Is a note from my parents OK?
August 15, 2007 1:59 PM   Subscribe

Is the written statement of an absent witness admissible in traffic court?

I'm going to trial tomorrow to fight a speeding ticket in California, vehicle code 22349(a). The CHP officer claimed that she estimated my speed at 80+mph and confirmed this with radar at 86mph. I was driving with my parents and had the cruise control set near the 65mph speed limit.

Neither parent can make it to the trial tomorrow. How likely is it that a judge would consider their written statements? If a prosecutor is present, wouldn't they just object as they can't cross-examine a statement? If admissable, is there any sort of language that should really be in the statement, like the time, place, "this statement is true and correct to the best of my knowledge, and contains everything I can recall about this incident," etc.?
posted by chudder to Law & Government (10 answers total)
 
I don't know California law, but it probably depends a lot on the judge. At least get the statements notarized and include good reasons for non-appearance.
posted by exogenous at 2:04 PM on August 15, 2007


Alternately, though it may be too late, you can try moving for a continuation to a time when the witnesses are available.
posted by exogenous at 2:06 PM on August 15, 2007


Can you also prove that your speedometer is accurate?
posted by BrotherCaine at 2:24 PM on August 15, 2007


How likely is it that a judge would consider their written statements?

Consider them? Very likely, but they should be notarized.
Consider them AND rule in your favor? Different question, of course.

If a prosecutor is present

A prosecutor will not be present. It'll be you, the judge and the cop. Whether the judge allows the statement into evidence is up to him/her.

If admissable, is there any sort of language that should really be in the statement, like the time, place, "this statement is true and correct to the best of my knowledge, and contains everything I can recall about this incident," etc.?

It should be as detailed and excruciatingly specific as possible. "I was traveling in car with license plate number XXXXXX with persons XXX and XXX on date X at time Y. During this journey, I observed the driver XXX utilize the cruise control in Y manner ... at no time did I observe the speed limit to exceed XXX..."

Also, check out TicketAssassin.com for more tips.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 2:39 PM on August 15, 2007


I was driving with my parents and had the cruise control set near the 65mph speed limit.

By the way, qualifying language like "near the speed limit" won't cut it. You must say you were going X speed with the cruise control, and that X speed was both below the posted speed limit AND reasonably safe, in your judgment, given the inherent conditions of the road at the time in question.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 2:42 PM on August 15, 2007


While I did not get the speedometer checked at a mechanic, we drove through one of those "speedometer check" sections of the highway soon after being pulled over. It took us one minute to travel each mile with the cruise control set to 60mph.

My parents are a high school principal and high school assistant principal, and tomorrow is the first day of school. It would be very inconvenient for them to make themselves available.

Requests to change trial date or plea must, apparently, be made by 10am two days prior to trial date.
posted by chudder at 2:44 PM on August 15, 2007


Maybe you could record a video of them describing everything they remember, and that their information is correct as far as they know. It might carry more weight than a written statement.
posted by tehloki at 3:06 PM on August 15, 2007


Q: How likely is it that a judge would consider their written statements?

A: Consider them? Very likely, but they should be notarized.


Actually, I think it's very UNLIKELY that the judge would consider their statements. A sworn statement, or affidavit, is not any more admissible than an unsworn statement. The problem with out-of-court statements, sworn or unsworn, is that they are hearsay; the adverse party is unable to cross-examine the declarant (i.e., the person who made the out-of-court statement).

People often have the misconception that a notarized affidavit is a way around the hearsay prohibition. It's not. If the court is following traditional rules of evidence, including the prohibition on hearsay, a notarized/sworn statement would be no more admissible than an unsworn statement. "Magic words" like, "this statement is true to the best of my knowledge," do not make a hearsay statement admissible.

In my experience, rules of evidence apply just as strictly in traffic court as they do in any other court.

(Affidavits are only used in court in fairly narrow circumstances not present in your case; for example, in civil cases where one party is seeking dismissal of a case by claiming that the adverse party can produce no evidence of the claims made in a complaint, affidavits can be produced to demonstrate to the court that there is at least some evidence of the claims. But ultimately, for the party to prevail, that witness will have to be available to be cross-examined.)
posted by jayder at 3:48 PM on August 15, 2007 [1 favorite]


these written statements are problematic in terms of the rules of evidence. in a criminal or civil court, they would never be admissible. i also agree that usually in traffic court, they are not admissible either.

however, in my experience, sometimes judges in small claims and traffic court cab belooser with the rules of evidence. they realize that the people in front of them do have legal training or expertise. judges, in this situation, often hear people out, simply to access the persons credibility. the more they let you talk, the more they get a sense if you are lying, or if you do really seem honest and sincere.

it can't hurt your cause to bring them the statements with you. tell the judge what you have. some judges might shut you down, tell you it is not admissible. but, more than a few will let you talk, to get a sense of your credibility. explain to the judge why your parents are not there. bring documentation showing they are int he administration of a school. bring the school calendars, no doubt that lists your parents and shows the first day of school.

the letters might get completely shut-down, you won't be able to talk about them at all - and you should be prepared for that. what do you say then?

but, there is also a chance the judge will let you speak, especially if you are being polite.
posted by Flood at 5:36 PM on August 15, 2007


Thanks for the answers, folks. The trooper didn't show up and my case was dismissed. Yay.
posted by chudder at 3:49 PM on August 16, 2007 [1 favorite]


« Older Maes in the UK?   |   Help me find a durable personal radio? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.