Thanks very much for your quick and helpful response the other day. I’d like to share my experience in traffic court this morning so it can help your other readers (please withhold my name and address):
Background: I was driving on 93 North through the new tunnel under Boston at 11:30 on a Wednesday night, and was pulled over into a large speed trap (three officers pulling people over, several cars ticketed at a time). I was ticketed for driving 63 mph in a 45 mph zone.
Today I went for my hearing before the magistrate at Charlestown District Court. I had prepared by reading your web site extensively, especially stories from other people, and it helped me so much in knowing what to expect. Fortunately, my experience wasn’t nearly as unpleasant as that of so many others who posted stories.
I arrived at 9:40 for a 10:30 hearing, hoping I could get my bearings, watch other cases being argued, get a sense of the magistrate’s personality, and decide what approach worked best. No luck – the clerk’s office had a sign on it (actually just a white piece of paper taped to the door) saying we were to wait on benches in the lobby until 5 minutes before our hearing. I sat down next to a man who had a 9:30 hearing and still hadn’t been called, so I expected I was in for a long wait.
As I looked around the lobby, I was struck by how casually most people were dressed. Some were wearing t-shirts and shorts, one woman had on a tight outfit that was far too revealing for this setting, and one man hadn’t shaved in a few days. (I was wearing a sport coat, dress shirt, slacks and shoes.) People, this is a courtroom. If you want the judge to rule in your favor, start by making a good impression and looking respectable!
The guy with the 9:30 appointment got called in at 9:55, so I figured I had a while to wait. Then a few minutes later, an officer came from another area down the hall and called a bunch of people who all had 9:30 appointments, and the lobby cleared out. A few minutes after that the officer who’d called the first guy came back out and read a bunch of names of people with 9:30 appointments, and none were there. (Were they all in the group that just left?) The officer then asked if anyone had a 10:30 appointment, and I raised my hand and was escorted in to the magistrate’s office.
The room was small and had a few rows of benches, and the magistrate was sitting at a larger, raised judge’s bench. The only other person in the room was the officer who called me in, who was representing the officer in my case. Both men were very calm, almost smiling, and seemed like nice, reasonable people.
The magistrate explained he would hear the officer’s story and then mine, make a ruling of “Responsible” or “Not Responsible,” and then the officer and myself would each have the opportunity to appeal the ruling. The officer spoke first, and simply read the information off my ticket, saying I had been clocked at 63 mph in a 45 mph zone near Exit 26 on Route 93 North. Then it was my turn.
Here’s what I said:
- I’m a very safe and conscientious driver, and I took action to ensure my own safety.
- I entered the tunnel and was in the process of slowing down as the speed limit indicated (the speed limit drops suddenly inside the tunnel). I looked behind me and saw an SUV bearing down on me, and I got concerned it couldn’t slow down in time to avoid a collision (we were also going downhill).
- I looked right and saw no way to switch lanes safely.
- I sped up momentarily (note: I didn’t say I broke the speed limit, only that I sped up) to give the SUV behind me the space it needed to slow down safely and avoid a collision.
- The SUV decelerated safely, and then I slowed down again as well.
- I looked right and noticed a large speed trap with 3 officers pulling people over and several cars lined up. At first I was happy, because I drive this road often and I like to see the speeders get pulled over. Then I realized he was pulling ME over!
I had more to say, but the magistrate was nodding as if he’d heard enough so I stopped. First he noted I had a clean driving record, no prior speeding tickets (this is true, but I hadn’t mentioned it figuring it was irrelevant) and the only blemishes on my record were some minor accidents in 1987, the first year I had my license (I’m actually impressed he had access to information that old!). He said, “I’m finding you Not Responsible. Please slow down.” I thanked him and the officer escorted me out. I actually made it home before my original appointment time of 10:30!
My biggest surprise was how reasonable both the magistrate and the officer seemed to me. No one raised their voices, intimidated me, or was rude to me. I was allowed to tell my story without interruption. And the officer didn’t ask for appeal when the magistrate ruled against him (he didn’t seem to care much). So the lesson for me was that if you have a good record, tell a reasonable story, and emphasize that you were acting out of concern for your safety, the magistrate will listen.
Hope that helps and your experience is as easy as mine was!
Good luck –