When You Are Stopped By Police
If a police officer wants you to stop your car, the officer will activate the patrol car’s emergency lights and/or pull up next to you and gesture for you to pull over. If this traffic stop happens, carefully slow down and pull over at the nearest safe location. When you stop, turn on your emergency flashers, roll down your window about two inches and wait for the officer to approach your vehicle.
Don’t immediately reach into your glove compartment, visor or jacket for your license and registration. Officers generally want you to keep your hands where they can see them for their own safety. You should wait until the officer asks to see your paperwork before you retrieve the documents.
Ask why you were pulled over for a traffic stop
Always keep this in mind: From the moment the officer stops your car, he or she can record everything you say and use it against you. One of the first things an officer may say to you is, “Do you know why I pulled you over?” This is a common technique that police may use to get you to confess to a possible road violation. Try to beat him or her to the punch. As soon as the officer approaches the vehicle, say, “Good afternoon, officer. Can you tell me why I am being pulled over?”
The officer may give you a hard time or say, “You don’t know why I pulled you over?” If the officer asks you if you know why you were stopped, you should tell the officer you don’t know. It’s possible the officer stopped you for a reason other than what you think. You may confess to speeding when, in reality, the officer simply wanted to tell you one of your lights was out. It’s always better to let the officer tell you why you were stopped because only the officer knows for sure.
The worst thing you can do is apologize after you get stopped, because that could be considered an admission of guilt and could be used against you if you later decide to challenge the ticket.
Don’t tell the officer you are late for a meeting or you have to pick up your kids from school because that could be considered a reason for speeding or reckless driving. Wait until the officer asks you his questions before you speak.
Remain calm and quiet during the traffic stop
If the officer leaves you in your car while he or she checks with his dispatcher from the squad car, relax and wait for the officer to return. Don’t preoccupy yourself with finding a radio station or flipping through documents in your glove compartment, which might give the officer the impression you aren’t taking the situation seriously. The 10 to 15 minutes it takes to check your information may seem like an eternity, but it’s better for you in the long run if you just wait patiently for the officer to return. It shows you respect the officer’s authority and understand that he or she is in charge of the situation.
The officer may ask you a series of questions about how fast you were going, where you were going and what you were doing. Answer any questions you can honestly. You do not want to provide the officer with any false information at any time. If you don’t know the answer, simply respond, “I don’t know.” NEVER ARGUE with the police – you will not win and you could be beaten or shot. Always wait to make your arguments in court in front of the judge. You may still lose — but you will not usually get shot….
Keep in mind that I have no driver’s license and I have never registered my car. The plates on the car were made by me and say ‘PRIVATE PROPERTY’. This all tends to make things very interesting when the cop tries to investigate me.
Checking Traffic Stop Tickets For Mistakes
If you receive a traffic ticket, the first thing you should do is examine it carefully for any errors. Check every detail for accuracy. Missing or wrong information–such as the wrong license plate number or make and model of your car–may help your case. If you can show the information on the ticket is incorrect or incomplete, the judge may throw the ticket out of court–that is, cancel the fine.
If you get a ticket, you have three options:
* Plead guilty and pay a fine
* Plead not guilty and go to trial
* Plead guilty but give an explanation for your actions
If you decide to contest the ticket, your best chance of winning revolves around mistakes the cop made on the identification details. Your car has certain identifying features that must appear on your ticket. If they don’t, there’s a good chance that you can beat the ticket. In fact, in some states, such as New York, the legislature has just enacted a change to require dismissal if the ticket isn’t properly prepared, largely because there was a problem with so many improperly issued summonses.
What to look for
Here’s a list of what is typically found on a traffic summons, and what you may wish to challenge for accuracy at the time of your court appearance:
* License plate number
* Color of the vehicle
* Style of the car (sedan, coupe, convertible)
* Location of the offense
* Time the offense took place
* Prohibited Act (parking at an improper hour, parking without paying for the space, expired meter) is incorrect
* Name of vehicle’s owner
* Legal citation of the offense alleged to have been committed
The ticket may not look very legalistic to you, but the courts look at it very differently. They, in fact, examine the underlying claims carefully. If you are charged on the ticket with violating section 123 of the local statute, but the police officer instead proves or shows that you violated section 456, unless it is a lesser-included offense–highly unlikely–there cannot be a conviction. Such a circumstance is not a matter of local or state law, but a constitutional guaranty to be notified of the precise crime or claim against you, and to allow you to mount a defense.
Therefore, it is axiomatic that if the license plate on the car is cited incorrectly for a parking violation, then it is highly probable that the police officer cited the wrong vehicle–and the wrong person–with the offense. The same goes for the color of the car.
Pointing out incorrect information may help you prove that you were not guilty of the crime alleged.
Example: A police officer gives you a ticket for allegedly making an illegal U-turn. According to the officer, there was a sign that said it was illegal to make U-turns in residential areas. The address where the incident took place that is listed on the ticket is a non-residential address, however. If the officer didn’t recognize that the turn was legal in that area, then you shouldn’t have to pay the ticket.
No detail is unimportant. Something that may seem insignificant–such as the ticket listing the car as a Volkswagen Golf and not a Volkswagen Jetta–could in fact help your case. If you present your case carefully, you can show that the officer may have been mistaken when he or she stopped you because the information on the ticket was inaccurate.
U.S. SUPREME COURT CASE —
“The individual may stand upon his constitutional rights as a citizen. He is entitled to carry on his private business in his own way. His power to contract is unlimited. He owes no duty to the state or to his neighbors to divulge his business, or to open his doors to an investigation, so far as it may tend to incriminate him. He owes no such duty to the state, since he receives nothing there from, beyond the protection of his life and property. His Rights are such as existed by the law of the land long antecedent to the organization of the state, and can only be taken from him by due process of law, and in accordance with the constitution. Among his rights are a refusal to incriminate himself, and the immunity of himself and his property from arrest or seizure except under a warrant of the law. He owes nothing to the public so long as he upon their rights does not trespass .” Hale vs. Henkel, 201 U.S. 43, 74-75
How To Decide Whether To Defend Yourself In Traffic Court
Should you defend yourself in court over minor violations? It might not be a bad idea. But don’t always expect to win! This isn’t to say that you will always win if you defend yourself in a case at traffic or municipal court. But you have to start with the premise that, although you might win, you could lose, pay a large fine and go to jail in the process.
In your favor
One good thing about municipal judges is that they are typically from your community and are aware not only of community prejudices, but of community practices. For example, if the police in your town never give parking tickets before waiting a minute or two to give someone a chance to emerge from a local store, and in your case no such courtesy was extended, the judge is likely to be sympathetic.
When to consider defending yourself
Here is a list of some of the offenses for which, in general, you can represent yourself without a great deal of difficulty–provided that you have accepted the possibility that you may lose, and are willing to pay the fine due:
* Exceeding the speed limit by less than 5 miles per hour
* Moving violations of a vehicle in traffic that don’t involve
substantial monetary fines (say under $100) or other penalties
* Minor civil cases of relatively nominal value (say under $500 or
* Minor misdemeanor offenses and violations that are punishable by a
relatively short period of jail (say three or five days) and/or a fine
(say $500 or less)
* Moving violations in which no one was hurt, or likely to be
Municipal court cases are brought in the name of the people of your state and are prosecuted either by a district attorney or a local (municipal) lawyer acting as a prosecutor. A non jury trial will be held before the judge if you plead innocent. (If you plead guilty, usually it’s just a matter of paying a fine, although for more severe violations, incarceration or community service may be required.)
You are required to appear, as is the police officer who witnessed your violation of the law. The officer is the complaining witness, and will testify against you at the eventual trial.
Here are some tips to keep in mind if you decide to defend yourself in traffic court:
* Consider the time-honored technique of learning about the judge in your municipality: Sit in and observe a session of the court–but not on a day when your case is on the docket. This allows you to see the temperament of the judge, how he or she deals with the public and how cases similar to yours are handled. You will then have a better sense of whether it is wise to continue to represent yourself.
* If you decide to represent yourself, preparation is similar to that for small claims action. This means lining up your witnesses, having physical evidence if necessary, and making certain that on the day in question you have everything in its proper place.
* Trial lengths vary. Some take only minutes, while others can last for hours.
* If you get cold feet during the trial, you have the option of asking the judge for a brief adjournment in order to bring in a counsel of your choice. This gives the best of both worlds: You can start to try the case yourself, or be ready to try the case yourself, but then get a lawyer if necessary.
* If the charge against you is a minor traffic violation, start with the premise that the police officer who made the arrest or issued the summons must appear and lay out the charge(s) against you. If the officer doesn’t show up, ask the court to dismiss the case on the basis of the failure to prosecute. This won’t usually work the first time the officer doesn’t appear, but if it happens a second or third time, you can win your case without ever taking the stand.
* Remember that you have a right to cross-examine any witness who is part of the people’s case–including the police officer. Don’t be argumentative, but be firm in your questioning.
* If your car isn’t properly identified on the ticket (you drive a Chevrolet but the car ticketed is identified as a Buick), during your cross-examination ask the police officer what kind of car you were driving at the time the ticket was given. If he or she says it was a Buick, you’re home free; if he or she says Chevrolet, the ticket is “bad” because the ticket reads “Buick” and you may win your case that way.
* Regardless of the claim, the essential rule to remember is that you must be prepared. That means preparing in advance your questions to the police officer. It means having your witnesses present with you and having any photos handy that prove your point.
Remember that all municipalities primarily use their police as a means of obtaining revenue by shaking down the local people. The fines the court charges for traffic tickets go into running the court, paying the judge and other municipal departments. That can make traffic violations hard to beat.