In October of 2008 I was pulled over by a state trooper on the Maine Turnpike. He issued me a citation for speeding, alleging that I was going 78 mph in a 55 mph zone. In Maine the tickets have pre-printed information and the officer just circles the statute that he claims was violated. In my case he circled Title 29-A, Section 2073(3). I’m no lawyer but I know that if you want to defend yourself in court a good first step is always to read the law that you are charged with.
The law was easy to look up on the Internet and fortunately it was short and written in fairly easy to understand language. The law related to the Maine State Traffic Commissioner and it covered the procedures the commissioner uses in order to enact speed limits. And there it was… a single sentence in a stand-alone paragraph stating: “The commissioner may not set maximums for the Maine Turnpike.” This seemed to good to be true but there it was in black and white. So I took the ticket and a copy of the law to court. My friends said this was going to be a first as they were sure the judge never would have seen this before. I figured lawyers get speeding tickets so certainly any lawyer charged with breaking this law would look up the law and the court had probably heard this before.
In court I asked to officer to nail down the violation that I was charged with. This turned out to be a little more difficult than I expected because he stated “speeding”. Of course he is supposed to have a specific statute that he is charging me with but he did not even know it. I asked him about the numbers he circled on the ticket and finally got it nailed down for the court that I was charged with violating Section 2073(3) of Title 29-A. Then I had the officer nail down that I was on the Maine Turnpike. Then I showed the judge the wording in the law that prevents the law from being applied on the Maine Turnpike.
The judge could see that it was clear that I could not be charged with violating this law on the Maine Turnpike but he did everything he could to get me to admit guilt…
“Do you think there is no speed limit on the Maine Turnpike?” he asked.
“I don’t know about that”, I said. “I am charged with violating this specific law and that is what I came here to defend myself against.”
He asked if I thought there was another law that created enforceable speed limits on the Maine Turnpike. Again I told him I was only prepared to argue the charges that were brought against me and did not know about other laws.
The Judge asked to officer if there were speed limit signs posted and the officer said that there were. The judge asked me what I thought the speed limit signs were for.
I used the same basic approach: “Anyone can post a speed limit sign”, I said. “The officer can go out and hang up a speed limit sign, so could I. Even you, judge, could go out and hang up a speed limit sign but it would not be an enforceable speed limit unless there was a law that made it an enforceable speed limit… and in this case any speed limit sign was not enforceable under the law that I was charged with violating.”
Finally the judge realized the case would be lost on appeal if he did not let me off so that is what he did.
It turned out that my friends were right, the court had never heard this argument before. The judge told the officer that he better go back to his superiors to have things changed to prevent this from happening again but I don’t think they ever will. As I was leaving the court room the judge expressed concern about others finding out about this, so here you have it.
Gary, Boston, MA 02115