Lawyer Gal's Blog

A Young Lawyer's Perspective

You are cited for a traffic violation, but have doubts. What to do?

Here is a familiar situation that many motorists find themselves in at one point or another:

-A police officer stops you and cites you for a violation, such as failure to stop, no turn signal, lack of assured clear distance, etc. 

-You firmly believe that you in fact were following all traffic laws and the cop erred.

The threshold question should be: am I merely angry and defensive, or did I legitimately follow the law?  The reality is, any ticket strikes a chord of annoyance.  In most counties, a ticket costs at least $100 – money which feels completely unjustified and wasted.  The majority of us admit the sour a ticket can put on any person’s day.

It is important to remember, however, that traffic violations are strict liability offenses.  This means that even if your citation for failure to stop at a stop sign took place at 9 a.m on a Sunday, with not a soul in sight but the officer, you will still be liable.  No matter your mind set [“I never intended to break the law”] or the seeming unreasonableness  of the citation, if you break a traffic offense, you are most likely guilty.  The goal of traffic laws is to deter unsafe driving, and strict liability ordinances are an avenue by which legislatures try to acheive this objective.  Moreover, courts would expend vast resources if proving a traffic violation required specific intent. 

With this background in mind, to be properly liable for a traffic offense, it must be proven according to the standard of proof that you committed the act.  So if you are confident [as opposed to obfuscatory from resentment] that you did not commit the violation, a few pointers can go a long way.

Images will always speak louder than words. Fortunately, most police departments equip cruisers with dash cameras that typically capture helpful footage.  Depending on the positioning of the cruiser, your assertion could be proven.  If you stopped at that stop sign, then nothing will show it better than a video!

A video is also really helpful in doubtful situations because it might show that you didn’t comply with the law.  This will save you the effort of trying to fruitlessly prove your case.  Performing a pro se [represent yourself] traffic trial only to have the prosecution show the magistrate the dash cam video of you blowing the stop sign would make you feel pretty sheepish!  [Especially since the court will be irked for wasting its time, and will make this annoyance evident through highly unpleasant court costs.]

Sunshine laws make dash camera footage available to the public.  In order to obtain a copy of a dash cam recording, look at your ticket. It will state the time and date of the stop, as well as the officer’s name.  Call the police department of this jurisdiction, and request a copy of the stop.  Some departments will require you to provide a dvd and a self-addressed/stamped envelope.  Others won’t – it just depends on the jurisdiction.

Once you get the copy, pop it in your computer or dvd player and watch it a few times.  If you broke the law, then pay the ticket. If you are not sure, then you may want to take the footage to an attorney.  Or, for the brave, you can try representing yourself [although honestly, it doesn’t usually turn out too well.]  

This is an efficient and cost-effective way for shaping your ultimate decision.

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June 7, 2010 - Posted by | Your legal rights | ,

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