Get a ticket? Now what?

Here are a few pointers on what to do if you're pulled over and are asked to pay your share of the "driving tax" (speeding ticket fine). In many cases, speeding tickets are nothing more than revenue enhancement, a way of supporting the state/local budget without raising taxes. Therefore, it's really a "driving tax".

If you know the officer is after you:

Beat the ticket.

Never just "pay up"! By doing this, you are giving your permission for this kind of extortion to continue. Plus, did it ever occur to you that when nearly everyone is breaking a law, the law is wrong and not you? (Don't use that in court, you will lose. But it's something to think about. It wouldn't be called "revenue enhancement" if the limits were reasonable.)

Always fight the first one. Don't wait until the one that takes your license away. A judge will see that and may likely say "What's another ticket? You've had 3." Conversely, if you have a clean record, a judge may say "Well, in light of your prior clean record..." and reduce or dismiss the charge.

Before you go to trial, write the district attorney for the court your case is scheduled and ask for a "continuance". A "continuance" is an extension of your trial date, pushing it further into the future. There are two reasons for doing this: One, it gives you time to prepare your defense. (After all, you're not an attorney.) Two, it increases the likelihood that the officer won't show. He could be on vacation, at school, etc. If he does show up, he's less likely to remember the incident.

If you really feel like messing with the system, also ask for a change of venue to the county seat. Sometimes this may be closer to you, but it also increases the chances that the officer won't show.

Always plead "not guilty". Technically, "not guilty" doesn't mean you didn't do it, it just means there's not enough evidence to prove that you did. In traffic cases, especially speeding tickets, this is generally the case. When the district attorney finds out you're serious about fighting this ticket, he may offer a plea bargain. To accept this is your call.

Usually, traffic tickets do not require an attorney. A little bit of preparation and a lot of determination are all that's needed. Tickets generated by laser guns may be different though, since laser is not on judicial notice in nearly every court. This means that the theory of operation of laser speed detection is not proven and expert testimony must be brought in.

Make a motion for "discovery" of a few items. (Your particular case may need more.) A motion for "discovery" means you'd like to see some of the evidence the prosecution has. You have every right to get it. Make sure every request for information you submit includes a reference to your ticket number, citation number, docket number, etc. Just saying "Please send me a copy of the arresting officer's ticket" isn't good enough.

The discovery request should be made immediately. Some examples of the kinds of information requested through the discovery process are:

You want copies of the officer's logs to find out if other people were also stopped for a traffic violation. If the officer stopped others within an hour or so of the time on your ticket, were all of them for the same speed? This could indicate the radar device was set to a threshold speed, and it beeps at any speed above that. This is how they can read the paper and run speed traps at the same time. It's illegal in many areas.

Getting copies of both sides of the officer's ticket is very important; if the officer wrote any notes on it, you have a right to see them. This is why it is very important to not make self- incriminating comments while your ticket is being filled out. If you don't make a fuss, he's not likely to write much down, which is to your advantage.

Asking for a description of the device used to measure your speed can help you prepare questions for cross- examination, in the unlikely event that the officer actually shows up at the trial. With the officer's training records in your hands, you can see if he was actually qualified to use the device. In some areas, the radar must be calibrated after each ticket is issued, in others, just at the beginning of each shift. The time when the radar unit was calibrated should be recorded in the officer's log books.

Keep written records and copies of everything - phone calls, who you talked to, your copy of the ticket, when a letter was sent. As scientists say: "if you didn't log it, it didn't happen." You can't possibly remember everything, and even if you could, it would not hold up in court if it's not written down. Note that all police departments keep logs of some kind. It certainly helps them. Keeping records will help you in the future if problems arise. Some localities require you to mail in your request for discovery, if yours does, send it registered mail, return reciept requested. This way the court can't say they never received it because someone must sign for it and you have the receipt to prove it.

If you can't find out how to do a request for discovery or if you need more information about the discovery process, go to your local library. A college or university law library is even better. Ask the librarian how you might find out the information you need; librarians are under-utilized and under-paid sources of reliable and helpful information. Unlike the courthouse employees, they're helpful.

As you'll soon find out, the court system is not user-friendly and courthouse personnel go to great lengths to inconvenience you. Do not be fooled by this. It is their unwritten code to be uncommunicative, obtuse, rude and condescending towards persons attempting to defend themselves. Don't be discouraged by these attempts at intimidation.

It's your money and your license. You have a right to expect a little justice from the justice system.

Taken from the NMA Homepage.

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