Fight the system!
February 13, 2008 9:53 PM   Subscribe

Help me fight a traffic ticket. :(

I got stopped by the cops today and received one 'speeding' and one 'disregarding a stop sign' ticket. Both of them are BS and I intend on fighting them in court. So I have two questions.

1. Is it possible for me to find out what evidence is going to be used against me? I am asking this because I don't know if they have any evidence of me speeding, because I wasn't. They didn't even bring that up when they were talking to me. Mainly they talked to me about the stop sign, so I was very surprised to see that they added that as a civil infraction too. The ticket says: Violation of basic speed. Too fast. [too furious?!] :)

2. I say they because there were two cops - one car, and they both came out when I was pulled over. The other one stood at the passenger window. I wanted to know if both of them need to show up in court for the hearing, or just one of them.

By the way, this happened in Michigan, if that helps.
posted by GrooveStix to Law & Government (24 answers total)
1. Ask the cop in court (if he shows). Put the cop on the spot.

2. Just one (at least in Chicago). Michigan laws may vary.

I fought a similar ticket in Chicago traffic court and nailed the cop to the wall. He told me "don't worry, I won't be in court and the judge will dismiss it." Low and behold, there he was. When I walked to the bench with him and the judge, I flat out asked the cop how he thought I made an illegal left hand turn. It was a serious, pointed question because I really didn't know. The cop stammered because he really didn't know it was me (it was another white car in front of me that made the turn). The cop dismissed it on the spot.

You will have to come with something other than "both of them are BS" to defend yourself. From what I gather, all you you have is your word against the cops. If you don't have anything else, put the burden of proof on him in front of the judge. Be matter of fact about it and not antagonistic. It worked for me.
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 10:11 PM on February 13, 2008

If the cop (or two in this case) witnessed you running a stop sign, that is all the evidence the court needs. As for speeding, the cop will clearly state something like: I pulled GrooveStix over for doing xx miles over the limit in a xx zone. My radar gun was last calibrated on this date. Here is the proof. Judge will say, would you like to look at it? Then, cop will also present the speed survey for the section of street you were cited in. A speed survey is something every city has to do for any location with a posted speed limit. Basically, they have to survey the average speed of a certain number of cars and round up to the nearest 5. If they have not done a survey in the past 5 years, that would be a reason for dismissal. But this is rarely the case. You can go to city hall now and ask for a copy (just provide the location, e.g. North on 5th steet past 18th Ave).

For #2, the office that wrote the ticket will be the one to show up.

I can tell you now that nothing will come of this. Stop sign violations carry a pretty heavy fine so your best course of action will just be apologetic and ask the judge to lower the ticket and give you the option for traffic school.

disclaimer: all my info comes from California. IANAL.
posted by special-k at 10:19 PM on February 13, 2008

PS: Last time I ran a stop sign by accident (at 15 mph according to the cop), I paid a $450 ticket and my insurance went up by $700 for two years.
posted by special-k at 10:29 PM on February 13, 2008

Response by poster: special-k
I didn't write in details about the situation because I was interested only in those 2 questions. Now that you said that, I might post a longer explanation of what exactly happened to clarify myself. Thanks for your answer, of course. :)
posted by GrooveStix at 10:31 PM on February 13, 2008

Response by poster: Also, people seem to be misinterpreting my first question. I was wondering if I can see the evidence before I get in court.
posted by GrooveStix at 10:36 PM on February 13, 2008

You have to file a motion for disclosure with the court before the trial. From what I understand, the exact procedures and wording will vary based on where you are, but you will have to specify the documents you want (i.e. I don't think "gimme all yer evidence" is going to suffice). There are lots of resources online that tell you how to do this, but I cannot vouch for their reliability.
posted by Krrrlson at 11:05 PM on February 13, 2008

You can pretty much ignore all the advice which is not Michigan-specific, different states handle traffic tickets differently. For instance in Massachusetts the initial hearing is conducted by a magistrate, the police's side for all cases held during that session is handled by a single police representative who just presents the evidence as written on the ticket. But that doesn't apply to you, I mention it only to illustrate my point that different places do it differently.

A little googling shows that in Michigan you first have an informal hearing before a magistrate, where you present your case. The police officer does need to show up, and if he doesn't the case will be dismissed. If he does presumably you then will find out the details of the evidence against you. If you are found guilty you can then file for a formal hearing before a judge, where you can have a lawyer represent you if you wish.

My source for the above is How to fight that Michigan Speeding Ticket. Hopefully though someone here with specific Michigan experience will speak up with more details, for example whether the stop sign infraction changes anything. Good luck!
posted by aguy at 11:58 PM on February 13, 2008

If the speeding ticket was by radar, ask for calibration and maintainence records. If the speed was judged by estimation, there are plenty of resources out there on what to contest regarding the subjectivity of these guesses. As far as the stop sign goes, there isn't much you can do besides claim you stopped. Perhaps admit that it was a rolling stop, and beg for a reduced fine.
posted by sophist at 1:36 AM on February 14, 2008

you were speeding if you didn't stop at a stop sign. i have seen cops do this before. the speed limit at the stop sign is 0 mph. if you didn't stop you were speeding. i offer this NOT as a lawyer but as someone with experience as a passenger in a car at such an event.
posted by MeetMegan at 2:51 AM on February 14, 2008

Did you simply ignore the stop sign? Or was it obstructed by trees or whatnot? If the latter, go back to the area and take pictures of the sign and obstructions.

On the few speeding tickets I've gotten over the years, there was always some indicator that the speed violation was determined by radar...a checkbox or something. Is there nothing on the ticket to indicate radar use?

In any case, all the municipality really wants is the revenue and the system is stacked against you avoiding having to pay a fine. So, it really comes down to avoiding the hit on your driving record and insurance payments.

If, at the first hearing, you are found guilty (and you will be, as long as the officer shows up), ask for the formal hearing. Then get with the prosecutor and inquire about pleading to a lesser, non-moving violation (public nuisance, etc) and pay that fine. It may actually be a little more than the traffic fine, but your license and insurance will not be touched.
posted by Thorzdad at 4:44 AM on February 14, 2008

I hope you have the officer's number and/or name or have a good memory of what they looked like. It must be on your ticket.

On the day of your appearance in court, arrive early and see if they are present. This will simply eliminate your first option — will they appear.
Next time, don't even ask — they may just be padding their 'quota' of tickets, who knows.

Do fight it and since I'm not in Michigan, I can't give any highway traffic regulation etc advice, but when it's your turn to question the officers, ask if he wrote the ticket and was he there at the location, time and day.

I've seen police send their buddies in to 'testify' and upon questioning, turns out they didn't even write the ticket, therefore witnessed no traffic violation. Dismissed./

1.] Ask, what evidence they have of your speed at all and what exactly was it. Guessing may not cut it in a court, not in Ontario.
2.] Ask, From which distance did they observe your 'speed' — in Ontario, there has to be a certain distance to gauge one's speed.
3.] Ask, Did they witness you drive through the stop sign without stopping at all¿
4.] Ask, how heavy was the traffic at that intersection.
5.] Ask, If they observed the car in front of you and what distance was your car away from it...

If you slowed down and rolled through the stop, you may say your foot slipped off the brake as you were stopping, [you spilt some coffee on yourself, for instance, soaking your foot pedals] which slowed you down, but you were already in the intersection and because the way was clear, you proceeded through.

While questioning the officer's, pose questions which raises doubt to what actually did occur. Their story vs yours.

As Calvin [and Hobbes] stated, they lie, I lie.
Bottom line is you want no fine, no record of traffic violation [think of the insurance and demerit points].
Best of luck.
posted by alicesshoe at 5:35 AM on February 14, 2008 [1 favorite]

Consider researching traffic ticket attorneys - calling a handful of numbers may suffice. Lawyers with ticket boutique practices often have very reasonable rates - and they'll likely do all this stuff pro forma. Sure, there are some bad lawyers and some expensive ones, but they have an ethical duty to know more than an internet thread.
posted by GPF at 6:40 AM on February 14, 2008

Whoa, alicesshoe... back up!

If you slowed down and rolled through the stop, you may say your foot slipped off the brake as you were stopping, [you spilt some coffee on yourself, for instance, soaking your foot pedals] which slowed you down, but you were already in the intersection and because the way was clear, you proceeded through.

Admission of guilt right there. You are admitting not only that you did not stop at the stop sign, but also that you were not in control of your vehicle. (And anything like "I spilled some coffee and it made me unable to stop" is just beging for the judge to slap you with the max.)

As Calvin [and Hobbes] stated, they lie, I lie.

Yeah, and if you somehow get caught on that one, a traffic ticket will be the least of your worries.

Think your case over. Oftentimes, even though you may not have done anything wrong, you're not gonna win the case. It sucks, but that's the way it is. If you've got something boilerplate to defend yourself with, then you fight the ticket. (What this means is that you can legitimately provide to the judge reasonable doubt on the cop's case.) Otherwise, you need to try to play thins one nice with the judge.
posted by azpenguin at 6:51 AM on February 14, 2008

Response by poster: Alright, here's the thing about the STOP sign. The night before we had a terrible snow storm that resulted in several inches of snow. So I was driving slightly uphill (on a road that was clean and dry) and the STOP comes comes unexpectedly right after a small downhill patch of road. This is in a residential area and no I wasn't speeding, since I know there's always police around there. Okay, so since the sign came so unexpectedly I hit my brakes but there was snow on the ground right there, because the intersection was in the shade. So instead of me stopping, it seemed like I rolled through it. If I waited to stop I would've stopped in the middle of the intersection, or spin my car around. So in my mind, I was trying to leave the intersection ASAP so I wouldn't pose danger to anybody or myself.

The thing is, there were no cars at the intersection. So I guess I overreacted about it.
I am gonna take a picture of the road today.
posted by GrooveStix at 7:04 AM on February 14, 2008

After you explained it.... sorry you are guilty.
posted by thilmony at 7:15 AM on February 14, 2008 [3 favorites]

I think that explanation is unlikely to convince anyone. It may just make the judge mad. Also, by using it you are admitting that you were traveling too fast to be able to stop at the sign safely. In my opinion, this means you were not traveling at "a careful and prudent speed" and were therefore speeding, regardless of whether you exceeded a posted prima facie speed limit.
posted by grouse at 7:52 AM on February 14, 2008

To follow up on grouse, it seems that Michigan is one of the states that has a written basic speed law, which is what was written on your ticket:
Any person driving a vehicle on a highway shall drive the same at a careful and prudent speed not greater than nor less than is reasonable and proper, having due regard to the traffic, surface and width of the highway and of any other conditions than existing, and no person shall drive any vehicle upon a highway at a speed greater than will permit him to bring it to a stop within the assured clear distance ahead.
(from.) So it doesn't matter if you were breaking the posted speed limit, the cop can still write you a ticket for speeding. To get *that* thrown out, you'll have to convince the judge that you weren't going faster than a "careful and prudent speed" based on the conditions. But, one might still be able to get one of the violations thrown out.
posted by skynxnex at 7:59 AM on February 14, 2008

Yeah, it's going to be hard to persuade a judge that you were traveling at a safe speed if it was too fast to stop for the stop sign.
posted by craven_morhead at 9:04 AM on February 14, 2008

Response by poster: skynxnex
That's exactly why I believe I got that speeding ticket. Not because I was literally speeding, but because I didn't manage to stop entirely at the sign (because of snow/ice).
posted by GrooveStix at 9:37 AM on February 14, 2008

Okay, so since the sign came so unexpectedly I hit my brakes but there was snow on the ground right there, because the intersection was in the shade. So instead of me stopping, it seemed like I rolled through it. If I waited to stop I would've stopped in the middle of the intersection, or spin my car around. So in my mind, I was trying to leave the intersection ASAP so I wouldn't pose danger to anybody or myself.

So, you were going too fast in snowy and icy conditions to stop at a stop sign, and you rolled through the stop sign? You were "literally speeding" and you didn't come to a complete stop at the stop sign. It sounds to me like you are guilty, and even if you're not I'm not sure that you're going to be able to get a not guilty or otherwise avoid it. If there are no good traffic school or other diversionary options and you are concerned about the cost of the tickets or the effect on your insurance, hire a local lawyer who handles this kind of stuff.
posted by iknowizbirfmark at 9:56 AM on February 14, 2008 [1 favorite]

Yeah, I'm going to guess the chances of you "beating" this ticket are zero, with that explanation. Either hire a traffic attorney if this ticket is expected to affect you drastically in insurance costs, or make you lost your license. Otherwise, try to explain your side of the story to the judge (preferably without incriminating yourself), and hope for a reduced charge.
posted by Krrrlson at 10:05 AM on February 14, 2008

Response by poster: Aside of a fix-it ticket, my record is completely clean.
Also, iknowizbirfmark & Krrrlson.
The weather was actually sunny yesterday, and the snow was mostly melted/cleaned. That's what I am saying, only a tiny patch of road at the intersection had snow because it was in the shade from the surrounding trees.
posted by GrooveStix at 10:16 AM on February 14, 2008

GrooveStix, in most places the fact that the weather was sunny and there was a patch of ice that caused you to go through the stop sign would not be a defense. Traffic offenses are generally what are called "strict liability" defenses; the only defense is to argue that you did not do that thing or that they can't prove that you did that thing. A defense that says "yes, I did that thing but it wasn't my fault and this is the reason" is not generally going to be effective. Sure, in some places they will let you plead down on some speedometer fix-it sort of thing, but generally it doesn't matter if it was your "fault" or not that you ran the stop sign.

The reason for strict liability in this case is that it doesn't matter whether it was your "fault" or not when you go through the stop sign and hit some little old lady, so the law is strcutured to incent people to act in ways that those things don't happen, not just act in ways where they are not acting negligently.

And, to be honest, my opinion is that your attitude about this (at least the attitude I get from your posts) kind of sucks and any judge or other hearer of fact you give that explanation to is just going to make it worse for you. Keep in mind that in many cases there is a "trial tax" which means that the penalty will be higher if you fight your ticket all the way through and are still found guilty. What you did is not a big deal, but you might as well own up to it, admit that you are the one responsible, just put this behind you and move on. If you want, get an attorney and fight it. Just don't try that "these tickets are BS" argument, because even if it was sunny, if there was snow somewhere and you were zipping around and couldn't stop when you needed to, in my opinion you deserve those tickets and that is one of the reasons that cops give tickets: to penalize unsafe behaviors.

posted by iknowizbirfmark at 11:13 AM on February 14, 2008 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: iknowizbirfmark
I had the impression that I was right, and that's why I acted the way I did. Now that I think of it, I think I acted the "correct" way because somebody told me that I was wrong and that would now help me tremendously in front of the judge, because I'll adjust my attitude. I've never been in a similar type of situation!

Anyway, I see it's a much more complicated issue than I first though, so I'll see what can I do.
Thanks to everyone who wrote, wish me luck!
posted by GrooveStix at 2:23 PM on February 14, 2008

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