A small victory

Last year, I received a ticket for not stopping at the limit line.

I was quite annoyed because the officer had parked in a hidden location that meant if you stopped short of the limit line, you couldn't see him. Indeed, that intersection often had police sitting in a non hidden location looking to book anyone for the slightest hint of an error, so I was and always am very cautious to make sure I don't go over the limit line and I always look out for a police vehicle.

After stopping and checking for the police vehicle in the usual location, I accelerated through the crosswalk. At which point I saw the police car in the hidden location and decided to stop again, this time in the crosswalk. Predictably, he got me to stop and ticketed me for stopping in the crosswalk. Indeed, he said that I only stopped because I saw him. The stop took almost an hour and I declined to watch the video with him and said I'd get it later. He pretended (lied) that it wouldn't be possible to watch the video later. He clearly wanted me to watch it with him hoping that I would incriminate myself.

When the notice to appear came through, there were several options:

  1. Pay $237 and receive points on license
  2. Pay $299 for the option to attend traffic school and avoid points. Traffic school costs extra
  3. Contest the case in court or by written declaration

After doing some research and calculations, I figured that the increase in insurance if I took the points would be similar to the cost of the traffic school option. Since the maximum fine was $237, I thought I had nothing to lose if I contested it.

I requested discovery from the police department who refused to give me a copy of the video. I then went to view the video and was not allowed to make my own recording of it.

Since the video showed that the officer could not see my vehicle behind the hedges that obscured my view of him, my defense was that I had stopped and that the officer ticketed me for my second stop which I made when I saw him. Without the official video, I went and made my own to prove this. I also had somebody in the car with me who provided a witness statement to corroborate my account.

Additionally, I used the fact that the police were not willing to give me a copy of the video as a violation of my right to receive a fair trial.

In late January, I went to the court to hand in my written declaration. More trickery ensued. The clerk falsely told me that even if I submitted a trial by written declaration, I would still have to appear in court. She also said that I would lose my right to traffic school. In short, the entire system is for the purposes of raising revenue and they design everything to persuade you to pay up. The notice to appear has virtually no information about the trial by written declaration process while it is very clear on how to pay up. The fine is just low enough to make you think it's not worth using a lawyer or your own time. There is a $300 fine for not responding to the notice and it is not mandatory for the court to send you the notice. And there is a $300 fine for not paying the fine in time if you're found guilty. All designed to get you to err on the side of caution and pay the fine quickly.

The clerk did tell me it would be a month to receive the decision. Lo and behold, 1 month and 2 weeks after I submitted the declaration, I received the decision. A Dismissal! And it was ruled on exactly 1 month after I submitted my declaration.

I am no expert but in my case, the dismissal was probably for one of two reasons. Either because the officer did not respond or the judge found that my right to a fair trial had been violated because I didn't receive the video.

While it took a little effort to resolve this, it saved over $300 and I learnt a lot about the whole topic of traffic tickets both how the police and the courts seem to be using the law for revenue raising purposes and just how to go about beating charges. I was especially surprised to find that speeding tickets are actually the easiest tickets to get out of, even if you were "speeding". It totally explains why there are so many lawyers and services in California that offer no win no fee services for less than $100, especially for speeding tickets.

Oh, and I also have the small satisfaction of winning vs a cop who had nothing better to do than hide at an intersection to trap somebody who was driving safely.

Shouldn't the decision tell you why it was found not guilty?

I had almost the same thing happen.

I used the Freedom of Information Act to get a copy of the video. The video even recorded the cop telling me that there was no video of the traffic stop. The cop had no credibility, after that.

In my case, the stop line was a full 20 feet in front of the stop sign and could not possibly be seen from where the cop was, since it was blocked by a building.

I started a video, from where the cop was sitting, and then walked to the closest spot where you'd be able to see the stop line. It was clear that the cop was at least a hundred feet away from the closest point where she'd be able to see.

The video showed my front bumper raised up in the air as I passed the stop sign, indicating that I'd stopped at the line and was accelerating.

The case was dismissed and the cop was fired, shortly thereafter. I'm told that there were other similar cases.

I actually wasn't found "not guilty". It was "Dismissed".

"Dismissed" has it's own box which was ticked while the "Not Guilty" box was not ticked.

As to why it was dismissed, I believe the minutes of the court should contain that information but with a written declaration there may be nothing apart from the standard form that was processed by the Traffic Officer.

You guys are awesome. I've never been ticketed but I doubt if I was that I'd go through such trouble. Which I suppose is the point of the antics to target people like me.

Your case really sounds like out and out lying so it's good the cop got fired.

In my one, although I stopped out of view of the cop, it could be argued that I was too far behind the line. There was nothing unsafe about it though because there was no visibility issue and I stopped and proceeded when it was completely clear.

The video issue in my case was interesting. I asked again for the video before submitting my declaration and received a reply from the police after I submitted the declaration. They referred to a very obscure federal provision that indicated that they did not need to provide evidence in an ongoing investigation. Due to the timing, I was able to tell the court I had again asked and had not received a reply, which was true at the time of writing.

I had also considered other legal avenues to getting hold of the video but as I wrote my written declaration, I began to realize that the fact that the police were not providing it, helped my case. I could assert both that my rights were being violated and I could also substitute photographs that showed the situation in the best light while not being inaccurate. Indeed, I took a video of the same vehicle driven through the same intersection by my wife, and then grabbed the stills that best represented the points I wanted to make about the police officer's viewpoint.

a customer complained, and I was made responsible.
Upon reviewing the video the boss ran only the portion of the video that showed me at fault
However. since our Law enforcement officers actually owned the video I was able to request to go back a few frames which showed a whole 'nother picture. vindicating me completely .

I've had two other cases, both of which I paid up / pled guilty to.

  1. Red light camera. I was in a different car than normal and misjudged the acceleration available to me when the light turned "trump" (orange), so I did unfortunately actually end up going through the line just after it turned red.

I paid up. I felt I was clearly at fault. At the time, I didn't give any consideration to any ways to get out of it. For example, many have proved that the light timings between orange and red are often not long enough.

  1. Stop sign. I was being followed by an unmarked police car on a stretch of road with lots of intersections. It was actually very off putting because they kept a constant distance behind me at all times, in fact a little too close, and I was wondering who the hell this person was. In fact, I don't think they even came to complete stops at intersections themselves because they always seemed to be on my butt! Distracted, I totally missed seeing the stop sign at a small intersection and went through it.

I pled guilty but the form in that county allowed you to give an explanation. So I explained that this unmarked police car contributed to the violation. At that time I used to be quite busy so scribbled this in 5 minutes and sent it back. I ended up having the fine halved.

On this latest occasion, I have more time available and felt quite aggrieved with the unfairness of it. I've seen the police themselves break many driving rules and there are some real bad drivers on the road out there. It's totally wrong to spend the taxpayer's money hiding out in nicer neighborhoods to raise more money for their pensions.

I'm glad that you were vindicated. Can you share more details?

Can you share more details?

If the charge was dismissed then there was no decision about whether there was an infraction or not.

One is really at a disadvantage trying to contest these matters because, as mentioned above, the system makes it very hard to obtain exculpatory evidence.

In most situations in comes down to whether the judge believes the driver or the police officer and there is not much doubt about how that will turn out.

The system is also very inequitable. If someone is able to hire a lawyer the odds of dismissal go up dramatically.

So poor people end up paying the fine and the higher insurance premium rates for years which could easily amount to more than the cost of the lawyer someone who has more resources could afford.

On the face of it, yes this particular system is inequitable for poorer people.

On the other hand, in California, it's very easy to get a driving license. So people who get fined for not driving in a safe manner saved time and money when it came to learning to drive and taking their test. I believe there are programs to help lower income people get lower cost insurance and there are also programs to get assistance for vehicle repairs if you fail a smog test. Then many here choose to get insurance that covers them for other drivers who are uninsured or under insured. Unconnected with driving, there are many other boosters for income and to help with all sorts of costs of living.

There's also an ticket amnesty program right now for people who have unpaid fines and lost their licenses. The fines will be reduced on an income basis, sometimes significantly. I presume that many people just continued driving without licenses and insurance.

I am conflicted on the issue of fines.

When properly applied the fines are intended to discourage behavior that could result in injury or death to an innocent party. It is hard to see why any citizen should be treated differently for failing to do that. Of course, fines by their nature are very regressive so the actual "punishment" is certainly unequal.

More broadly across the country, there is a growing recognition that all courts fees and fines are inherently "unfair" and disproportionately affect those with lower incomes.

Nobody seems to have a good way of balancing "deterrence" with "fairness."

Do you think your own dash cam would have been beneficial? Those seem to be getting more popular.

The question really is whether it would even be considered as evidence that has any probative value.

In the first place, it would be very difficult to prove that whatever it showed actually related to the exact time and date at which the alleged infraction occurred since there is no proven chain of custody.

A judge would probably not see any images from such a device as more convincing than the testimony of a police officer.

I've thought of the idea of a dashcam several times. But the prime reason had always been for protection against other motorists.

However, it could be useful for a police encounter, especially if it has a forward and rearward camera and a microphone. In my case, any rear camera would have captured the officer stopping the vehicle right after the alleged violation. An uninterrupted video capturing the alleged violation and the stop would be hard to fake and therefore more believable in a court than an officer's testimony.

Additionally, some cameras can be adjusted so could be pointed into the cabin to capture the conversation with the officer. At the very least, recording the conversation with the officer would stop them trying to play little tricks as was attempted with me. The officer wanted me to view the video and "confess" so stated that if I didn't watch the video with him in the vehicle I wouldn't be able to watch it later.

The officer cannot force a motorist to review the video or turn it over without a warrant or the driver stupidly acquiescing to the officers request.

"On the face of it, yes this particular system is inequitable for poorer people."

Here is an interesting case in this area in US District Court.

Damian Stinnie owes fees, fines, and costs to Virginia's courts. He cannot pay them, so Virginia law requires that his driver's license be suspended until he pays. But the suspension makes it difficult to get and keep a job. In other words, because he cannot pay the fees, his license is suspended, but because his license is suspended, he cannot pay the fees. Caught in this cycle, Stinnie and others have sued the Commissioner of Virginia's Department of Motor Vehicles ("DMV"). Caught in this cycle, Stinnie and others have sued the Commissioner of Virginia's Department of Motor Vehicles ("DMV"). They argue that the Commissioner suspended their licenses and that those suspensions violated their federal constitutional rights to due process and equal protection.

The judge dismissed the case for lack of jurisdiction.

I agree suspending the license is unjust. Licenses should only be suspended if you're a dangerous driver.

If collecting the fine is deemed important, then there are other methods to collect the money. Taking away somebody's livelihood is less likely to result in collecting the money, so what service have the law makers of that state actually provided their citizens?

On the subject of dashcams, THIS ONE is free and works rather well.

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