There may be some confusion about this process of fighting a traffic ticket in our Commonwealth.
Numero uno: If you get stopped be as polite and non-threatening as you can. Don’t admit guilt, just kind of a golly-gee/oh-shucks ignorance. If you make them mad they’ll only remember you that much better. Besides, they could also start beating you with their flashlights… As soon as you can, write down everything that happened.
Number two: If you get charged with a criminal offense such as reckless or negligent driving, DUI, vehicular homicide or hit-and-run, hire an attorney. But for a civil complaint such as simple speeding – do not pay! If you plead guilty, over the next six years you may end up paying close to $2500 extra, you’ll be getting that much closer to a license suspension and you’ll perpetuate a rigged system. You’ll also find no one will care about your story anymore. Do send the ticket in and be careful not to miss the deadline – 20 days! And don’t forget to photocopy the citation before you send it off.
Number three (at the initial hearing): Be there, look presentable and have a reasonable story why you believe you are innocent. Some excuses that DON’T work: “I set my cruise control…”, “I was just going with traffic…” and “Yes, I was speeding, but…”
Your line should be something like ‘that nice police officer gave this ticket to a wrong person.’ Neither radar, LIDAR or a speedometer identifies the vehicle the officer claims was speeding. You are innocent and you believe this radar readout belonged to that sports car or to that big truck or whatever and because of traffic/darkness/obstructions at the time, the officer happened to give this ticket to you instead of the real culprit… At this point there is no need for you to go into further details! The officer who is present WILL coach the ticketing officer about your defense when you decide to appeal the magistrate’s ruling.
Remember: the magistrates get paid from the fines they collect and the officer present is NOT the ticketing officer. So don’t get mad – this hearing is only designed to make you give up. Don’t be disappointed if you don’t win – APPEAL. It only improves your chances of a dismissal no matter what they tell you. They are not your friends.
(BTW, complaints against clerk-magistrates should be directed to the Supreme Judicial Court’s Committee on Professional Responsibility for Clerks of the Court, John Adams Courthouse, One Pemberton Square, Boston, MA 02108. (617-557-1101)
If you appeal:
- The ticketing cop may not show – then you can request your case be dismissed.
- If he does show, the cop will remember less. Since this is your only ticket, you should know more about it than the officer who’s written dozens or hundreds since.
- This gives you enough time to request ‘public information’ about your case. Write to the Police Department “Under the Massachusetts General Law Chapter 66: Section 10 (Public inspection and copies of records), I am requesting…” and then just launch right into your request. You are entitled to obtain:
- a) Copies of both sides of the officer’s part of your ticket
- b) A description of the device used to measure your speed, its repair history and maintenance.
- c) The officers training record on that device.
- Offer to pay the cost of photocopying.
KEEP AN OFFICIAL RECORD OF YOUR WRITTEN REQUESTS, because if you don’t get any of it, you can ask the court to dismiss the case or at least get the hearing postponed in order to prepare your defense.
- Postponed trial improves your chances.
- These records may actually turn up some irregularities in the procedure, equipment maintenance or in its calibration, or in the speed limit posting.
- It will show the cops you know what you’re doing, which can make them simply give up.
FOR PRACTICE, SPEND AN HOUR OR SO IN THE MUNICIPAL COURT THAT YOUR TICKET IS GOING TO EVENTUALLY BE HEARD IN.
- Think of ways to make this judge to like you. It doesn’t matter if it’s your impeccable logic, your sexy pout or your goofy grin; you are guilty, because they believe “everybody speeds” – even before your presumably impartial hearing begins. You must make them feel you deserve a break – even if you are innocent. (You don’t like how rigged our system of traffic laws is? Welcome to the club!)
Number 4: At the Show.
- Unless ‘your’ officer doesn’t show, stick to a game plan. By questioning the cop try to show the judge why this ticket belonged to someone else. Make the officer agree that in traffic, darkness or with obstructions he or she had no way of knowing what caused any particular read-out and that someone else might’ve been speeding, or that the officer couldn’t have watched only YOU the whole time, whatever your case may be. Don’t ask the cop any questions you don’t already know the answers to! (At this point you shouldn’t be finding out what happened to you when you got ticketed, and you shouldn’t be asking questions just because you don’t know what else you should be asking.)What you are trying to do is show the judge it couldn’t happened the way the officer is testifying. Your job is to draw the judge’s attention away from you and onto what the officer did or did not do. Stay calm, polite and focused.
Remember this: As long as this is a democracy, THEY ARE NOT ALLOWED TO BREAK THE LAW IN ORDER TO ENFORCE IT. The cops’ top three most popular “oversights” (besides speeding, following too closely and unsafe lane changes without their blue lights and sirens) are:
- – clocking traffic from a private property (i.e. a gas station, church, mall or restaurant driveway) without a specific written permission of the owner.
– not tracking you over a specific distance as prescribed by the law as charged, or where the speed limit is de facto unposted.
– misrepresenting what the ‘visual estimate’ is about.
Don’t hesitate to remind them this is a court of law – and just like you, the officers must comply with all legal requirements. Judges are legal professionals and even if they have to listen to people whine all day, they supposedly care about the law. At least that’s what they are telling us when they need us for jury duty…
(The TRF-16 “State Police Speed Measuring Document,” is outlining what the good officers should be doing when enforcing motor vehicle laws.)
- -the beam is invisible
- -the “cross hairs” show just a dot on the finder, and not the actual beam
- -the beam is hitting the indicated dot only if there has been a precise calibration, EXTERNAL to the unit, since any slight offset can change the reading or hit another vehicle.
- -the device must be held absolutely steady. (COULD HE OR SHE HIT WITH A REAL GUN A LICENSE PLATE AT 1000 FEET?)
- -a highway is a windy place, with buffeting wind by other cars and trucks
- -the officer doesn’t have a physics or optics degree
- -everything the officer knows about the device is based on what he learned in a course with materials provided by the manufacturer
- –HERE is an analysis of a real-life LIDAR ticket
Basically, any testimony by the officer as to the validity of the device should be thrown out or prevented, as he is not qualified to give an expert opinion. What he/she thinks about the precision of LIDAR is valid only because the manufacturer told him/her so and is irrelevant in the court. LTI (the original LIDAR manufacturer) is a company that has teetered on the brink of bankruptcy for some time — although they finally posted a first quarter profit. They just settled a shareholder lawsuit that accused the company of misleading shareholders and the public. They were in trouble with the SEC for violating securities laws (artificially inflating their stock price), their accounting firm quit, and their stock was halted. Mention that next time some cop touts any of LTI’s claims about its laser gun. The company’s reports are public and available to anyone who wants them — you don’t have to be a shareholder.
Furthermore, the legal requirements for laser ticket convictions are identical to radar: the officer MUST first visually estimate the speed of a vehicle without a radar or a laser, before confirming his or her estimate with that speed measuring device. Therefore, the officer’s ability to accurately estimate a speed by looking at the close-up of a portion of the vehicle (typically the license plate or a headlight) thousands of feet away through a scope must be questioned in court.
Finally, under Massachusetts law in unposted areas and in areas where the speed limit was not posted legally, the officer must observe you speed over a certain distance (see: Mass General Laws 90/17). This makes the equipment’s often touted ability to obtain instantaneous readouts detrimental rather than advantageous to the officer.
Not to be cynical about this, but in February 1999 Amadou Diallo was gunned down by the New York’s Finest. Four police officers fired total of 41 bullets, hitting Mr. Diallo 19 times. (That equals 46.3%). He was simply standing in the vestibule of his apartment building only a dozen feet away from the officers. Then, three other NYC detectives were acquitted of all charges in the 50-shot killing of Sean Bell, an unarmed groom-to-be on his wedding day in November 2006. 16 shots entered Mr. Bell’s body. (That’s 32% of the shots fired.) Had these been traffic laser cases instead of a murder cases, those same officers would’ve undoubtedly testified under oath they all possessed 100% accuracy hitting a moving object the size of a license plate thousands of feet away – and every single time!
I realize this is a tall order, but:
- the further you go, the better your chances;
- you can bail out at any point;
- this process cannot make your situation any worse!
The only way to overturn a judge’s decision is to file an appeal to the Appellate Court, but a complaint about a judge’s conduct can also be filed.