You don’t have to be a criminal lawyer to successfully dispute a traffic ticket. You may need a brief trip to court to get a dismissal but that’s no reason to give up. Below are some helpful tips based on interviews with real-world police officers.
- It all starts with the traffic stop
Trained police officers are copious note takers. Typically, each has a notebook where he/she jots down exactly what happens on every encounter with a citizen, from a casual enquiry to a felony traffic stop. They use this information for everything from writing up official reports to reminding themselves what happened with a particular subject a month later when they encounter the same individual.
The important part for you is this: however you act during the traffic stop will be noted in the police officers notebook, and sometimes on the ticket itself. That means if you are rude and belligerent during the stop the court may find out about it during your hearing. The solution is to be polite, even if you don’t agree with the officer. Nothing ever good will happen when you berate a police officer.
- Ask the question
Ask the police officer how they determined you were violating the law. If you were speeding, did they catch you on radar? Was the officer pacing you with his own car? These questions arm you with information. Perhaps there were other cars present that would’ve interfered with the police officer’s radar (they operate off line-of-sight), or other factors that would’ve made it hard for the police officer to determine your speed. The important part is this: it’s your right to understand what you’re being cited for and how the officer determined you were violating the law. Ask questions, but ask them politely.
- Going to court
Appearing in court may be the most frightening part of seeking a traffic ticket dismissal, but don’t worry, as long as you are polite, and well mannered, there is almost nothing you can do to mess it up.
Here are some important tips for the day you see the judge:
- Dress: dress appropriately. A dress, or a suit and tie is not necessary, but judges are well-educated professionals and if you show up in a dirty tank top and cut-offs the judge will take you less seriously.
- Speech: practice, practice, practice. This is the most important tip of all. The judge expects you to describe why you think the ticket should be dismissed in a short paragraph, imagine having to tell someone in an elevator ride – that’s all the time you’ll get. So, practice what you want to say. Make it clear, concise, and exactly what you want. If it’s only a few sentences that’s okay.
- Down to brass tacks: remember, you need a legitimate reason for why your ticket was improper, here are a few suggestions:
- Everyone has an opinion: you have the right to challenge a subjective decision made by the police officer. If she says you made an ‘unsafe left turn’ perhaps it was actually necessary because of an obstruction in the road the officer didn’t see.
- Calling them as you see them: you can also challenge an officer’s visual observation of what you did. Perhaps you’ve been sighted for failure to make a complete stop, but perhaps the officer’s vision was obscured by other traffic, or shrubbery or trees. Bringing pictures or a well-drawn diagram can often overcome a citation with no further explanation.
- Facts are not always facts: a citizen also has the right to argue to the court that the officer was simply mistaken about the facts surrounding the circumstances of your citation. Perhaps you were cited for not stopping at a stop sign, but a recent storm broke a tree branch that obscured the sign. Or maybe you were cited for not stopping before the marked sidewalk lines when in fact they were so old and faded you couldn’t see them.
- I had to do it: you can argue a legal principal called “necessity”. This is where you tell the court that while you may have violated the law it was legally justified because you had no other choice, or you did it to prevent and even more dangerous situation. Examples might be: you swerve into an adjacent lane without signaling to avoid a pedestrian, you briefly exceed the speed limit to get away from an aggressive big-rig that was tailgating you.
Finally, the most important thing to remember is that the court is seeking justice, an equitable resolution to the matter and so if you have truly justified reasons for disputing your ticket, state those reasons clearly and politely, and then rely on the court to do what’s right.