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Fighting a Traffic Ticket: Get the Officer's Notes

One of the most effective ways to fight a traffic ticket is to get a copy of the officer's notes. Most police officers write notes, often on the back of tickets, with details about why you were ticketed and the conditions that warranted the citation. Even if they wrote the notes directly on your ticket, it is still wise to request an official copy of those notes. They can prove invaluable in traffic court hearings for two reasons:

  • If the officer knows their notes are inadequate or anticipates you will contest the ticket, they may simply not show up to traffic court. Usually, an officer's failure to appear results in an automatic dismissal of the citation.
  • By carefully reading the notes, you can get a good idea of how the officer will testify and what defenses will be appropriate. If they add new information that isn't included in their notes, you may be able to question their recollection of those statements. Because of this, they are less likely to deviate from what is in the notes.

The Importance of a Discovery Request

In most states, you have the right to receive a copy of the officer's notes through the discovery process. In this context, "discovery" refers to the exchange of relevant information before a trial.

The discovery process allows you to get more than just the officer's notes. It can also include police procedure manuals and instruction manuals for speed recording devices. Together, these pieces of information can then be used to formulate a defense and question the officer.

Most often, officers can provide evidence to support their claim of your speeding. They can use a calibration certificate, which verifies that the device used to record your speed has been adequately maintained within the necessary time frame and was operating correctly.

Speed recording devices most commonly used to issue speeding tickets include:

  • Radar gun: Because of its range, a radar gun can't be used to target a specific vehicle.
  • Lidar (Light Detection and Ranging): This stationary handheld device uses lasers to measure speed. Because of its range, it can target a specific vehicle.
  • VASCAR (Visual Average Speed Computer and Recorder): VASCAR is more prone to discrepancies because it requires more human input than other speed detection technology. VASCAR is not used in all states.

How To Make the Discovery Request

The discovery request must be a specific, written request. The process for this can vary by location. To find out what you need, contact your jurisdiction's court clerk, and ask for instructions and all required forms for making a discovery request.

You will likely need the officer's name and badge number. You can find this information on the citation.

You will need to send your discovery request via certified mail to the police department that issued the ticket and the local prosecutor (or traffic court). Be sure to follow the instructions provided to you by the court clerk precisely.

What To Do if Your Discovery Request Is Ignored

Few people make discovery requests for traffic violations, so it is not uncommon for discovery requests to be ignored. If this happens to you, send a written request to all parties. The written request should reiterate the requested information and that the discovery requests are crucial to your traffic case.

Check with your local court clerk to find out how long parties have to respond to discovery requests. Typically, if you don't receive a response within three weeks, you will need to go to traffic court.

Again, ask the court clerk for relevant forms and instructions, and file a pretrial motion to convince the parties to honor your discovery requests. If your discovery requests are still ignored by your court date, you can simply ask the judge to dismiss your ticket.

How To Use the Officer's Notes

When examining the officer's notes, here are some significant things to look for:

Specific Detail

If the notes are highly detailed, you may have a more challenging time defending yourself because the officer can look at their notes while testifying. Conversely, thorough details might highlight areas of cross-examination where you can challenge the accuracy of their version of events.

Lack of Detail

If the notes are lacking detail, you can significantly use this to your advantage. It can be highly effective to question the officer about the specifics they failed to record. Your goal is to create reasonable doubt about whether you committed the infraction. The more often an officer has to say, "I don't remember," the better.

You should look for specific details that may not be present, including:

  • The lane in which you were driving
  • The method used to determine that you broke the speed limit
  • Road conditions
  • Nearby vehicles
  • The exact location of the alleged violation

Statements

Law enforcement officers will typically record any statements you make during the traffic stop. This includes any admissions you made at the scene. This is why you should say as little as possible during a traffic stop so as not to incriminate yourself. Note whether any statement is a direct quote or an approximation of what you said.

Diagrams

Officers often record basic diagrams in their notes, outlining an intersection and essential features. This is especially true for red light and stop sign moving violations. If there is no diagram — or a really poor one — you can ask questions about the area that the officer will likely not be able to answer. This can create doubt about the violation.

The more relevant questions you can ask that an officer can't answer, the stronger defense you will have.

Should I Hire a Traffic Ticket Lawyer?

If you plan to contest a traffic citation, you will need a solid defense strategy. An experienced traffic ticket attorney can evaluate the circumstances of your citation and local traffic laws to protect your legal rights. Having a knowledgeable attorney on your side can help get your ticket dismissed. This can prevent a hike in your auto insurance rates, points on your driving record, and even a driver's license suspension.

If you are charged with a misdemeanor or felony traffic violation (like a DUI or reckless driving), you should reach out to a criminal defense attorney. These types of violations are usually tried in criminal court. You will want an experienced lawyer to help protect your rights as a criminal defendant.

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