Well, yesterday was my first experience in traffic court at the Waltham District Court. As a 1-L in law school, I actually looked forward to using my objections “Hearsay your honor!” and motions, “Motion to dismiss your honor — failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted!” I was rather disappointed that it was just the cop and myself telling stories … but I digress. 🙂

When I walked in around 9:00 AM, I saw a crowd of about 30-50 people in the back of the room. None of them looked too happy. It was disturbing to see how misinformed a vast majority of these people were. Some were discussing how they intended to “plead guilty with an explanation.” Some were saying, “Yeah, I was speeding, I just hope they knock down the fine”. I think I was the ONLY guy there for a $35 failure to slow @ an intersection ticket. The cops that were present, about four of them, all looked smug and were joking around with each other, further intimidating us citizens. That really pissed me off. 🙂

The magistrate then walked in and started discussing our options — how we could appeal to a real judge if we were “not satisfied” with his decision, how the police dept could also appeal the decision. And then he swore us all in.

The first guy up basically said he was going with traffic and how he hadn’t changed his registration address because he’d only lived at his address for a short time. The magistrate found him responsible. This went on for another 4 or 5 defendants until one guy came up, for whom the cops had lost the paper work. The first “not responsible” of the entire morning. Another woman was found guilty, and I saw her crying as she walked out. Talk about pressure.

And then they called me. I had been advised to just play the part of the layman, as the Magistrate wouldn’t particularly care about complex legal theories. But I was a law student. I wanted the magistrate to know that. I wanted the cops to know I’d be a thorn in their side if I was found guilty. I had prepared a simple excuse “There was a green jeep cherokee ahead of me, and I have a clean record”, but seeing as how the magistrate was treating everyone up front, I figured I’d look like an idiot, just like everyone else. I made up a “defense” on the spot; in fact, I just decided to spew everything I’d researched, whether it be correct or not.

When I went up, the cop read his charge against me. Had this been a real court, I would have objected to a LOT of crap that was said, such as, “There is a school for the blind on the road next to where Mr. K. was speeding …” Uhm, how is that relevant to whether I was speeding or not? Cheap shot, I thought. At any rate, I told the magistrate that my hearing notice stated that I’d been charged for the speeding (which was supposed to be a warning only) as well as the failure to slow. The magistrate assured me I had only been charged for the latter, and to defend myself on that count. So, I took a deep breath, forgot everything I’d prepared, and did it the way I do it in Civil Procedure when I get called on in class and go blank — bullshit everything.

“Well, your honor, I believe that the failure to slow citation was based upon the speeding warning that was issued. I have consulted with MassHighway, and was told that there is no speed regulation on N. Beacon St., and thus, the Chapter 90, Section 17 Prima Facie speed limits hold, as opposed to the posted limits.”

“As such, as per Chapter 90, Section 17, the officer is required to track my speed over a distance of 1/8th of a mile, which was impossible from the officer’s vantage point. The point at which he was situated, and where I was visible was less than 1/10th of a mile. Thus, I assert that he failed to establish the prima facie case against me for speeding. Seeing as how this is the only evidence with regard to the 90-14 citation, his failure to establish the prima facie case means he has no basis to charge me with the 90-14 violation”

“In addition, I believe there were other obstructions that caused an erroneous radar reading. There was a green Jeep Cherokee ahead of me that sped into the intersection, and made a sharp left. It is more than possible that the radar unit locked onto him as opposed to myself.”

“Finally, as per Chapter 90 Section 13 (OK, I BS-ed completely here, because I forgot the Section number, but went ahead anyway), the officer negligently, or if I may so aver, willfully and wantonly failed in his affirmative duty to request that I sign the citation.”

I had no closing statement. It was a mouthful. Compared to all the other statements, such as “I was going with traffic” or “I was speeding because my wife was yelling at me” I guess I had something substantive. At any rate, the cop, for once, wasn’t looking too smug. The Magistrate gave me a very annoyed look, and mumbled, “I find you not responsible.” I wasn’t sure what the decision was, but just that he hadn’t told me what to pay, so I figured I’d been let off. I couldn’t hear him, but I just took the sheet offered, went to the clerk’s office, and verified that I’d been found not responsible. “NR means not responsible, son. Happy holidays.”

At any rate, I hope you can use my story on the MA NMA site. I am incredibly grateful that you gentlemen have saved me over a $1000 in surcharges over the next several years, and for the basic knowledge of how to fight tickets. I am one of the most vigorous supporters of the NMA at this point — soon, i’ll make sure every single one of my friends join. Again, thank you very much gentlemen.

Best Regards and Happy Holidays,

– Philip K.