Speeding Ticket Court Trial Questions
Speeding Ticket Court Trial Questions: Traffic Court
It’s common for a person to come see me after receiving a speeding ticket and ask “what is my defense?” or “what questions should I ask?” in traffic court to get the speeding ticket dismissed. “If I go to speeding ticket court, what trial questions will be asked and how should I answer them?” Before I even get into specific questions, I say to first consider the following:
- Did you answer the ticket and enter a plea of not guilty? Before we worry about a defense or questions for cross examination, I like to make sure everything is current with the case status. If a deadline to respond to the ticket has passed, your license can be suspended for failure to respond. Moreover, a (traffic) court could issue a warrant (“traffic ticket warrants” as my clients like to call them). You may not make America’s most wanted list if a traffic ticket warrant has been issued but it certainly won’t further your defense or case in general and probably won’t reflect well in traffic court.
- Forget all that stuff you heard or read such as “the officer must do this” or “that method of enforcement has been proved fallible in court”. There are no “systems” or “programs” or some individual set of questions and defenses that work in every case. Every state is different (different laws, procedures, accepted arguments, etc.) and there are often differences from county to county within a state. The only advice you should accept, whether it’s from a book, website or traffic ticket attorney, should be advice specific to your jurisdiction and your court.
- Be careful when you consider offering traffic court a “defense” or “justification”. In many situations, you will essentially be testifying that you “were speeding, but should not be found guilty because…” If the Judge doesn’t believe or accept your argument you will have basically admitted you were speeding and just about lost your chance for the speeding ticket dismissal. I always warn clients and potential clients to be very careful before going this route.
- Is plea bargaining your speeding ticket to a lesser violation an option? In any conflict, I’ll always recommend an attempt at negotiating before fighting. Before getting involved with an “all or nothing” traffic court speeding ticket trial, if a favourable deal can be negotiated it should certainly be considered.
With that out of the way, I then inform clients and potential clients that it is very difficult to set forth, in advance of the trial, specific court trial questions for a speeding ticket case. I think people want to hear that there is a magic bullet-“isn’t there some case law which proves radar is fallible?”-but there is very rarely such a magic, premeditated argument. In a typical speeding ticket court trial case, the questions we ask the police officer will be determined mostly by the testimony he offered. For example, if he forgets to mention his training, I’d focus on that. If his numbers with respect to distance and/or time don’t seem to add up, then I’d focus there.
The more practical issue when proceeding to trial is “what to listen for”. Of course, “what to ask” is still important but it’s completely dependent on what you hear in the first place. The “correct” questions to ask are dictated by what the officer says (or perhaps fails to say) during his testimony. If you do end up defending yourself at a speeding ticket trial, I recommend focusing on the officer’s discussion/description of the following:
- Who, what, where and when. A prosecuting attorney or officer trying one traffic court case is likely trying many. Files and paperwork can easily get shuffled. Make sure your name, the speed cited, the date/time and the location of the speeding violation offered by the Prosecution at trial all match what was written on your traffic ticket.
- How did the officer measure your speed? Was it a visual estimation, a mechanical device (laser or radar) or both? If laser or radar was used, how does the officer know it was working? Were there tests performed, are there repair/test logs kept by the police department?
- When was the officer trained and who trained him? Visual estimations, laser and radar all require training. This training must be offered by someone qualified to train and this training must have taken place prior to the issuance of the speeding ticket in question.
- Was there notice of the speed limit in question? A Judge can’t find someone guilty of doing 50 in a 30 unless the officer testified that the motorist passed a visible 30 mph sign in that area.
In my opinion, the facts as set forth by the officer surrounding these issues are the building blocks of a successful defense in traffic court. That said, I do feel that it takes experience and skill to build that defense. When I notice a red flag (for example, questions about the officer’s training) I know what to ask as a follow up, when to ask, how to get the answer I want from the officer before the officer can anticipate where I’m going and cover for his mistake, etc. While some people will represent themselves and recognize mistakes and perhaps follow up appropriately, more people are likely to fail to recognize a potentially helpful argument if one should emerge.
Where a good attorney might very well ask a number of speeding ticket court trial questions in an effort to get a speeding ticket dismissal, it’s rare that these questions are all set prior to the trial. It’s therefore very difficult for me to simply tell someone what questions to ask at a speeding ticket trial. A successful defense at trial starts with someone who knows both what to listen for and what questions to follow up with based on what he does or does not hear when an officer testifies. This is why I tell everyone who gets a ticket to speak with an attorney first. A good, local attorney can let people know what to do from the minute a ticket is issued and, if the case ends up in a traffic court for a trial, should have the skills to maximize their chances of success.
Submitted by Scott Feifer
New York Traffic Ticket Attorney
Feifer & Greenberg, LLP