I know I have written in the past that I don’t believe in disclaimers but this one is important. I am not a lawyer. This guide in no way serves as a substitute for legal advice and I am not responsible for anything that you do with this information. Use your own best judgement. If you don’t feel comfortable going through this process it is hereby recommended that you talk to a lawyer.
Remember this, 95% of tickets aren’t contested. Of those that are, 50% of them are won.
This isn’t meant to be a typical blog post per se, but more like a guide on what you should do throughout the process of dealing with a ticket.
In our example here, this is just a high level overview of what to do during the different parts of the process:
So let’s imagine some random scenario, it’s 1am, you’re driving home through NJ from philly to get home. You’re always in Philly late, you know you shouldn’t be staying out too long, but somehow now matter what you always get tempted into staying there, something something magic of the city. The reason isn’t important. There’s nobody on the road, and you just want to get home, so you’re just driving. Driving quick, and bam, the lights flash, the siren blares, and you’ve been pulled over.
When you get pulled over:
You’re going to want to leave a good impression, but not a memorable one. Just be polite and it will be fine.
Hands on the wheel, engine off, lights inside the car on.
Be Polite, don’t be a jerk. When the officer asks you for your license and registration, ask him if it is ok that you reach into glovebox/center console to retrieve it BEFORE you give it to him. Cops are always wary from not knowing if a person is a going to cause a problem or not. Asking will put them a bit at ease and help them feel like this will be a positive / easier interaction.
DON’T ADMIT TO ANYTHING. Do not say something stupid like the following: “Why yes sir I was speeding. Thank you for this ticket!” Let him tell you what HE THINKS you did. Make sure to take note of exactly what he says. This information is important. In fact, there’s an entire lecture from on why you should never say anything to the police ander any circumstances.
DON’T ARGUE WITH THE OFFICER. It is ok to question what happened, but don’t make it into argument. You can always say something like “Really? I’m quite sure I was driving with the flow of traffic” or “My speedometer was reading at the speed limit.” It is best to let him do the talking and ask questions in a vague manner rather than challenge their judgment.
ASK QUESTIONS. Don’t do this in a suspicious manner. The cop might get a hint that you want to fight the ticket if you get pushy. Act like you are clueless.
Types of questions to ask:
- How did you catch me? If it was by radar ask what the reading was and if you can see it. Small things like him saying “75 or so” are crucial to your benefit. The less accurate he is, the better chance you have of succeeding. If he says he was pacing you, ask what that means so he describes it to you (appearing clueless).
- How long he was following you and from where. Make sure to take mental notes of all this. Remember, you don’t want the officer to actually remember that much about you, you want to seem like a totally routine traffic stop to him.
After you receive your ticket
Write everything down! Once everything is settled and you are now on your way again, pull over somewhere and write down or record every detail you can remember. Every detail includes: weather, date, time, traffic conditions, where the sun was at, lane you were in, lane he was in, what the conversation entailed (how fast he said you were going, how he caught you etc.) The more info you have the better your case. Take lots of pictures of the area if you can. Or use google earth photos.
Delay, delay, delay. Look at the date you are due in court. Call the a couple of days before and get an extension also known as a continuance. You will receive one, and you can always make up an excuse for one. 2 weeks before your next court date try to get another extension. You may or may not get one. The longer time between you and the court date the more time has passed and the less likely the cop will be able to recall you or information about the violation. There are even circumstances where it’s been so long that the officer isn’t even serving in your jurisdiction anymore and the ticket can be dismissed automatically.
Police Report: get a copy of the police report and go through it thoroughly. Make sure that every blank that should be filled out is filled out to the T. How to get a copy prior to court depends on the jurisdiction, but if you get to the point of court, you should be given a copy then to look over. You may also just get a kickass judge like I did who will offer to look it over for you.
An unusual option, A trial by written declaration
Trial by Written Declaration: Read the citation and dig into what the rules are in your state for trial by written declaration. A written declaration essentially means you write up your case as opposed to showing up in court. Generally if you lose this, you can go to court in person anyway, which of course is up to you. Information is readily available on the internet about deadlines for this, but usually you have to send a letter postmarked 5 days in advance of your court date stating you want trial by declaration.
You can find this information online and I suggest you do it well in advance before you send the actual letter. The letter will read something like “I would like trial by written declaration and include the citation number.” Again this buys you more time. What will happen is that the court will process your request and send you the appropriate forms to fill out. Be aware it will take a while for them to do this. Some counties might provide the ability to start the process online. That is up to you. I personally would opt for typing a letter and mailing it but either way The more time you can buy the better.
Once you receive the papers
- Construct your case as precisely as possible. Include all the details you can. Your letter must be revised a few times to prevent contradictions or inaccuracies. Have some of your friends or peers revise it if you like.
- Structure: Make sure the wording is formal and that the events are in order. Start out by describing where you were driving, time of day, weather, how fast you were going etc. Followed by where you were being pulled over, speed, lanes. The conversation and then your reasons why feel the ticket is unjust.
- Diagrams: Include diagrams if you can. Even a hand drawn one. It helps
- Deadline: Send it by the deadline stated on the papers. Time extension is very important.
- Results: Results will of course either be in your favor or against. If you lose you usually have the option to have an in person trial, or at this point just deal with the fine. Which of course you won’t becuase that’s why you’re reading this. I know this sounds like a lot of work, but it really only took me an hour or two to type a letter and make a diagram for it. I did a bit of additional research, but most of the information is here for you already. You’ll save hundreds of dollars and points on your driver’s license PLUS having to go and pay for traffic school. It was definitely worth the time.
Here’s a link to a sample written declaration.
Now to be clear you could win the case with a trial by declaration, which happens maybe 30% of the time, and that would be the end of it, and nothing more needs to happen.
IF YOU LOSE THE TRIAL BY DECLARATION: It’s time for things to get real and go to trial in person.
- Scheduling the court date: They will set a court date for you. First thing you should do is call the dispatch office where your officer is stationed (written on your ticket) ask for the officer’s schedule (this is considered on the /public record and legally must be disclosed). If the officer has 2 or 3 consecutive days off schedule your court date in the middle or just make sure to schedule your court hearing on his day off. Here’s why: typically officers will set up all their court dates consecutively in one day. If you’re the single ticket interrupting his weekend he’s probably not likely to show up to court.
Here’s why: typically officers will try to set up all their court dates consecutively in one day so they don’t have to make multiple trips. If you’re the single ticket interrupting his vacation he’s probably not likely to show up to court. Also remember, you’ve pushed this court date for quite a while. Many officers won’t bother showing up for what is now almost a 60 day old ticket. If you’d like to go to trial (again, remember nothing is lost by doing this, at worst you end up right where you started being found guilty and having to pay the fine.)
Coming to court: DRESS NICELY and show up early. DO NOT use your phone or look down at it in court, just sit and relax. A lot of the folks you’ll be sitting with (other alleged offenders) will come in looking like they just walked in from bed. If a judge sees that you’re well dressed, calm, respectful and have been sitting in court for a little while patiently observing and paying attention; you will stand out. Most judges and cops really respect people who respect the process. Eventually your name will be called for your case.
The Prosecutor’s office: What you’re going to want to do is come before cases start being decided, and ask to speak to the prosecutor. The prosecutor is the one who’s (in theory) preparing the case against you for this criminal matter. Most of the time if you chat with them about your issue and are polite they’ll be willing to make a plea bargain with you (meaning you get charged with a lesser offense) or even drop the charges depending on the circumstances.
Arraignment: After everyone’s talked to the prosecutor, he’ll amend his cases and then refer them all for the court and everyone will probably line up to go inside to talk to the judge and have their case heard. Arraignment is the process of having your name called, and the judge informing you of the charges against you, at which point you will enter a plea of guilty or not guilty. Depending on your conversation with the prosecutor (if you had one) or your own plan to fight it out, you’ll just calmly tell the judge your plea. And then they’ll inform you of what to do next. If trial is set they’ll tell you the day, if it’s a guilty plea they’ll tell you the fines.
BE RESPECTFUL OF THE JUDGE. I have found that by sitting in the front row, dressing nicely, sitting up straight, crossing one leg and sitting professionally and actually making eye contact with the judge as if you’re paying attention makes a world of difference. Saying “Good morning your honor” and ending every sentence with “your honor” makes a HUGE difference every time.
Traffic Courts are generally a lot less formal. It won’t be terribly difficult to represent yourself for something like not maintaining your brake lamps. In fact it’s rare the prosecutors would go. The government’s evidence is essentially going to be the testimony of the officer, it is highly unlikely they will have more than this on you.
What they’re probably going to do is have the officer come in, the judge will ask them some clarifying questions on behalf of the prosecutor, and you’ll get to ask some questions to them yourself. You’ll get to present evidence after the government has presented it’s side of the case. If closing arguments are permitted you’ll make some closing remarks and a verdict will most likely be made by the judge.
- Evidence: After talking to the judge you should ask the court or the prosecutor for the radar model number, and radar gun certificate used on your car at the time. This certificate should include the last time it was calibrated. This must be done daily on every gun used in a police car, and signed off by a superior. In reality most officers do not have this in court or actually do this. Make sure to ask if the officer used Lidar or Radar to gauge your speed. Radar is less accurate so you might be able to get off a ticket if you just say there was a lot of traffic around you, like big trucks, etc.
A note on speed detection tools:
This is where you should ask for the radar model number, and radar gun certificate. This certificate should include the last time it was calibrated. (also: Remember to ask if the officer used Lidar or Radar to gauge your speed. Radar (radio waves) is less accurate than LIDAR (pulses of light emitted at regular intervals) so you might be able to get off a ticket if you just say there was a lot of traffic around you, like big trucks, etc. causing an innacurate radar measurement. You can find more information on radar and lidar here
- Confronting your accuser: It is important to point out that when in court the officer is acting as a witness. If he does not show, sometimes they have a proxy cop show up to read his notes on the stand. If either happens, challenge the court based on INDIVIDUAL RECOLLECTION. Any “witness” who will be allowed to be cross examined should be able to specifically remember the event. Ask questions not on the notes and police report. What color is the car? What about the replacement fender? What were you wearing? Ideally you’ve followed this guide and this court date is something like 8 months after the original day you got pulled over. If you’ve pushed the date out far enough and he can’t remember, challenge that. You’ve delayed the trial so far back and the officer has definitely forgotten all about this by now, assuming he’s even bothered to show up for a 3 month old random speeding ticket on his day off.
The hope is that at some point in this process your ticket is either dismissed or the judge offers you a plea deal of some sort or you’ll just win because the government doesn’t have the time or resources to make it’s case about your brake lamps. Either way it means that this process was definitely worth the time and I’m sure you learned something along the way. Unfortunately you still have to pay court costs, but those are certainly trivial compared to being found guilty of a crime!
If you can remember all of this and I’m sure you’ll be able to fight your average run of the mill speeding ticket and other offenses.
If you follow these steps and you were able to beat your ticket, congratulations! Drop me a line about what happened I’d love to hear about it.
Best of luck to you.