Allegedly Speeding...
March 15, 2006 4:31 PM   Subscribe

AllegedSpeedingFilter: What should I expect at my criminal speeding trial?

In November, I was pulled over by two Arizona DPS officers on the US 60, travelling westbound at the Dobson offramp.

They wrote me a ticket for "criminal speed," paced, with a speed of "90+," (in a 65) though the officer claimed my driving hit 98 MPH. (He was "cutting me a break," and was actually a nice guy in general.)

He stated that he paced me from a quarter of a mile back, at 11:30pm, and couldn't catch me, so he radioed ahead for another DPS officer (travelling eastbound) to spin around and pull me over.

There were other vehicles on the road, including several others travelling at a high rate of speed.

I plead not guilty, and the judge offered me traffic school, which would have taken away this incident entirely. I, however, attended traffic school for another ticket within the 24-month allowed period, and was not eligible to attend. So I was scheduled for a pre-trial conference.

At the pre-trial conference, the prosecutor informed me that I was over the limit for dropping it to a civil citation, but that he could offer me a charge at the Class 3 Misdemeanor of criminal speed and a fine of $150 if I plead out right there.

I chose to go to trial.

My questions are: (and yes, I've read the other speeding threads; none I've found were for a criminal proceeding)

1) Am I stupid for not just taking the plea? The lawyer I spoke to said I'd likely lose, if the officer was there.

2) Does the prosecutor have to inform me he intends to call both officers as witnesses?

3) Is there any reasonable argument to be made about the officer having lost a visual on me from his first (far back) "pacing" of me to when he and the other officer caught up to me, at a lower (but still allegedly in violation) rate of speed?

4) What can I expect from the trial? I'm not willing to toss $850-$1,000 towards a lawyer for a half hour trial, so I'll likely be going it alone. I know to dress nicely, and the prosecutor tells me they'll likely present the car's calibration records for the speedometer and that sort of thing.

5) Will the judge ask any questions on my behalf, or is it up to me to defend myself entirely?

I'm just not too fond of the idea of racking up a class 3 misdemeanor, for insurance and because it's a criminal record, but right now, the $150 is looking decent. (They're not seeking jail time, so I'm not entitled to a defense provided by the state. The prosecutor said the judge would likely follow the bond schedule and fine me around $220, though the maximum is $500.)

6) Any chance I'll scrape by this? Or am I better off taking the plea?

Thanks for all your help. Yes, I know speeding is wrong. Remember, I maintain I was not going as fast as they say I was. I'd also love to hear what a criminal speeding violation will do to someone's job opportunities or rent, though I imagine it's going to look better than "child pornographer" or some such.
posted by disillusioned to Law & Government (16 answers total)
It's not that the officer will lie outright, per se, but in traffic cases -- in my limited experience -- it is very "he said vs she said." You can get cute and ask for radar inspection records and try to find a technicality but if the officer says that you were going "x" speed and its physically possible for your car to go "x" speed. Your lawyer is an actual traffic lawyer right? Not just a friend? If it's a traffic lawyer do what he says, if there's anyway out he'll let you know.

I'm fairly certain they just estimated a speed, I had a cop do the exact same thing to me once (friend was sick, trying to get home -- 52 in a 35). I'm fairly certain my car at the time could not go from 0-52 in the distance and at the red light I was at -- I also had a radar detector that did not go off. I mean the guy was nice but I was speeding, albeit not at that speed, so there wasn't much I could do but pay the fine and have it turned into an exotic parking ticket.

You say there were other vehicles travelling at a high rate of speed, were you racing? I've never seen multiple cars going ~90MPH on a highway around or near an urban center. If you have a Buick it'd look entirely different story than a Subaru with a spoiler. Either way if your lawyer isn't optimistic it looks like you will have to eat this one up.
posted by geoff. at 4:41 PM on March 15, 2006

Well, if you're actually guilty, then I would suggest taking the plea. I mean, why do you expect you'll win?

Are you going to argue that you were not speeding, and they got the wrong car by mistake?
posted by delmoi at 4:43 PM on March 15, 2006

5) Will the judge ask any questions on my behalf, or is it up to me to defend myself entirely?

No, you'll have to get up there and speak for yourself on the stand. I've defended myself against various speeding tickets and one public intox. I beat the public intox ticket, but never any of the traffic ones.

The only way you can really win is to find some legal technicality, or prove that your car couldn't go that fast, or if the cop doesn't show up.
posted by delmoi at 4:49 PM on March 15, 2006

Oy vey.

IANAL, but are wasting everyone's time by dragging this dead bang loser to a trial. And you are probably going to be penalized when you lose the case for wasting everyone's time.

I don't think you have many options. Are there lots of "points" involved? Call the DA, try to get a break on the points on your license and then TAKE THE DEAL!!! The fine is the least of your problems. Just pay it.

And maybe you should slow down?
posted by bim at 4:54 PM on March 15, 2006

First: if they were pacing you, then you can't win on a "calibration" defense -- that's where you insist on seeing the certification that proves the speed-measuring device has been regularly (and recently) calibrated. For radar guns, there's a chance this'll work, but police department speedometers are calibrated and sealed, and so you'll likely lose.

Second: if the police officer does not show up (this does happen often), you're off the hook.

Third: "Remember, I maintain I was not going as fast as they say I was" is different from "Remember, I was not going as fast as they say I was" -- so I assume you're guilty, and want to fight it only to get out of the ticket or because you don't think it's fair you got ticketed while others going the same speed did not. If that's the case, if I were you, I would have just paid the $150 and walked away. After all, if you speed, you should know what you're risking, and be willing to take the consequences.

Fourth: in the future, pay attention to the speed you're going, and from the first moment you're addressed by the officer ("do you know how fast you're going?") answer all speed-related questions with something other than "I don't know" or "I wasn't paying attention" -- that's license for them to write any speed they want. Instead, state your approximate speed with confidence ("I was going between x and y, I had checked just before I saw you on the side of the road") and if they're faking it, they'll likely let it drop. This won't work if you were guilty as heck, of course.

And an aside to geoff: in Los Angeles, cars go 80-90mph all day long on the freeways without racing, so it really depends on where you drive.
posted by davejay at 5:02 PM on March 15, 2006

I was about to come back and say that calibration defense wouldn't work if he didn't use the gun as you say. I didn't know they went that fast out west, of course here the cops ticket at around 7-10MPH over and they do so fairly regularly.
posted by geoff. at 5:09 PM on March 15, 2006

In some jurisdictions, the officers are required to be certified every so often with metering (pacing) techniques. Might want to look into that for your area. An attorney is really key - can't find one through a friend? They will usually file for a delay(s), which seems to make it more likely that the newly scheduled date will not fall on one of the officer's scheduled court dates. The officer doesn't show up, and you're off the hook.
posted by syzygy at 5:14 PM on March 15, 2006

A professor in college enjoyed regaling us with stories about the 12 or so tickets he beat over a couple decades (and this happened to be in AZ too). Your story reminded me of one of his stories in which he crossed county lines. The officer that clocked him speeding pulled him over, but couldn't issue a ticket as they had crossed into another jurisdiction, so the officer called in and had a local officer come issue the ticket. Well, once in court, only the ticket-issuing officer shows up and my professor protests that he has a right to face his accuser and that the officer in court didn't actually see anything occur, but was only informed of the act. The judge threw the case out immediately. Perhaps you might get lucky if only the ticket-issuing officer in your situation shows up in court and didn't actually witness your speeding violation.
posted by mullacc at 5:36 PM on March 15, 2006

And 90 mph on the 60 at 11:30pm is flow-of-traffic speed in my experience.

Not that you should use it as your defense, but just sayin'.
posted by mullacc at 5:40 PM on March 15, 2006

I'd also love to hear what a criminal speeding violation will do to someone's job opportunities or rent, though I imagine it's going to look better than "child pornographer" or some such.

I seem to remember that most (though not, I think, all) of the job and credit applications I've filled out in the last few years specifically ask about criminal convictions "other than traffic violations" (or misdemeanor traffic violations). FWIW.
posted by IshmaelGraves at 8:50 PM on March 15, 2006

And 90 mph on the 60 at 11:30pm is flow-of-traffic speed in my experience.

Not that you should use it as your defense, but just sayin'.

I did just that once. Got pulled over going over 90 by a cop who made the mistake of saying "I was pacing that BMW at 85 and you blew past him", thereby establishing that he didn't actually know how fast I was going. I said "Well I'm not sure exactly how fast I was going either officer but I was just keeping up with the flow of traffic".

He had to let me off. Sweet, sweet victory.
posted by fshgrl at 9:24 PM on March 15, 2006

What can I expect from the trial? I'm not willing to toss $850-$1,000 towards a lawyer for a half hour trial, so I'll likely be going it alone.

You can expect to be found guilty. You won't know what's going on or when it's appropriate to say what; the prosecutor will take advantage of it, the judge won't care, and it'll be over in just a couple of minutes.

If you want a chance to be found innocent, you can pay for a lawyer. This will get the judge's attention, and your lawyer will speak to the judge on your behalf.

The direct monetary cost to you of being convicted of a misdemeanor will likely exceed the cost of the lawyer in very short order - a year or two - and you will have to explain it on job applications, loan applications, insurance applications, etc., for the rest of your life.
posted by ikkyu2 at 11:59 PM on March 15, 2006

ikkyu2 beat me to it. Pay for the lawyer, but make sure it's one of those "if I don't win, there's no charge" traffic lawyers (extremely common in Ontario, not sure about Arizona). It would suck if you shelled out a grand and then still lost.
posted by antifuse at 2:17 AM on March 16, 2006

The order of the proceedings is going to be weird, even if you watch a lot of Law and Order on TV. Often in traffic court, there is no opening statement, so they will launch directly into the trial.

First, the state presents its case. They will call their only witness, the cop(s). You had two, so maybe if only 1 shows up, that will help your case (i.e., if only the one who arrested you and not the one who clocked you showed up, that might get you off as suggested above). They will question that witness with a long litany of stock questions. The DA will be board they are so routine.

Then it will be your turn to question the officer. Often (okay, only went to court a couple of times, but it's a glaring pattern), I've seen people defending themselves not be ready to question the officer. Instead, they want to present testimony ("I was.." "I did..."). The judge will stop you if you do it. Instead, ask questions.

Ask about the training on the radar gun -- when was the last time he or she was trained? How new is the gun? What model is it? (some of this might have already been asked).

Ask him specifically what cars were in front of you or just behind you. Ask him if it was dark. Then ask again about the cars preceding yours and following yours. He won't remember.

Then have the officer explain the radar gun setup and how far (approx) he was from the stream of cars. Then draw a triangle of his radar beam and talk about how if he were 1000 feet away, that if the beam of the radar was off by 1 degree, it would be off by x feet. This could be up or down, left or right. So the officer definitely might have gotten his reading from the car in front of you. Or the car behind. Especially if you drive a small sedan, and there were SUVs behind or beside you.

Be nice and polite to the officer. Be nice to the DA. Everybody's just doing their jobs. They are not out to screw you (they gave you the chance to walk at $150 for 30 over).

Then it will be your turn to present your evidence. This is where you do a direct examination of yourself (you tell your side of the story). This is basically sound and fury signifying nothing, because nothing you're going to testify to is unknown. The only woman who got off the day I was in court testified that she was checking her speed constantly and it did not go above 45 (probably a lie). But the judge said "case dismissed," so...

Then it will be the DA's turn to cross examine you. YOU WILL GET THE FOLLOWING QUESTION: "Do you know the moment that the invisible beam of the radar touched the windshield of your car?" This is a big part of the state's case. You can't know when it was that the officer gunned you, so you can't have testified that at that exact moment, you knew your speed (and even if you think you knew it, you haven't had *your* speedo calibrated, so how can you know, so we have to trust the officer). Just answer whatever.

Then it will be up to the judge to decide if your plausibly in the clear because the gun could have recorded the speed of the wrong car.

It's very likely you'll lose. But you may have a last ditch chance to settle the case if you show up on the morning of your trial and ask the DA if you can get the same deal.
posted by zpousman at 8:04 AM on March 16, 2006

zpousman: while that is all decent advice, you missed the primary aspect of disillusioned's question, that there was no radar involved. He was paced by the police officer.
posted by antifuse at 8:42 AM on March 16, 2006

One of the first things you might want to do is file for a delay. Then ask for all pertinent records including the arresting officer's traffic arrest records, maintenance logs for the police car, etc.
The whole point is to delay the proceedings as much as possible. All the municipality wants is its money. They don't give a piss about points on your license or anything else. And delaying things and making them produce paperwork costs them money. In the end, they might settle for a lesser charge...perhaps even a non-traffic violation (thus, one that does not appear on your insurance record)
In the end, unless the cop was screaming drunk (or whatever) when he stopped you, you are going to end up paying something.
posted by Thorzdad at 10:28 AM on March 16, 2006

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