In a typical month our firm will offer hundreds of consultations on various traffic ticket and traffic violation matters. No matter the specific violation or location, I’ve found that you can break down traffic ticket recipients into three basic categories:
I did it.
I didn’t do it.
I did it, but…
This isn’t about who should or shouldn’t fight a ticket or someone’s chances of winning a ticket or getting a favorable plea bargain or what strategy should be employed when fighting. That’s a different discussion and in many ways is unrelated to these categories. This is simply a look at the explanations we hear related to the why/how of the actual incidents.
The first two categories are pretty self explanatory–the issuing officer was absolutely right or the issuing officer was absolutely wrong.
For this post I want to take a quick look at the third category and some of the most common explanations I hear when it comes to “I did it, but…”. Whether the “but” part will be useful in court may depend on a few factors. What type of court (TVB or local court), which court is it, the primary goals for the case outcome, how well the officer recalls the facts and/or disputes your “but”, etc.
Here’s a list of what I think are the ten most common traffic ticket explanations, justifications, defenses, excuses, rationales…whatever you want to call them. They are in no particular order. I’ve included a very brief discussion of each. Anyone who thinks they have a “good case” just because one of the items below may be true should understand that the judge or prosecutor may very well not see it that way. Again, it doesn’t mean these don’t help…just don’t assume they automatically do.
So yes, I committed this particular traffic violation, but…
1. Everyone else was doing it.
Why you think it helps: If everyone else was committing the violation, there must be something wrong with the sign or the rule or the officer unfairly singled me out.
Why it may not: Officer can only pull over one at a time. It’s not about any one else–it’s only your ticket at hand. The fact that everyone does this here is exactly why we were there enforcing it and it creates a particularly hazardous area.
2. I was on my way to deal with an emergency.
Why you think it helps: I had to get somewhere and I had no choice but to commit the violation. Surely the court will acknowledge the severity of the situation and the difficult position I was in–commit a violation or see this horrible emergency play out on my watch.
Why it may not: Call 911 and let an authorized emergency vehicle and driver rush to the scene. You are creating a hazardous situation taking an emergency into your own hands. We’re not saying it wasn’t an emergency…you just shouldn’t have been the one to respond.
3. There was an emergency in my car.
Why you think it helps: I had to help/save/get this person off the road and I had no choice but to commit the violation.
Why it may not: Officers will rarely admit that there was an emergency right in the car yet they still issued a ticket. Judges and prosecutors will rarely be willing to accept that an officer sat there and issued a ticket while your passenger bled out.
4. Another officer directed me to do it.
Why you think it helps: I was directed to make that turn or drive over that line. I had no choice but to commit a violation–either the one I was charged with or a failure to comply with the order issued by the other police officer.
Why it may not: Officers will rarely admit that they gave a ticket to someone who was directed to do whatever they allegedly did. Officers will rarely admit that there was something happening so close to the location they were patrolling and that they couldn’t see what was going on.
5. I couldn’t see the sign telling me not to do it.
Why you think it helps: How can I be held responsible to disobeying a sign that wasn’t visible or that I just didn’t see. I didn’t mean to do anything wrong…it wasn’t intentional.
Why it may not: If a sign is properly posted according to DOT regulations and an officer testifies it was clear and unobstructed and graffiti free, it is presumed that it was visible to you.
6. GPS told me to do it.
Why you think it helps: I didn’t know it was a one way or turns were not permitted at certain times as I just followed the GPS voice instructions.
Why it may not: GPS, wife, friend…doesn’t matter who tells the driver to do something in the car. It’s still the driver’s responsibility if a moving violation is committed.
7. I missed my turn/exit.
Why you think it helps: I had no choice but to cut across the zebra stripes and get off the highway or to make the turn against the time restrictions—I would have been completely lost otherwise or it would have taken me an hour out of my way or I would have ran out of gas or gone to the bathroom right there in the car.
Why it may not: The fact that it was going to take you longer to get where you were going because you had to turn around at the next exit or ask for directions just isn’t a good reason to commit a traffic violation.
8. It’s a stupid rule.
Why you think it helps: Perhaps if the judge or prosecutor is convinced the speed limit is too low or the prohibited turn is actually very safe then they will let the violation go.
Why it may not: Judge isn’t there to play Department of Transportation or engineer. He’s simply deciding whether you violated a properly posted rule or existing traffic law.
9. I wasn’t even supposed to be driving.
Why you think it helps: I only got behind the wheel because my friend was drunk or I’m doing my neighbor a favor and driving his kids without a car seat.
Why it may not: The driver is ultimately responsible regardless of how or why he became the driver that particular day.
10. It wasn’t a dangerous maneuver.
Why you think it helps: Rolling through a stop or making a u-turn in a business district at 6am isn’t a big deal and no one was around to get hurt.
Why it may not: Judge isn’t there to judge the relative level of hazard created with every violation. He’s there to determine whether you violated a properly posted rule or existing traffic law.
Bonus: 11. I had to go to the bathroom.
Why you think it helps: Should I have just used my bucket seat as a toilet? I had no choice. Judges and prosecutors go to the bathroom too…they will understand.
Why it may not: Too easy. Anyone could say this anytime. We’re going to ask adults to either hold it in or find a way to let it go without breaking any laws.
How it all may play out in court will depend on a number of different factors. Regardless, no one should ever assume they have an easy victory waiting for them because of some simple logical explanation. There very easily may be another simple logical explanation working against them.