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Old 03-11-2011, 03:13 PM   #1
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Exclamation MA traffic court defense?

In 2008 I got a speeding ticket from a town in MA. I stupidly pushed my P&G cycle too high. I chose to go to court for it. Then I forgot about it.

They never sent me a court date.

In 2010 I was pulled over while obeying all laws, apparently due to an automated license plate scanner. My RI license was suspended in MA because I never showed up to court. The officer claimed he was doing me a favor by letting a tow truck drag me out of the state (for $170).

I investigated and found out that they sent the ticket to an address where I hadn't lived for years, instead of the address on my license and the address on the ticket. When it was returned they never tried the address on the ticket.

I took a week out of work (not legal for me to drive to work in MA) and had my wife drive me all over MA to courts and RMVs to beg for unsuspension. Finally I got it un-suspended by showing that their mistake caused it and my effort was reasonable. I was granted a new court date for the original ticket.

In the meantime I went to court for the criminal charge of driving on a suspended license. The judge scared the hell out of me with threats of prison and, intimidated, I didn't present my arguments, instead choosing to get the charges dismissed for $100.

Ok, so I finally have my day in court for the original ticket, coming up in a few weeks. I won't be intimidated like I was in criminal court; I've been to traffic court before (and won!). I'm considering these defenses:

1. There is no posted speed limit. From the beginning of the road to miles beyond where I was ticketed, there is not a single speed limit sign. It is an empty country road through state reservoir land, not a residential or commercial road.

2. Ticket specifies different car. As I understand, this is not a successful defense even if it seems reasonable. While I was going fast, the car in front of me, which matches the description on the ticket better, was also going fast.

3. I have already paid pretty thoroughly and am in financial dire straits. The ticket, IIRC, is for $240. I paid $170 to get towed, hundreds of miles worth of lease miles and gas, $100 for the suspension, and days out of work.

Any good advice?
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Old 03-11-2011, 03:22 PM   #2
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Re: MA traffic court defense?

no advice except to say, a florida statute states that a road w/ no "visible" speed limit signs mandates an assumed limit of 30 mph--of course that could be limited to 2 lane roads, and beside you ain't in florida!
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Old 03-11-2011, 04:29 PM   #3
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Re: MA traffic court defense?

depends on the state, IL residential roads are 25 if not posted and country roads are 55.

i would say tell the judge what u told us, or hope the officer doesnt show haha.

odd question but what would happen if the officer that originally ticketed you back in 08 wasn't on the force anymore?
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Old 03-11-2011, 04:55 PM   #4
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Re: MA traffic court defense?

One time when I fought a bogus ticket, the damned cop didn't show up the first time... or the second. I asked the judge, since I had to take time off from work every time, if we were ever going to get this settled? He ripped me a new one... third time was the charm, the cop showed!!! Luckily it was in front of a different judge. I had made maps and had all my evidence lined up. I kicked the cop and the county attorney's ***es and won. The point is, the judge won't necessarily allow you to win by default if the cop doesn't show... evidently they can waste as much of your time as they want.

You will probably not get anywhere with the "no posting" idea- there are default speed limits in the statutes in my state and probably all of them.

You might get somewhere with the "wrong vehicle on ticket" thing- I've won parking tickets and whatnot for that reason before. Yeah- like I'm gonna pay a ticket with someone else's car and license on it.
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Old 03-11-2011, 06:07 PM   #5
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Re: MA traffic court defense?

If it was a 2 lane non-residential road without any major curves that couldn't be navigated safely at 55mph, then I would assume the speed limit was 55 mph- but then again, I am originally from IL like Vetteowner and that is how all country roads are.

Was your supposed speed very close to the supposed speed limit? If it was within 10%, perhaps you could question the accuracy of that particular radar gun. Maybe they have upgraded to a newer model in the last 2.5 years, in which case you could argue, "why did they upgrade if the model that clocked me was accurate?"

Chances are that speeding fines have gone up in the last few years, at the very least, they should only fine you the amount that was in effect at the time of your supposed violation, not the current fine (if it is higher).

If all else fails, perhaps the judge will be sympathetic to you explaining pulse and glide- especially now that gas prices are up nearly as much as they were back then...
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Old 03-11-2011, 06:57 PM   #6
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Re: MA traffic court defense?

Re: explaining p&g: don't go there, judges don't care why you were above the speed limit unless someone was birthing in the back seat.
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Old 03-11-2011, 09:50 PM   #7
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Re: MA traffic court defense?

The ticket should cite the statute you're accused of violating, and the LEO's explanation of how you violated it. If it says you were going 45 in a 35 zone, and it's not posted, but falls under a road definition that you can reasonably interpret as a 55 mph "other" road, you might have a chance with that defense. If the statute is for speeding in a residential neighborhood, but it's not a residential neighborhood, you have a chance. If it's for exceeding the PSL and there's no PSL, you've got a chance. If it's a municipal statute and you were cited by a state trooper, or v.v., you need to see if the LEO has the authority to enforce another jurisdiction's statutes. You'll need to know whether it's a proper citation to prepare that defense (that you were wrongfully charged).

You need to prove your points with evidence. If you're trying to prove it's a country road and not a residential area, take photos of the road where the officer timed you, and at the location on the ticket. If you're trying to prove there are no posted speed limit signs there, take photos every quarter mile, and have them in a folder to present to the judge.

Assuming you've been correctly cited, once you have the actual statute (local libraries have them), and the LEO's description in hand, then you've got to prepare your reasonable doubt defense. In misdemeanor cases, the state's burden of proof is a preponderance of evidence (51%). You've got to prove there's a 50% chance you're not guilty. To that end, the LEO's inaccurate description of your car works in your favor. You tell the judge your car is a white pickup, not a red sedan, produce proof (photos taken in 2002 when you bought it, and yesterday, showing the correct license plate. You produce the bill of sale, registration, whatever, describing it's a white pickup. If the VIN includes a color code, bring the proof with you. You prove to the judge that the LEO's description of your car is wrong, and then you say something like, "Officer Smith was either mistaken about which car was speeding, or he made some obvious errors in his paperwork. Either way, he was wrong about the car I was driving. He could be equally wrong about the speed I was driving, because I was passed by a red sedan that was immediately in front of me when the officer pulled me over."

Build your defense on anything to raise doubt in the state's case. If you regularly drop your kids off at school at 7:20 a.m. and you were ticketed at 7:44 a.m. 10 miles down the road, your average speed is only 25 mph to that point, and here's Holy Calf 1 who'll testify I dropped him off that day at 7:20, and he wasn't tardy.

When you show up in court, the prosecuting attorney will probably want to meet with you, to talk you into pleading guilty. Trials cost them time and money, so the pre-trial meeting is your best shot to plead to a lesser charge if you so desire. The stronger your desire to argue your case, the more likely they'll be willing to compromise to lesser terms. If you're convinced you were going 5 over the PSL, but you were cited for 10 over, the DA is likely to agree to 5 over if you'll plead guilty and save them the time and effort of a trial. But if they've got you nailed for 15 over, it's possible they'll take your vehement objections, and say, "ok, see you in court in 20 minutes."

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Old 03-11-2011, 10:38 PM   #8
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Re: MA traffic court defense?

#1. Going to court for original ticket. Is the cop that wrote the ticket going to be there? If not then you may get the case dismissed because the state does not have a witness.

#2. In Virginia an unposted speed limit is 55.
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Old 03-12-2011, 04:18 AM   #9
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Re: MA traffic court defense?

My cited speed was 64 in a supposedly 40 zone. The ticket says it was measured with radar and estimated. Honestly I don't have a hard time believing it, although I think I was going a bit slower than that.

I don't think it's a good idea to explain P&G.

The road is an empty, two-lane, country road surrounded by forest.

Sentra, great points on following up on whether the statute was enforceable, the language of the statute, etc. I once had a ticket with a weird statute; I looked it up and it didn't seem physically possible, let alone like anything I did (or anything the officer claimed I did). I went to court and pointed that out. The officer said he didn't know what it was either, and it was dropped.

I don't think they'll let me build a case involving preponderance of evidence and reasonable doubt. Traffic court is not criminal court and AFAIK is not held to the same standards. They don't have the same due process. For one thing, you can't prove doubt for the officer's measurement of speed...they don't buy it, ever. That much I know. The only way to dispute an officer's speed measurement in reality is with hard evidence.

The wrong car thing was as follows: The ticket cites "Sedan" instead of "Hatchback" or "Rabbit". There was a sedan of similar color and style in front of me. Make, year, and plate number were all taken from the registration but for some reason he put "Sedan" for model.

Ok, so the ticket has a check box for the offense rather than requiring the officer to write it in, and the default limit doesn't look good:
Quote:
Originally Posted by MGL 90-17
Section 17. No person operating a motor vehicle on any way shall run it at a rate of speed greater than is reasonable and proper, having regard to traffic and the use of the way and the safety of the public. Unless a way is otherwise posted in accordance with the provisions of section eighteen, it shall be prima facie evidence of a rate of speed greater than is reasonable and proper as aforesaid (1) if a motor vehicle is operated on a divided highway outside a thickly settled or business district at a rate of speed exceeding fifty miles per hour for a distance of a quarter of a mile, or (2) on any other way outside a thickly settled or business district at a rate of speed exceeding forty miles per hour for a distance of a quarter of a mile, or (3) inside a thickly settled or business district at a rate of speed exceeding thirty miles per hour for a distance of one-eighth of a mile, or (4) within a school zone which may be established by a city or town as provided in section two of chapter eighty-five at a rate of speed exceeding twenty miles per hour. Operation of a motor vehicle at a speed in excess of fifteen miles per hour within one-tenth of a mile of a vehicle used in hawking or peddling merchandise and which displays flashing amber lights shall likewise be prima facie evidence of a rate of speed greater than is reasonable and proper. If a speed limit has been duly established upon any way, in accordance with the provisions of said section, operation of a motor vehicle at a rate of speed in excess of such limit shall be prima facie evidence that such speed is greater than is reasonable and proper; but, notwithstanding such establishment of a speed limit, every person operating a motor vehicle shall decrease the speed of the same when a special hazard exists with respect to pedestrians or other traffic, or by reason of weather or highway conditions. Any person in violation of this section, while operating a motor vehicle through the parameters of a marked construction zone or construction area, at a speed which exceeds the posted limit, or at a speed that is greater than is reasonable and proper, shall be subject to a fine of 2 times the amount currently in effect for the violation issued. Except on a limited access highway, no person shall operate a school bus at a rate of speed exceeding forty miles per hour, while actually engaged in carrying school children.
"on any other way outside a thickly settled or business district at a rate of speed exceeding forty miles per hour for a distance of a quarter of a mile"
Hmm...I was near the beginning of the road. I was probably more than 1/4 mile in, but not much more. I didn't accelerate very hard although nobody will ever believe that. I don't think I have a leg to stand on with the "for a distance of a quarter of a mile" but it's another potential avenue.

More research:
http://www.motorists.org/ma/tic.html
Quote:
Q: Doesn't the police officer have to appear in court?
A: Massachusetts law says that the ticket itself is evidence. That means you are presumed guilty because there is a piece of paper saying so. The magistrate will usually find you guilty on this basis no matter what you say. You have the right to appeal the magistrate's decision to a judge. In theory the same rules of evidence apply, but the judge will often find you not responsible if the police officer doesn't show up.

In 2001 the Appellate Division of the trial court ruled that the police department must send a representative to the appeal hearing or lose the case.

Q: Can I plea bargain to a non-moving violation? Or go to traffic school?
A: Massachusetts law prohibits alternative dispositions of noncriminal traffic offenses. You can't elect traffic school or probation. The court must find you ``responsible'' or ``not responsible.'' There is also no legal basis for a plea bargain to a different offense, and I have never heard of a court accepting such a deal.
It looks like my only good defense will be the one about having paid a lot already.


This is the road in question:
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Old 03-12-2011, 10:41 AM   #10
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Re: MA traffic court defense?

It certainly doesn't look good for you. Traffic court is criminal court, and the burden of proof standard still applies. The problem is, the judge or magistrate hears violators denying their guilt every day. When it's your word against the LEO's, the LEO has more credibility. You have to come up with more than your word to raise reasonable doubt. It doesn't sound like you have much to fight the charges with. Maybe you could successfully argue the area met the 50 mph speed limit/road definition, rather than the 40 mph definition, but you were still exceeding even that limit by 14 mph. In CA, 15 over the limit can earn you a reckless driving citation.

You have your constitutional right under the Sixth Amendment to be confronted with the witnesses against you. If the LEO doesn't show, the judge should dismiss the charges against you. If he/she hints at rescheduling your trial to allow the LEO to appear, that's when you protest and bring up your time lost and financial hurt caused by the LEO's no-show. You're basically arguing it's unreasonable to make you suffer more, due to the state's unpreparedness. It had two years to prepare for the case.

But looking at it from the judge's view, 64 mph in a 40 mph zone is inexcusable. No amount of inattention excuses, minor car identification issues, or speed limit/road definition technicalities change the fact you were a potentially lethal danger to bicyclists, small children, or stalled cars around the next corner. This one is likely to reinforce that message with some serious financial hurt and judge's admonishment. He/she's likely to start out being PO'ed that you're wasting his/her time arguing a 24 mph speed violation. They'll sometimes give you a break if your mind was on grandma's funeral and you weren't paying attention, so you were clocked at 7 mph over. 24 mph over, no way.
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