Hi Ivan, I wanted to thank you for the information you have provided for fighting a traffic ticket in our Commonwealth.
It was instrumental in helping me fight my speeding ticket and led me down research paths I would not have otherwise thought to go down. Here’s my story:
At the end of January I was involved in an accident in which an SUV hit me at the back of the driver’s side door. The impact (and possibly aided by wet roads) caused my little Yaris to spin 270 degrees and end up tail-first in a hedge on an embankment. It sounds dramatic, but thankfully no one was hurt. As the tow truck pulled my car down off the embankment, it ripped off my muffler (and possibly caused more damage), and my insurance later declared my car totalled. To add insult to (non)injury, at the end of the night I was issued a speeding ticket. (One of the officers that arrived at the scene asked me how fast I thought I was going. I initially said I wasn’t sure, but he kept pressing me on it and I eventually told him I thought I was going 40—oops).
Everyone I talked to encouraged me to fight it. I’ve never had a ticket in MA before and didn’t do my homework, so I didn’t understand the clerk-magistrate process. I walked right into the main courtroom and sat there for an hour before coming back out and seeing the sign to check in for motor vehicle cases. This all threw me for a loop and by this point anything I had semi-prepared had gone out the window and I blubbered something about I couldn’t have been speeding, and unsurprisingly got a fine reduction but was still found responsible.
Considering the potential cost of a first violation on my record, I decided to keep fighting it and do more homework this time. That was when I found the NMA page. I started reading the regulations and a LOT of the stories people had sent in, looking for wording and arguments that might be helpful to my case. In trying to confirm that the area was posted, I “drove” the street in Bing and Google Maps and discovered that the posted sign was yellow. Somewhere in the testimonials I had seen a reference to M.G.L. 85-2, which in turn referenced “the department’s current manual on uniform traffic control devices.” A quick Google search led me to the federal MUTCD and MassDOT’s Massachusetts Amendments to the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices and the Standard Municipal Traffic Code. I found my yellow sign in the figures, W13-1P—an advisory (or warning) speed sign.
In another line of research trying to confirm that the area was posted legally, I found MassDOT’s Procedures for Speed Zoning on State and Municipal Roadways. I was surprised to see this document state that “advisory speeds are not enforceable, since their intent is to advise motorists of an appropriate speed through a particular condition, not regulate it.” Here was my argument!
I realized that my waste of an hour sitting in the courtroom last time had not been a total waste—I now knew what the procedure was and had seen several cases go through. The day of my hearing, I dressed as I had seen the lawyers in the courtroom dressed, and arrived a few minutes early. The first traffic case was rescheduled. The second case was a typical “I didn’t do it” argument, and the guy was found responsible and got a reduced fine. I was called third.
I hadn’t remembered the officer’s face, but when I saw the officer get up, I was surprised to see it was one of the younger officers who had responded, not the one who had asked me my speed. This officer read his account (and misstated the posted speed limit as 25), and then I was asked if I had any questions. I showed the officer a photograph I had taken of the yellow sign, and he agreed it was the sign in question. I briefly pointed out that the posted speed limit was actually 20, not 25, then read the description in the MUTCD of an advisory speed sign, with black text on a yellow background. I then read the excerpt from MassDOT’s Procedures on Speed Zoning stating that advisory speeds are not enforceable. The judge asked me to show my documents to the officer, and the officer said he was OK with them. I stated that I would like to make a motion to dismiss the case because the officer followed improper procedures by issuing a citation for a speed limit that is not enforceable.
The judge then asked the officer if he agreed that this speed limit was not enforceable. The officer said yes. The judge raised his eyebrows, sighed, and found me not responsible. =) (The icing on the cake: One of the lawyers sitting behind me said, “Good job!”)
Out in the hall, the officer stopped me and shook my hand and said he was happy it had gone this way for me. He began to say that he was the third officer on the scene of the accident. I told him I had been surprised to see him instead of the officer I had spoken to at the scene, and he said, “Yeah, we tried to get him to write the ticket but he made me do it.” Poor kid.
Thanks again for your help—I am definitely signing up for the NMA now!