Below are the details of some of the cases I represented in Sri Lanka, acted pro se in USA or some other way had some personal involvement. Please note, I'm not providing legal advise here at all, but merely explaining situations, it is up-to the reader to decide what is the best course of action suitable for his case or whether it is better to seek competent legal counsel which I strongly advise. As it often happens, each case is different of its own merits so the advise always depend on the situation. The reader should consider these incidents as stories. I'm merely exercising my freedom of expression.
Even though traffic infractions in Connecticut are not criminal (no jury trial allowed) most of the traffic infractions are decided on the standards of a criminal trial, which is "beyond reasonable doubt." This is a very high standard. The prosecution (District Attorney) must prove it beyond reasonable doubt; therefore, the way to defend is by introducing "doubt" into the prosecution's version. In a traffic case, usually there are two witnesses, the police officer and the defendant. The argument that a police officer's word carries a heavier weight than the defendant, in my experience, is not true. When the case is filed by the state, the defendant is entitled to a great tool called, "discovery." All the evidence against the defendant must be made available to him. You must request this in writing. If you don't receive it, make a pre-trial motion (a letter to the court clerk). When you are requesting discovery documents, be specific and don't overburden the other party. In some occasions, you will have to bear the cost of photocopy or mail.
Speed is one of the easily arguable or easily decisive cases depending on the circumstance. If the radar, LIDAR equipment are in perfect condition, location, visibility, weather is unquestionable, then, it is an open-shut case. However, speed detection at night, during rain or snow or using faulty instruments can be contested. There are also some procedural or evidentiary arguments such as notice of the driving speed to the motorist, presence of two police officers etc.
In the first case, the motorist was driving in I-395 with 65 mph limit and taking a ramp to I-95 with 65 mph limit. However, in the ramp the speed limit was 55 mph. The police was stationed in the ramp.
When the motorist entered the ramp, four vehicles had already been stopped. The driver did not notice the police until a police officer crossed the ramp and signaled the driver to stop. In order to avoid hitting the police officer, the driver increased the speed. The police charged the driver for driving at 80 mph on a 55 mph zone. The ticket was $256.
In Connecticut the Centralized Infractions Bureau moves the case to the appropriate jurisdiction. The ticket requires you plead the case guilty or not guilty. You can submit evidence supporting your case. If the prosecutor decides to drop the case (nolle), it is your lucky day. Otherwise, you are required to appear in court.
In this case, there were extenuating circumstances based on finance (driver was a graduate student). There were mitigating circumstances because it was the driver's first ticket. Best of all, there was strong evidence that the driver was trying to "avoid an accident." The fact that the police officer crossed half way into the ramp was too dangerous in the mind of the motorist requiring him to increase his speed. The driver send a not guilty plea with a witness statement.
The case did not see the light of the court house.
2. Red Light
It is illegal to run red light. If you meet with an accident while running or attempting to run a red light, it is a felony (reckless behavior) that can lead to jail time. In fact, a motorist cannot proceed in a yellow light that he might get the red light in the middle of an intersection. The best and only course of action is to stop when you see the yellow light. Most motorists, nevertheless, proceed with the yellow light.
In this case, after turning from a highway ramp, the motorist proceeded in a yellow light in Massachusetts. It is arguable that the light changes to red while the motorist was still passing the intersection. A police officer observes the vehicle and makes a traffic stop. The plaintiff was given $155 ticket for running a red light. The plaintiff challenges the ticket.
The main arguments in the case were a) Did the light turn red while the defendant is still in motion through the intersection b) Can the officer observe it clearly.
Several options were available for the defense 1. The direction of the officer's observation (whether any obstacles such as trees, barriers, people etc obstruct the view) 2. From how far the incident was observed 3. Can the officer in opposite direction see the changing lights in the other direction 4. The location (whether it is down hill, uphill) 5. The day (cloudy, rainy, snow) 6. The quality of the vision of the officer (whether he was wearing glasses, contact lenses)
The defendant was able to prove, in cross examination, that the police officer was, in fact, three or four vehicles behind the red light in a down hill that his view was greatly obstructed. The officer cannot clearly see the changing lights in the opposite direction. He can only guess by observing the movement of vehicles in his lane. Even how educated a "guess" is, it inevitably creates doubt. The prosecution must prove the case beyond reasonable doubt.
The case against the defendant was dismissed.
The State of Connecticut requires emission inspections of motor vehicles in every two years. The State of Massachusetts requires two forms of inspection, emission and safety. An emission violation is a clear cut case. There is hardly any defense against an emission violation ticket, hardly. The defendant moved from Connecticut to Massachusetts in the first year of passing the emission test in Connecticut. He is required to take emission test in Massachusetts. Prior to this being done, the defendant received a $170 emissions ticket. The defendant challenges the ticket. The case goes to a Court Magistrate.
As it happened, the ticket had been issues when the vehicle was parked in a park and ride lot. The law requires the vehicle must be in motion for an emission ticket to be issued. The defendant argument is two folds a) There is valid inspection from Connecticut (if the vehicle is good for CT for two years, why not for MA?) b) The vehicle was parked when the ticket was issued.
(It was also learned that a vehicle in Massachusetts could not pass inspection if there is visible damage to the vehicle, such as a minor accident. The law says, the metal or frame of the vehicle should not be exposed. Some motorists get around this issue by duct-taping the damaged section. A creative remedy.)
The case was dismissed. The defendant was required to have inspection done immediately.
4. Speed, Lane Crossing
6. Hit and Run
This case involves a tractor trailer operated by SWIFT truck company. The tractor trailers, especially 18-wheelers are long that the driver experiences a lengthy blind spots. However, care needs to be taken by the operator of such vehicle when it encounters a curve or turn and it may encounter a small motor vehicle such as a car. In this case, the tractor trailer was pulling away from a gas station in route 22 in Massachusetts. The plaintiff in the case had stopped her car at at a traffic signal near the gas station. As the tractor trailer was turning left across route 22, the driver notices the car, however, as he makes a speedy turn, the rear end of the tractor trailer hits the rear end of the car. The plaintiff honked rapidly to signal the accident, however, the driver left the incident.
The essence of the case is how to track the tractor trailer.
The police arrives, a witness statement was taken, the police talks to the attendants in the gas station. No one had noticed the accident. Apart from a police report nothing had happened. The police does not pursue the case. It is up-to the plaintiff to do the investigative work. Because the plaintiff was a regular at this particular gas station, he had noticed the video cameras. He had noted the exact time the tractor trailer hits the car. After requesting the police the managers at the gas station reviews the video cameras. The police and the managers notice that a red SWIFT truck matching the description given by the plaintiff leaves the station exactly at the time of the accident. The managers retrieve the payment information from the gas pump. Now the driver and the owner of the vehicle is identified. However, due to lack of evidence, the police decides not to pursue the case. A mechanic estimates the damage to the car as $2000.
The plaintiff takes the case to the small courts. He sends several demand notifications to SWIFT truck company.
The case is settled out of court for $2000.
7. Speed Limit Signage
8. Double Line
This a case is from Sri Lanka. Something that traffic police officers may also not aware that in a double line not only motorists cannot pass other vehicles but also pedestrians cannot cross the road. You can find this rule if you read the booklet that is given to you when you take the driving test. Interestingly, the moment a motorist exists the vehicle when he is stopped for passing in the double line, he becomes a pedestrian. I have never argued this, however, I'm yet to find out whether a police officer can instruct a person to break the law by crossing the double line and meet him, anyway. In USA, you are required to stay inside the vehicle at all times with both hands visible. Any unexpected movement is extremely dangerous in the view of officer's safety.
One of the classic quotations you receive in Sri Lanka is "failure to avoid an accident." If a motorist feels he is going to hit the vehicle in front unless he passes it, he is at liberty to cross the double line and claim he is trying to avoid an accident.
This case was never made it to the court.
9. Passing School Bus
A ticket was issued for $550 for passing a school bus while it was stopped with its stop sign out. The defendant was a women and a nurse who drives very carefully.While the defendant was trying to enter a 4-way intersection to take a right turn, a school bus was approaching from the right. There was double line median on the main road in which the school bus was traveling. The defendant was not paying much attention to the right side because of the double line median which prohibits passing of vehicles. Instead she was focusing on the left side of the road for the approaching vehicles to find a space to move her vehicle. Unknowing to her the school bus had stopped on the other side of the road.
The defendant saw an opening on the approaching vehicles from the left and took the right turn. While she was taking a right turn the school bus had stopped and started signalling the stop sign. She contested she did not notice the school bus. With vehicles approaching from the left and vehicles traveling in the opposite direction on the other side of the road obstructing the view of the approaching school bus, the defendant was in no position to take an action based on the stop sign of the school bus. The view of the school bus was obstructed by the moving traffic on the opposite side. The defendant's turn and bus’s stop sign happened almost simultaneously, defendant was also not in a position to safely apply the brakes.
The case was heard before a court magistrate. The defendant argued as stated above. The defendant submitted drawings and photos of the intersection, location of the bus and the car as evidence. The fine was reduced for the court charges of $50. No points were reduced from the defendant's driving record.
Like in this case, any civilian or a school bus driver can call-in to report a traffic violation. They may also in the possession of video evidence. In such an event, police will investigate, and if sufficient evidence is available, they will issue a ticket. Police also have a witness here. In some cases, if the case is appealed or postponed (by motion) several times, the witness lose the interest to pursue, and a case can be motioned for dismissal. This case was settled without a guilty plea.
If the case had proceeded for trial, the witness would have to identify the defendant positively in the court. In this case, the vehicle was driven by the wife, but it was registered on the name of the husband. If the bus driver was called in as a witness, and if he couldn't positively identify the defendant the case is likely to get a not guilty verdict.
10. Calling while Driving