In football, it pays to scout the competition. The same holds true when it comes to fighting tickets.
With that in mind, we’d like to review some interesting articles we found on policeone.com, which is a news and information site targeted toward police officers. The site is definitely worth a look because the content reflects the officer’s viewpoint, and these articles may give you a fresh perspective on what to do during a traffic stop and in the courtroom.
The first, titled “How Traffic Cops can Defend against 3 Common Attacks on a Traffic Citation,” comes from ex-prosecutor Val Van Brocklin. In it she describes three defense strategies that can torpedo police testimony: 1) challenging the officer’s subjective conclusions; 2) challenging the officer’s observations; and 3) claiming the driver’s behavior was justified on safety grounds.
Beyond recommending officers take detailed notes of the traffic stop and draw a diagram of the scene (sound familiar?), Van Brocklin counsels officers to ask the drivers lots of questions during the traffic stop: “… ask the defendant on the scene whether any road or other physical condition contributed to the violation and report this question and the defendant’s response. The officer can then testify to this on direct examination.”
If the driver claims his actions were justified on safety grounds, like swerving suddenly to avoid a hazard, Van Brocklin advises: “You can eliminate such defenses by describing the driving behavior you observed and asking the driver if there was any reason that might explain it. Note your question and the response in your report and testify to both on direct examination.”
Finally, Van Brocklin tells officers to target potential witnesses at the scene, ask them to identify themselves and describe what they saw. If a witness refuses to comply, the officer should note that for later reference in court.
An alert officer will “work the scene” for any information/insight that will protect him and help him at trial. You need to do the same, but you shouldn’t inadvertently assist the officer by volunteering too much information or consenting to a vehicle search. The same holds true for your passengers. You can also take advantage of the officer’s diligence by requesting copies of all of his notes, logs, diagrams and dashcam video via a discovery request or public records request. (The NMA’s Fight That Ticket! e-book can help with this. It’s free for supporting members and only $9.95 for others. Also check out the NMA’s free guide to making public records requests.)
The second article, titled “A Veteran Motor Officer’s Guide to Traffic Court Testimony,” serves as a checklist to help traffic cops prepare and present court testimony. The author, veteran patrol officer Jason Hoschouer, presents seven requirements for providing effective testimony. By failing to cover any of them adequately, the officer may provide you with an opportunity for a dismissal. Use the list to look for vulnerabilities in the officer’s testimony the next time you’re in traffic court.
The third article covers a different subject entirely and provides a refreshing perspective on police-community relations. Author Tom Wetzel calls for a radical rethinking of traffic enforcement and decries Policing for Profit as counterproductive and against the public interest: “This standard has too often caused the public to perceive officers as de facto tax collectors and has put an unreasonable financial burden on the driving public. It is a big reason that more voters are tossing traffic cameras out of their cities because they see them for what they are—a revenue generator.”
Wetzel calls for four reforms to the traffic justice system:
- All traffic revenue should go toward highway safety improvements.
- All traffic fines should be reduced with an exception for more egregious violations.
- Quota systems should be discouraged.
- Police should spend more time on public education.
Thank you, officer Wetzel.
If you’re interested in getting the police perspective on the issues of the day—not just on traffic enforcement—take a spin around policeone.com yourself. You may learn something new.