle at any time prior to the stop.
Was there an actual, provable error in the officer’s approach or methodology? In citing you for speeding, did the officer correctly pace your vehicle or properly use the radar or laser to establish your speed?
Remember as with all endeavors in life, preparation is key. You will have to research and prepare the questions in advance. So, if you feel that that ticket was unjustified follow these tips and argue your position to the judge.
The purpose of this column is to provide general information on the law, which is subject to change. It is not legal advice. Consult a lawyer if you have a specific legal problem.
Published: September 29, 2011 – Volume 10 – Issue 24