The Insider's Guide to Electronic Speed Enforcement Pt. 7: D-Day

Casey W. Raskob
by Casey W. Raskob
the insiders guide to electronic speed enforcement pt 7 d day

You’re fighting your speeding ticket in court. Take a lawyer. Yes, I know: a good local attorney will cost more than the fine. But the whole point of fighting is winning. As I explained in the last installment, the average citizen doesn’t have a hope in Hell of winning in traffic court without a lawyer. Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I present my case…

A lawyer knows the “system:” the rules AND the players. The defense counsel may be the “enemy,” but he’s the devil they know. The Clerk, Judge and cop can all relax; knowing the game will be played without rancor. For example, if you were a real jerk on the side of the road, the officer will tell me about it. But he won’t get mad at you again. He knows there won’t be any personal confrontation.

[Many states allow an attorney to appear for the client without the client present. So you can out-source the problem without lost time or wages.]

As Harold Hill pronounced in the Music Man, you gotta know the territory. And the Judge IS the territory. It may be a piercing glimpse into the obvious, but they are the one who will decide your fate.

Traffic court judges will vary from an ex-SCCA racer to the “little old lady with the crochet stuff on the back deck who blocks the left lane.” (True stories.) Most Judges are successful, goal-oriented people with substantial life experience. Respect is the currency of the courtroom. You can disagree without being disagreeable. Well, your lawyer can, ‘cause that’s what he does for a living.

A good local attorney will know many things you don’t– like which Judge or Prosecutor may be more sympathetic to your case. (And yes, a case can be “steered” towards a particular judge.) Or when the cop who wrote your ticket is off for their annual, month-long training. Most importantly, a lawyer knows what you are up against.

Most courts treat 70mph+ tickets as tax tickets, 80mph+ as “hey there boy,” and 90mph+ as “you are a road hazard, boy.” Triple digits earn you special treatment in every Court I attend. I have one Judge who will suspend your license for six months and impose a maximum fine.

A good traffic attorney will know what can be done with your offense. Most people hear from friends and relatives that your ticket will either “turn into a parking ticket” or “they will crucify you,” with little in between. When all the smoke settles, the short answer is that an attorney will get you the best deal in the House. It’s kind of like taking a big kid to a schoolyard fight– the fight will probably never happen and if it does, you won’t get hammered. Or hammered as badly.

If you retain an attorney specifically to go to trial, he or she will listen closely to your case. The attorney will know what a “direct case” sounds like. He will know if the officer missed something or lacks written proof. Technicalities R Us.

After the officer is done testifying, the attorney will cross examine the cop. If the attorney is prepared, experienced and knowledgeable, the process can take quite some time.

[If you think about it, five attorneys in a courtroom of 100 scheduled cases could take up an awful lot of time. In light of this fact, attorneys receive more consideration in ticket reductions. Courts are aware that retaining counsel costs money (and pretty much know who charges what in a given area). They respect that, though not officially.]

Your case depends almost entirely on this cross-examination. If the officer testifies perfectly, chances are the Judge (usually no jury) will sustain the charge. And you may be left wondering why you bothered hiring a lawyer in the first place. BUT…

Most cops do not enjoy this part of the job– for good reason. They know the stakes as much as you do. And they don’t like admitting (revealing?) their own incompetence. But police officers are not lawyers.

While they MAY know the exact legal requirements for a valid speeding ticket, they may not. No disrespect to the police, but given the huge number of tickets they write, they probably forgot something somewhere along the line. An experienced attorney has a far greater chance of making hay than a pro se litigant. An attorney will know what the police supposed to say, and when they miss it.

Again, this is where you win or lose. And if you’re going to fight, give yourself a fighting chance. Hire a lawyer. Fight the system yourself and you’ll be outmatched and outmaneuvered.

Ladies and gentlemen, I rest my case.

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2 of 33 comments
  • David C. Holzman David C. Holzman on Mar 15, 2008

    I agree with someone above that most speed limits are pretty arbitrary. I also think that 95% of traffic enforcement is about raising revenue rather than keeping the roads safe. I suspect that the problem has to do with the metric of performance rather than a real effort to make the roads safer: that the police are rewarded for the number of tickets they write. If it were the latter, they'd be keeping slow drivers out of the passing lane to prevent road rage.

  • Stephan Wilkinson Stephan Wilkinson on Mar 15, 2008

    I have lots of cop friends from my EMS work and from simply having lived in the same small town all my adult life. They just roll their eyes when I start to talk about traffic enforcement, and one--chief in the next town over and my scuba instructor--says, "Steve, you don't understand. That's what we do. You write articles, we write tickets. Don't take is so seriously, it's just how our jobs are configured." And the reason they give speeding tickets rather than failure-to-keep-right or talking-on-a-cellphone tickets is the hassle involved in having to make and defend an essentially unquantifiable charge. There is a machine--it's called radar--that does the job for speeding. There are no such machines for tailgating, weaving dangerously, road rage, etc. etc. 80 percent of the work of EMS personnel is paperwork--filling out PCRs (Prehospital Care Reports). And by god if those triple-carbon PCRs aren't filled out perfectly, you'll hear about it and have to do it again. And again. Same goes for the cops; the amount of paperwork they have to do is staggering, and once you understand that, you understand why they'll turn a blind eye not to the drunk driver but to the guy who isn't wearing a seatbelt or is tailgating too closely. It's not worth the hassle. David, you'd be keeping slow drivers out of the passing lane for a month or two...and then you'd become just another cynical, overworked cop, believe me.

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