Should I fight this ticket?
November 2, 2011 10:48 AM   Subscribe

Please help me figure out how to contest a moving violation in California (Alameda county)

A month ago, I drove down a street and made a U-turn into a parking lot. A cop who happened to be parked at that lot and on the phone walked over to me and gave me a ticket for not stopping at the stop sign. I argued a little but having had a couple of tickets in the past (6+ years ago), I know that this is pointless (especially after he took my registration and DL).

I'd like to contest it on the grounds that my car (a Subaru outback) simply cannot make a U-turn without stopping. If his argument is that I didn't stop long enough, I can counter that with the fact that there is no stipulation on how long one needs to stop.

I've been served with a summons. I either pay $243 + $50 for traffic school or show up to court and contest it. I don't have time to go to court but can make a dispassionate case in writing. In addition to stating the facts, I also plan to include a google map of the location (with me, the stop sign, the U-turn marked out, and the cop car), some information about turning radius of my model etc. Is it worth it?

Since I haven't had a ticket in years, I am eligible for traffic school. If I lose, I want to go to traffic school but also request a lower fine (for financial reasons). Can I do that in the same statement? For e.g.

Here is my case
I ask that you dismiss it. However, if the court does find me guilty, I'd like to enter a no contest plea and ask for a fine reduction.

Ok, that doesn't sound right but you get the idea. How should I approach this? I have until December 10th to take care of this matter.

posted by anonymous to Law & Government (21 answers total)
This doesn't make sense to me. Why can't you stop your car when making a u-turn? Where was the stop sign in terms of where you were making the u-turn?
posted by Kimberly at 10:54 AM on November 2, 2011

I don't know about the procedural question, but I can say that it is simply untrue that there is some technical limitation that would render your car incapable of making a U turn without coming to a stop beforehand. If you want to contest the ticket I would suggest finding some other grounds on which to do it. Did the officer have a clear and unobstructed view of the intersection?
posted by yoink at 10:56 AM on November 2, 2011 [2 favorites]
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 10:58 AM on November 2, 2011

I don't have time to go to court but can make a dispassionate case in writing.

I believe you can contest via writing in, but not positive. Call the court clerk.

Basically you would walk in and wait for them to call you, you'd say "Not Guilty." Then you'd be given another date to show up to actually contest, but before that you would have the opportunity to talk to an ADA about your case. They may, or may not, just reduce the fine to make you pay it, or you could fight it out. FYI, you probably won't win.

But yeah, your "my car can't stop before I make a U-Turn" will literally make the judge laugh.
posted by zombieApoc at 10:58 AM on November 2, 2011

my car (a Subaru outback) simply cannot make a U-turn without stopping

The argument is that the car did stop, because otherwise the U-turn would not have been possible.
posted by stefanie at 11:01 AM on November 2, 2011

I believe the OP is saying the opposite, that their car must have stopped (contrary to the cop's claim) because it can't make a U-turn without stopping.

On preview, what stefanie said.
posted by tomboko at 11:02 AM on November 2, 2011

I'm not sure if tomboko and stefanie are replying to my post or to zombieApoc's. I can see my phrasing was ambiguous. I have a kind of double negative structure that might be throwing some of you off (incapable...without). OP is saying that his car CANNOT make a uey WITHOUT coming to a stop. This may be a psychologically true account of OP's way of driving and perception of his/her car's abilities, but it is not a true fact about the car. A judge will laugh such a claim out of court.
posted by yoink at 11:18 AM on November 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

I don't understand the mechanics of your car being forced to stop when making a U-Turn. I actually find it easier to U-Turn without stopping. If this is your argument, I'd be sure to clearly explain what you mean (maybe with pictures or videos).
posted by jeffch at 11:22 AM on November 2, 2011

The argument is that the car did stop, because otherwise the U-turn would not have been possible.

Which makes no sense.
posted by rhizome at 11:40 AM on November 2, 2011

I'd like to contest it on the grounds that my car (a Subaru outback) simply cannot make a U-turn without stopping.

please clarify how it is that it would be impossible for you to make a u-turn in your car without stopping first bc this makes no sense.
posted by violetk at 11:51 AM on November 2, 2011

I argued a little but having had a couple of tickets in the past (6+ years ago), I know that this is pointless (especially after he took my registration and DL).

Arguing with the cop is not merely pointless, it is counterproductive -- before or after he's taken your license. In borderline situations where what you did may or may not warrant a citation, arguing is likely to tip the scales the way you don't want them to go.

If you want to make your case in writing (or in person, really), you'd better do a better job of it than you did here. I agree w/others that the suggestion that your car can't make a U-turn without stopping is incorrect. If that's your defense, prepare to lose.
posted by jon1270 at 11:53 AM on November 2, 2011

My dad tried to do this with giant poster photos of the intersection in question and still lost. I think it is not worth the time, energy and frustration, because you will probably lose. And they will not go for the u-turn argument.
posted by SMPA at 12:05 PM on November 2, 2011

Is the OP trying to make the claim that all forward motion had to have stopped at the point he reversed direction? Even if that were true in more than just the most high school physics problem sense , that point is well out into the intersection, so he ran the stop sign. You can run the stop sign turning left or right too.

If you do want to fight this, talk to a traffic attorney. You are not going to win on your argument.
posted by COD at 12:16 PM on November 2, 2011

I am from Utah, where the Subaru Outback is (or was last year, at least) purported to be the most popular car on the road. In Utah, the roads are wide thanks to a cultural history that says Brigham Young wanted it that way so someone could turn a wagon team around without resorting to profanity. I have never lived in a state with drivers so intent on making U-turns at nearly every opportunity. Hence, I have seen many an Outback make a U-turn--some stop before attempting it, some speed up, some signal, some don't. Occasionally someone will make a surprising 4-lane-wide U-turn just because they can, and other times you can see a U-turner make a follow-up subsequent U-turn when (I suspect) they change their mind again and decide to go back the other way.

What I mean to say is...your argument just plain won't work.
posted by BlooPen at 12:24 PM on November 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

IAAL, IANYL. People who represent themselves typically have a fool for a client. If you're serious about this, get a lawyer. Nevertheless, if you want to throw the dice without spending $500 on a lawyer, you can contest a traffic citation without appearing in court by requesting Trial by Declaration. I have to give a hearty +1 to Cool Papa Bell's link. In my practice, I have also found Fight Your Ticket & Win in California to be an invaluable resource on traffic infraction litigation. You should expect to pay the full amount of the citation, plus penalty assessments as "bail" if you want to do a trial by declaration. If you are acquitted, you should get a refund via mail about 6 weeks later.

As others mentioned, you need to review the statute which violation you were accused of. That will tell you what the cop must prove beyond a reasonable doubt. I don't know what statute you are accused of violating, (possibly CVC Section 22450(a)?) but in California your motor vehicle must come to a complete stop. The so-called "California stop" doesn't cut it--the entire vehicle must cease to be in motion before you may cross the limit line. (You will also want to review the Vehicle Code to see how "limit line" is defined.) Some courts have held that compliance with CVC 22450(a) (if that's what you're cited with) requires a stop before the front wheels cross the limit line.

You might be capable of dispassionate written reasoning and persuasion, but after you review the law applicable to your situation, you need to work on how you communicate what happened. The most plausible interpretation of your story strongly suggests that you are in fact guilty. You must not testify (in writing or otherwise) to something that isn't true because (a) it's immoral, and (b) it's a felony in California. But if you can truthfully revise your explanation, you need to do so or you're likely to suffer a conviction.

If you are found guilty, there will be no need to enter a plea of "no contest" since you will have already been found guilty. (It won't matter anyway, since in California "no contest" is the same as guilty.)

Good luck!
posted by Hylas at 1:45 PM on November 2, 2011

Look up the law that you are purported to have violated, make note of the elements of the crime, and come up with evidence that is compelling enough to overcome the testimony of the police officer. You might be able to impeach the testimony of the officer, if there is some reason why he might not have seen what he thinks he saw.

The citation is probably something like "failure to come to a complete stop before engaging in a u-turn" or something like that. That is possible in all road-worthy vehicles.

There is nothing inherently wrong with forcing the state to prove their case rather than pleading guilty. Just make sure you don't lie, and don't get mad when you get found guilty and possibly have to pay court costs.
posted by gjc at 3:45 PM on November 2, 2011

From the OP:
Thanks for all the observations. Let me clarify a few things.

Yes, I know how to make a uey at lights without coming to a dead stop. However, in such situations I have a good bit of room (especially on two lane roads) which makes it easily possible. In my specific case, the U-turn was really really tight and the entry into the parking lot was no wider than my car. So imagine something like this: but tighter.

If I (or anyone including a professional driver) made that turn without coming to a dead stop, it would be extremely difficult and quite unlikely without drawing a lot of attention (think stunt driving in movies where one approaches the intersection quite fast, hits the breaks and turns the wheel). So if I had done that, the cop should have given me a reckless driving ticket. Instead, it was an opportunistic one for him (he was just there sitting on the hood smoking).

Things in my favor:
a) I can clearly show a google map of where this occurred and make this exact point. Perhaps even tell the court the length of my car, the width between the road and the entry to the lot (very narrow).

b) The cop did not have a clear view of my car (it would have been really hard for him to see me stop) since there were trees blocking his view. By the time he would have seen the hood of my car, it would have already been in the lot.

Yes, I took pictures right away.

Yes, thanks, I do see the point that my argument has holes. Stating that a car of my length cannot make that Uey without a dead stop (since the width was about a foot and a half) can easily be defeated. But my point still stands. I'd love to challenge even the cop to try and make that turn without a stop (but can't really do that in court). So what I am asking is for constructive advice to first try and beat the ticket and if not, then ask for a lower fine + traffic court.

I'm also aware of how the traffic court system works here (similar to what ombieApoc said). I would much prefer not to spend half a day waiting my turn to get arraigned to plead not guilty and then deal with a second court date where I explain all of this to the judge. In my experience fighting two prior tickets (one in 2001 and one in 2004), I never once saw anyone beating a cop because if the argument is defendant's statement vs. cop's, then the court always sides with the cop. My last name is farther down the alphabet so I get to listen to almost everyone else before my turn.

I want to do a trial by declaration (best use of my time) and if that fails, then go to court (which is an option with TBD, at least in California).

For those who suggested Ticket Assassin, thanks! I've read through all of the older traffic threads. However, I should report that the site is now defunct. The owner no longer responds to emails and the content was last updated in 2006. I have some of the material and plan to use that style in my TBD but would appreciate other advice.
posted by mathowie at 4:43 PM on November 2, 2011

Estimate the number of hours you'll spend fighting the ticket, multiply this by your current hourly rate of pay, then multiply that amount by the percentage chance you'll win the case.

Unless you make minimum wage or your chance of winning is 90% (which it isn't), it's very unlikely to be worth $294.
posted by hamsterdam at 6:44 PM on November 2, 2011

Ok, the math above is unclear, but you get my point. You'll be using up valuable time and will probably still have to pay the ticket.
posted by hamsterdam at 6:47 PM on November 2, 2011

You have a very strong case regarding the officer's obscured view of the actual place at which you claim to have come to a stop. You have no case at all (truly, none, not even a tiny little shred) regarding the "I had to stop in order to make the turn" claim. Drop that part of it entirely (really, think about it--if you'd slowed to 1 mph before executing the turn, you could have done it, right? Well, that's still a violation of the law as written). But if you can show that the officer could not properly see the intersection from where he was standing, that sounds like a very strong argument that a judge might well take seriously; as long as it's not coming from some crackpot who is claiming that it was physically impossible to make the U-turn without coming to a complete stop beforehand.
posted by yoink at 9:38 PM on November 2, 2011

Assuming you in fact must 100% stop in order to make that U-turn, it's still not going to matter: the cop is simply going to say he was in a spot where he could see you, and that you didn't stop. Period. You're going to need more than a Google map with a spot on it to overcome that.

Beyond that, how were you so aware of him such that you knew he was smoking, and also, not parked in a spot where he could see you once you got to the turning spot? Maybe while you were distracted from driving by playing Spot The Cop, you rolled through the stop. Sometimes people brake at stop signs only until they feel that stopping-lurch, but don't actually come to a complete stop.
posted by rhizome at 12:27 AM on November 3, 2011

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