One of the best ways to go about fighting a traffic ticket is to get a copy of the officer's notes. Most police officers are trained to write notes, often on the back of your ticket, with details about why you were ticketed and what the conditions were when you were ticketed. Even if the officer wrote the notes on the back of your ticket, it is still wise to request an official copy of those notes for at least two reasons:
First, if the officer knows his notes are inadequate, or figures you're going to fight the ticket hard, he or she may simply not show up. Usually an officer's failure to appear results in an automatic dismissal of the case.
Second, by carefully reading the notes you can get a good idea for how the officer will testify, and what sort of defenses will be appropriate. An officer doesn't want to get in trouble over a traffic violation, so he or she is likely to deviate very little from what is in the notes.
Make a "Discovery" Request for the Officer's Notes
In most states you have the right to receive a copy of the officer's notes through the "discovery" process. Discovery is just legal jargon for the exchange of important information before a trial. The discovery process also allows you to get more than just the officer's notes, and can include things such as police procedure manuals and instruction manuals for speed recording devices. These items can then be used to formulate a defense as well as to question the officer.
The discovery request must be a specific, written request, and the best way to figure out how exactly to do it in your area is to contact the clerk of the court you are in and ask for instructions and any forms required when making a discovery request. You will need to send your discovery request via certified mail to the police department and the local prosecutor and follow the instructions provided to you by the court clerk.
What to Do if Your Discovery Request Is Ignored
Few people ever make discovery requests for traffic violations, so don't be surprised if your discovery request is ignored. If this happens reiterate to the parties in writing that you requested information from them and that you believe the discovery requests are crucial to your case. Check with your local court clerk to find out how long people have to respond to discovery requests in your area. Typically, if you have not received a response within three weeks you will need to go to court.
Again, ask the court clerk for relevant forms and instructions, and file a "pre-trial motion" to compel the parties to honor your discovery requests. If your discovery requests are still ignored by your trial date, you can try to simply ask the judge to dismiss your case.
How to Use the Officer's Notes
When examining the officer's notes, here are the major things you want to look for:
- Specific detail: If the notes are highly detailed, you may have a harder time defending yourself because the officer will be allowed to look at his notes while testifying. On the other hand, any details might highlight areas of questioning where you can challenge the accuracy of the events the officer recorded.
- Lack of detail: If the notes are lacking in detail, you can greatly use this to your advantage to question the officer regarding specifics that he or she failed to record. Your job is to create doubt about whether you committed the violation, and the more often an officer has to say "I don't remember", the better. Specific details that may not be present that you should look for include which lane you were in, exactly how the officer recorded your speed, road conditions, nearby vehicles and the exact location of the alleged violation.
- Statements: Officers will typically record any statements you make during the traffic stop (which is why, generally, you should say next to nothing). Note whether the statement seems to be a direct quote or an approximation, or whether any such statements were even recorded.
- Diagrams: Officers often record basic diagrams in their notes, outlining an intersection and important features. 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 and create doubt about the violation.
Simply put, the more relevant questions you can ask that an officer can't answer, the better off you are.
Should I Hire a Traffic Ticket Lawyer if I am Fighting a Traffic Citation?
If you are contesting a traffic citation, an experienced traffic ticket lawyer is a solid choice. An experienced attorney who specializes in defending traffic tickets and trials will evaluate all the evidence to ensure that your legal rights are protected. Plus, it's important to speak to a lawyer familiar with the laws and courts in your jurisdiction.