When Traffic Court gets ugly
September 22, 2008 12:40 PM   Subscribe

So I went to traffic court last week in the city of Los Angeles. I spent a week preparing for it. And I lost. And it got ugly. Largely because of a Judge Pro-Tem who went to town on me because I tried to fight my case. It was so ugly I’m springing the $86.50 it costs these days to get a copy of the tape. So my question is, now that I've lost, what are my options? (much much more inside)

So I was ticketed for making a U-turn in a business district. I picked up the book "Fight Your Ticket and Win in California" and, following the instructions in the book, proceeded to build my case. I took google maps pictures proving from where the officer turned around, he could not possibly have seen me, I prepared objections to the officer's reading of his notes, I took pictures of the area he said was a double line on the ticket and blew them up 13x19 to prove it was not the case. I made a list of questions to ask in court of the officer.

Then I got there. And it all went to hell.

In fairness, the book didn't cover judge pro-tems. As others have told me since, they're usually lawyers who've been given a slot in the traffic court to handle the overflow of cases and are usually a lot less schooled in the traffic laws.

My very first question for the judge was "have there been any amendments to the ticket?" as instructed and after that it all went downhill. Literally EVERY SINGLE THING I DID he hated me for. When I raised an objection to the officer reading from his notes, I never even got to cite the evidence code for my objection. What I got was


Under questioning the officer misidentified my car as an Acura (it's an Audi) he admitted he wrote the wrong Vehicle Code for the ticket and he said there was no left turn lane at the area when overhead photos showed there was.

And every single thing I got him to admit just got him more and more steamed at me. IN the end he decided against me and, in keeping with the decisions of People V. Wozniak and People v Enochs I requested traffic school. He denied my request because I had "wasted the court's time"

So my question is, what do I do now?

1) I've got a point on my license. is there anything I can do about that? From appealing the conviction to the sneaky (applying for a driver's license in another state and then changing it back in 6 months).

2) Who do I complain to about this guy? I mean he was horrible. He literally interpreted my bringing materials to fight my case as a slap in his face. He acted as prosecutor and a hostile one at that.

3) Is there anything else I can or should do for some sort of moral victory if there's nothing else left? Like post the judge's tirade's to the internet in some way? Or get some consumer reporters in there to cover the fact that the baliffs are telling people unless they ask for traffic school they can't be considered for it after the fact (which is completely untrue).

4) I make a good living and, from my first experience ever with it, I'm morally outraged. Is this the sort of thing I should be fighting against on general principle because I have the means?
posted by rileyray3000 to Law & Government (21 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Did you actually make a U-turn? I.E. - were you actually guilty of the thing for which you were ticketed and you were fighting the ticket on a series of technicalities, or were you completely innocent and the officer ticketed you for no legitimate reason?
posted by Lokheed at 12:46 PM on September 22, 2008 [8 favorites]

I guess my first question would be, did you make the illegal u-turn in a business district? Because if you are fighting it merely on technicalities (surely the cop didn't see me, he made a mistake on the ticket, etc.), then I would't pursue it any further. Judges (pro-tem or not) tend to listen to the police officers who are regularly in their courtrooms. I'd say that was probably the case here - a cop said you made an illegal u-turn, you argue that the cop couldn't have seen you do it. That is a much different argument then "I didn't do anything illegal."

You also came into the situation from an adversarial point of view with your book's teachings. Certainly nothing wrong with that, but it is exactly the reason you hire a lawyer for anything you're not willing to lose. Even if you were completely in the right, the details of courtroom interaction cannot be learned from a single traffic ticket book.

Once upon a time, I did fight a traffic violation in court with some pictures, a description of the situation, and the judge agreed and sent me on my merry way after paying a few dollars in court costs (plead "No contest" with explanation).

As for the treatment from the judge, you may be out of luck on that one. Judges' "personalities" tend to be generally accepted in the proceedings. In my hometown there was a judge notorious for giving unique sentences in his open courtroom proceedings, to the point some people would go there for entertainment on Wednesday evening.
posted by shinynewnick at 12:55 PM on September 22, 2008

Oh, and to clarify on my own experience - there was an intersection that was marked as "Right Turn Only between the hours of 2 - 4 pm", which I drove straight through after making the full stop at the stop sign. Utterly confused after being pulled over, I went back to the intersection and found the same officer pulling two more drivers over for the same offense, and then found the two signs marking the intersection. One sign was completely bent over the sidewalk and turned down, and the second sign was located directly behind a portable bathroom set up on the street for a construction site. So I did admit to the offense, but showed that it was not reasonable to know of the law because of the damaged and blocked signs. Humbly throwing myself on the mercy of the court and all that.
posted by shinynewnick at 1:03 PM on September 22, 2008

I asked a very similar question on the green almost a year ago. The general concensus was that in a situation like this you're screwed unless you have the time and money to keep appealing up the chain until you're in a court that actually cares. It's not worth it. Pay the ticket and be more careful from now on.
posted by joshrholloway at 1:29 PM on September 22, 2008

You cannot defeat a judge unless you intend to dedicate your life to it, or unless he/she is behaving in a monstrously-unacceptable and openly illegal way (preferably involving something scandalously sexual). Merely berating you and/or ignoring you completely doesn't count. Move on. Not the way it should be, but the way it is.
posted by aramaic at 1:43 PM on September 22, 2008

Lokheed: Did you actually make a U-turn?

shinynewnick: I guess my first question would be, did you make the illegal u-turn in a business district?

joshrholloway: Pay the ticket and be more careful from now on.


rileyray3000: I took google maps pictures proving from where the officer turned around, he could not possibly have seen me, I prepared objections to the officer's reading of his notes, I took pictures of the area he said was a double line on the ticket and blew them up 13x19 to prove it was not the case.

... it's not absolutely clear, I guess, but it seems as though the poster isn't guilty, and went in to prove it on principle. I don't think it could be otherwise. S/he didn't make a U-turn on a double yellow; it was not illegal.

Poster? Isn't this true?

Even if it was illegal, that's silly behavior for a judge, pro-tem or otherwise.
posted by koeselitz at 1:48 PM on September 22, 2008

I guess, but it seems as though the poster isn't guilty

I don't read it that way. I read it like this:

I took google maps pictures proving from where the officer turned around, he could not possibly have seen me,
Irrelevant technicality.

I prepared objections to the officer's reading of his notes,
Irrelevant technicality.

I took pictures of the area he said was a double line on the ticket and blew them up 13x19 to prove it was not the case.
Is only relevant if the double yellow is actually a part of the infraction, which I doubt that it is.

So essentially I'm reading this the way the other posters have. In traffic court, if the cop says you did it and all you have is "You don't know that!" You're going to lose. And piss off the judge.

Pay your fine, quit committing traffic infractions, and move on with your life.
posted by toomuchpete at 2:19 PM on September 22, 2008 [1 favorite]

Whatever you do, be sure to post that video on YouTube so we can see it. With a little luck, if its as crazy as you claim, it might gain some traction and pick up a lot of views, then possibly a news network, who knows...

Alternatively to that, I would certainly consider writing this all up, including your evidence, and forwarding it with a polite letter to your mayor, the mayor of the town the incident occurred in, county supervisors, and most importantly your state assemblyman and state senator, and be sure to list everyone you're sending it to in the CC: notes to your letter, so that they can all see it. Make a big ass stink. These people are paid to listen to you and (theoretically) fix the system, make them do their jobs.
posted by allkindsoftime at 2:22 PM on September 22, 2008

Oh, and don't listen to toomuchpete. Focus on the technicalities. That's what I did and I walked out not guilty.
posted by allkindsoftime at 2:25 PM on September 22, 2008

Response by poster: I made a turn into a driveway. I crossed all wheels off the road onto the driveway. I backed out. I parked at a meter. I put away my GPS. I locked my car and started putting money into said meter when the cops showed up to ticket me. My understanding has always been - and I believe People V. McGuire 1978 backs me up - that a three point turn, using a driveway, was kosher in California.

Which, by the way, I cited. For all the good it did me.
posted by rileyray3000 at 2:30 PM on September 22, 2008 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Also, regarding the points on my license, is there anything I can do now that the judge has denied me traffic school? for instance, can I go visit my sister in NYC, get my license there, and then come back without it going on my insurance?
posted by rileyray3000 at 2:34 PM on September 22, 2008

If you can fight it, and if you really are in the right, the please do fight it. "Case law" is formed this way. If you don't fight it, and other people like you don't fight it, then this kind of thing gets that little bit more usual and accepted.
posted by amtho at 2:42 PM on September 22, 2008 [1 favorite]

geez a 3 point turn in a business district is more dangerous than a straight "U"ie. The whole point of the law is to prevent people from swooping into available parking spaces like that.

Take the point. It comes off after some amount of time, and since you're a legal genius now you should be able to figure out when.
posted by troy at 3:05 PM on September 22, 2008 [1 favorite]

No one has yet answered the question. The answer is: you have to appeal. Where and how? I do not know, not being in California. In my state, these issues are appealed to the circuit court. Once again, as with traffic court, knowing what to say and how to say it makes all the difference in persuading the court.

It is best to have a lawyer do it.
posted by yclipse at 3:08 PM on September 22, 2008

Carry on the fight. The country is supposed to be based on law right? Not just one guy's opinion. Not even on 'the spirit of the law'. If people don't fight this sort of thing, where does it end ?

The whole traffic court thing, where you plead guilty to some lesser charge and take the fine/points instead of going to trial is just screwed up. If I was going 20 mph over the limit, why am I allowed to plead to going 10mph over and pay $75 extra ?!? That's not justice - that's extortion.

But get a lawyer - it's just pointless trying to do it yourself.

You'll just come across like some ousted dictator defending themselves in The Hague.
posted by Xhris at 4:01 PM on September 22, 2008

Every time I got a ticket, I paid it, took the defensive driving route to get it off my record (did it online, which really is the way to go), and on my way. But then a few years back it turns out that no matter what I did or when I did it there was a cop right there, and I ended up with upwards of 14,000 tickets in the span of maybe six or eight months. And I know what walking into court means -- "Yes, I did do it" and then getting fined and on my way, except that now I was in trouble.

Enter the lawyer. We walk into the courtroom. He knows the prosecuting attorney (Have I got that right? The gal who he was going to go head to head with on my tickets. Obviously, IANAL), he walks up and says hi, and on the way in he saw the judge, and he knows and has good experience with this judge, and they say hi, what's shakin', etc and etc.

I don't even talk to the judge, neither did Louis, not about my tickets I mean -- he worked it all out with the prosecutor; she did make a point of asking me with big frowny, glare-y eyes if I was really going to drive right from that point on to the end of time, and I said "Yes, Ma'am, I surely am" and we're out the door, and I ended up with just one ticket on my record, now long cleaned off.

The whole thing cost me a lot of money, and about forty-seven times of taking that dang defensive driving thing, and I had to drive like an old lady for a year, which I'd been doing right from the start of this whole nightmare; seems that all the bad driving karma from all the insane driving since I moved to Texas had finally come back to haunt me.

My point? Get a lawyer. Spend the bread. First, ask him if you've a chance of this thing happening in your favor. If yes, you've a much better chance of that happening if your attorney is talking to the judge about their golf game last month, etc and etc.
posted by dancestoblue at 4:40 PM on September 22, 2008 [1 favorite]

troy: geez a 3 point turn in a business district is more dangerous than a straight "U"ie. The whole point of the law is to prevent people from swooping into available parking spaces like that.

I don't know if you read the comment correctly ("I crossed all wheels off the road onto the driveway") but if you're correct, then it's either illegal to pull into a driveway or illegal to pull out of a driveway. In which case: if I lived in California, I'd hope to god I didn't have a driveway, because there'd be no legal way to use it.
posted by koeselitz at 8:17 PM on September 22, 2008 [1 favorite]

So you have a case that's in your favor. Did you write a brief for the judge explaining why that case meant he should throw out the ticket? Or did you expect him to know People v. McGuire off the top of his head and figure it out right then and there?

You think you had an argument that the government's witness couldn't see what he claimed he saw. Did you consider that making the argument "What I did was legal, and anyway, you didn't really see me do it" is, while not contradictory, also not very persuasive?

You tried to embarrass the cop on the stand by getting him on a legally irrelevant error (Audi vs Acura). Did you think that was the most productive use of the court's time? You say he wrote the "wrong vehicle code on the ticket." Did his doing so in any way leave you confused about what you were charged with? Or was this, too, designed just to embarrass?

You objected to an officer reading his own notes. Did you do this because you thought he was using the notes to lie, or because you truly felt this was unfair for some reason, or did you make this objection just because a book told you to? Again, did you research and brief this issue to make sure you were correct?

It sounds like you encountered a common species in American courtrooms: a judge with little patience. That's regrettable. He probably could have been more polite. But do listen to that tape; you might find some faults in yourself as well.
posted by profwhat at 8:40 PM on September 22, 2008 [1 favorite]

allkindsoftime very adequately demonstrates my point. The argument is that since he used technicalities, and it worked, then it must be the best course of action.

Listen, even a blind squirrel finds a nut occasionally.

One of the things experienced lawyers know how to do is make arguments that are convincing to other lawyers and judges. Take, for example, the whole "you couldn't see me" argument.

It's a good one, really, but if made poorly it winds up making you sound more guilty than you did before. There are going to be ways to draw that out without resorting to saying something like "You couldn't see me do the thing you said that I did but didn't actually do because you were around that corner when I didn't do it!"

Of course, even that argument is going to fall on deaf ears in traffic court most of the time if your first and primary argument isn't "I did not do what I have been accused of doing."

Further, give up on the notion that you can convince the judge that the officer did something heinous. The real thing you're trying to convince the judge of in traffic court is that the officer made an honest mistake. That should be the aim because a) it will be easier for the judge to believe, b) it makes you look far more reasonable, and c) it's probably what actually happened.

Bottom line is that there's a lot more to being a lawyer than showing off some blown-up pictures in court, and if you're really serious about avoiding a guilty verdict (or having it over-turned), you should hire one.

PS: if you had half the chip on your shoulder in court as you seemed to have in your original post, it's pretty obvious what caused the Judge's reaction
posted by toomuchpete at 9:10 PM on September 22, 2008 [1 favorite]

Life is too short for this, man. Have a drink and let it go.

Karma will reward you tomorrow.
posted by nineRED at 5:49 AM on September 23, 2008

While you can cross a double yellow to turn into a drive-way or private road, you really made a 3 point turn. And a 3 point turn is considered a U-turn under the code:

665.5. A "U-turn" is the turning of a vehicle upon a highway so as to proceed in the opposite direction whether accomplished by one continuous movement or not.

And a U-turn is prohibited in a business district:

22102. No person in a business district shall make a U-turn, except at an intersection, or on a divided highway where an opening has been provided in accordance with Section 21651. This turning movement shall be made as close as practicable to the extreme left-hand edge of the lanes moving in the driver's direction of travel immediately prior to the initiation of the turning movement, when more than one lane in the direction of travel is present.

So, yes, you broke the law. And, yes, you wasted the courts time and resources by trying to get your ticket thrown out a technicality. The courts are wildly over crowded with real cases.

Your attempt to circumvent the point by switching states and re-applying will be caught by the DMV.
posted by GIRLesq at 3:24 PM on September 23, 2008 [3 favorites]

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