Your help and the great content on the website was so useful, I wanted to share my ticket fighting experience with my fellow motorists.
I was stopped on Storrow drive near BU. Was just moving along with traffic and did not think I was speeding, and when I saw two State cruisers with a couple of cars pulled over up ahead I was not even concerned enough to look at my speed. Boy was I surprised when one of the officers stepped out into the middle of Storrow, pulled me out of the line of cars and immediately started screaming at me:
“WHAT ARE YOU LAUGHING AT? DO YOU THINK THIS IS FUNNY? ARE YOU GOING TO LAUGH AT MY WIFE AND CHILD AT MY FUNERAL?”
So that was weird. Of course I was not laughing or smiling – there is nothing funny about getting pulled over by a State Trooper.
He asks me, “DO YOU KNOW HOW FAST YOU WERE GOING?” still yelling, like I had shot someone or something,
I said “I don’t know…45?” not having any idea how fast I was going and not realizing that the limit on Storrow is 40.
And that was pretty much it. He took my stuff, came back a few minutes later and dropped it on the passenger seat, said nothing, left me to my own devices to get back onto a busy Storrow drive with no room to pull out.
Scrutinizing the citation, I noticed that the officer had put the make, model and plate of a different car than mine on the ticket. That seemed promising and I was still very upset over the extremely inappropriate and intimidating treatment I received from the officer. So I mailed my hearing request that day and had a great call with you to plot strategy.
Neither the officer’s crazy behavior, nor the obvious errors on the citation were of any interest to the magistrate I saw later that year, who found me immediately responsible and scheduled a hearing for less than a month away. I got the impression it was a find-everyone-responsible-no-matter-what kind of day for the magistrate.
I did a lot of research and prep. NMA, worldlaw and nolo were all great resources for me.
I figured I could not count on the officer failing to show or seeing only the officer that pulled me over and not the officer that operated the LIDAR (if it even was the other officer operating the gun that day), or that they would not preempt my “wrong info on the citation” defense by saying they had mixed up two cars they had pulled over or something like that. So I researched ways to challenge “Independent Recollection,” proper use of LIDAR, proper training, questions about how they communicate with each other about which car to pull over, poking holes in the visual estimate and using the distance/time between visual and LIDAR to show my speed was not what LIDAR said.
Ultimately I decided that given the informal nature of the Mass. non-criminal hearing, and the judges total leeway on what he will hear and what he can find, that getting too lawyerly could backfire and just bore or anger the judge. I decided to keep it simple: have a simple first line defense and then a simple back-up, and if those did not work, I would get technical. I printed out all of my exhibits, cases and articles in case I needed to reference them and I was ready.
First line: ask if the officer was operating the lidar and if he was not I would argue hearsay. If both officers showed I would use second line of defense.
Second Line: ask how he identified the vehicle and get him to describe the vehicle that was speeding using the description on the citation, then argue they had pulled over the wrong vehicle.
Third line: question the heck out of the officer about calibration, training, distance between visual and lidar observations, etc. I did not relish the prospect of getting into all of that and I knew the judge would probably be pissed, so I hoped it would not come to that.
Showed up at court in Brighton on time, got my name in early and waited. The first few cases were all found responsible, then there were a couple of cases that seemed like they had worked out a deal of some kind ahead of time, because both defendant and officer spoke quietly to judge, defendant apologized and was found not responsible. Not sure what was going on there, but both defendants were young. For everyone else, he was not hearing any excuses and he was asking the officers what the defendants’ driving records were – which I thought was very improper.
My turn came and the judge asked the officer for his story: “On the date in question, I observed a vehicle which I visually estimated to be driving faster than the posted 40 MPH, using a LIDAR unit which is a target-specific device that was properly calibrated and on which I am trained, I measured the vehicle’s speed at 69 MPH. When I pulled the vehicle over he nearly ran me down. I asked him how fast he was going and he said ’45.’
I kept my cool, did not respond, did not point out the blatant exaggeration of the truth. I just smiled at the officer and nodded, he nodded back with a very genuine and courteous smile – nothing personal, just doing his job and seemed to respect my right to fight it.
Judge asked me if I had any questions for the officer.
I said : “Yes your honor, I think the officer pulled over the wrong vehicle and I -” he interrupted me to ask again if I had any questions for the officer.
“Yes sir,” I said and turned to face the officer.
“Were you operating the LIDAR yourself for this citation officer?”
“Yes, I was.”
“Well, wasn’t there another officer working the detail with you that day?”
“Yes, there was.”
“And what was he doing?”
“He was pulling over cars too.”
“And you were both operating your own LIDAR units?”
“That is correct”
So much for first line of defense…
Me – “Officer, how do you identify the car you are going to pull over?”
Judge – “What do you mean by that? Are you asking how he determines the speed?”
Me: “No sir, I want to know once he determines a vehicle is speeding, how does he -”
Judge (interrupting me) – “That is not what it sounded like you were asking, I just want to be sure we are clear.”
Me – “Sorry your honor, I will restate the question. Officer, once you determine that a vehicle is speeding, how do you make sure you pull over the right one? What kind of information about the car do you gather to be sure you pull over the right one?”
Well, it is not too hard, I see the vehicle in the lidar, I see what it looks like, I put down the lidar and then I pull it over.”
So you go by the look of the car – make, model, license plate, stuff like that?”
“Can you please tell us what the vehicle you identified as speeding looked like?”
“Well, looking at my citation, you were driving a Kia.”
– My inside voice said, “YES!!!!” but I stayed chilly.
“Thank you very much officer. Your honor I have no further questions for the officer, but I do have some exhibits I would like to submit.”
“Show them to the officer!”
“Officer, here is a copy of the citation, showing a description of the vehicle just as you have described: a Kia.”
Looks closely at copy of citation and says “Ok,” I hand it to the clerk.
And here is a copy of my registration showing that my car is a Honda.”
Looks for a longer time, looks confused, says “Ok” I submit it to the clerk.
“To establish that I was driving my car that day, here is a copy of my fast lane record for that month, the day in question is highlighted showing that I drove my car to and from work that day.” Deer in headlights, “Ok,” hand to clerk.
“Here is a copy of the fast lane account information page showing that my car is associated with that fast lane transponder.”
Judge – “Wait, wait, wait a minute sir, let me see those, what is going on here?” He scrutinizes my exhibits very closely for a good thee minutes of total silence – feels like a week. Finally to the officer: “So the vehicle listed on the citation is not this gentleman’s vehicle?” – Officer shrugs.
“Your honor I have pictures of my vehicle and the pictures of the Kia model listed on the ticket that show the two are very different looking vehicles.”
He looks at pics I am holding and says to officer, “Can you find out if the vehicle on the citation has any relationship to the defendant, officer?”
Yes, I can your honor.”
Then I am suspending this matter for a few minutes while you do that.”
Officer came back about ten minutes later and explained that the information was for another vehicle that his partner had pulled over at the same time and that he had made a mistake. “Well, in that case, I think the mistake has to go in favor of the defendant. Find not responsible. Court is in recess.”
A couple of lawyers gave me props and agreed with me that the folks earlier should have been objecting to judge asking about their driving records. Citing prior bad acts at trial could be good legal basis for appeal, so if that happens to you, definitely object very very politely: “With all due respect your honor, I am sure your honor will agree, that prior acts have no bearing on this matter.”
Thanks for all your help Ivan and NMA, this site was very helpful!