Hi Ivan, I thought I should submit this — you and John Carr have helped me in the past.
September 2012, Sunday morning on South Chelmsford Rd. in Westford, MA, I was pulled over for speeding 48 in a posted 30 MPH zone. I frequently drive this road. It’s essentially a natural speed trap since the road is rural, long and straight with excellent visibility and very little traffic. There are two standard 30 MPH signs on it. I’m usually pretty careful on this road as the cops regularly run traps on it and patrol it — I’ve received and paid tickets for speeding on this road in previous years.
That Sunday morning I apparently spaced out and drove too quickly right past a patrolling cop. He cited me for 48 MPH in a 30 MPH zone. He asked how fast I thought I was going. I always answer by saying I didn’t look at my speedometer so there’s no negative testimony from me in his notes.
The Town of Westford didn’t have any speed regulations on file. I made a public records request to the Mass Dept. of Highways for any speed regulations for South Chelmsford Rd. I got back a letter from the Executive Office of Transportation (EOT) stating that no Special Speed Regulation (their caps) exists for the road and therefore the speed limit for this road is governed by the law for unposted roads (also a part of 90/17).
I went to the magistrate’s hearing which as usual was a waste of time. I didn’t tip my hand as to the defense I intended to present. Maybe it would have made a difference, or maybe they would have just ginned up some way to find me responsible at the de novo trial.
At the de novo trial in April 2013, the officer (a complete professional and a credit to Westford) showed. He began reading his testimony from his notes and I asked for a copy which fortunately he had. The judge spontaneously asked him whether he recalled the incident and he said no. She said he could testify based on his recollection refreshed by his notes. She also asked if I wanted additional time to review the notes but I said I’d just read along with his testimony.
When it was my turn, I offered the EOT letter as evidence that the road was governed by the law for unposted roads and so the citation I received for exceeding a posted speed limit was not applicable. I called the speed limit signs not authorized; the officer chimed in that it meant the signs were not certified. The judge apparently accepted the letter and spent quite a bit of time looking at 90/17 (fortunately I had a copy). She asked if I would stipulate that the road was “thickly settled” (implying a 30 MPH speed limit). I said no, I wasn’t expert on this.
She asked me how fast I was going. I said I didn’t know. I reminded her of the distance requirement for a speed measurement on unposted roads. She started to question the officer but I immediately raised my hand and said “Your honor, the officer has already testified: he has no independent recollection [of the incident]”. She read his notes again, thought for a minute, and pronounced me “not responsible” while admonishing me about speeding.
She definitely felt she was doing me a favor. If she thought I needed to be taught a lesson or had just gotten up on the wrong side of the bed, she probably would have found me responsible without compunction. But this time anyway, playing by the rules and applying the details of the law made a difference (although of course I’m still out the $75 in court fees).