Traffic Court and Citations - How I Was My Own Attorney

This diary is intended as a useful guide for folks who are forced to deal with traffic court citations. This is by no means a comprehensive guide for all possible situations, but does represent hours of research and experience from my own cases. Keep in mind, this is not legal advice. The following merely reflects my thoughts and experience garnered from research and my own anecdotal experience in my local jurisdiction. Please don’t presume because I have written it here that methods and procedures described will work in your own jurisdiction or situation, check your local ordinances and seek legal advise from qualified sources. However, there seems to be enough similarities among traffic courts in varied jurisdictions, that much of what I experienced will be of assistance in informing the reader of what to expect when dealing with a municipal or county traffic court.
Below I will focus on 'violations' where there is no demonstrable victim or injury, but will probably be applicable to both injury and non-injury cases. I'm not an expert on traffic court by any means, I merely offer this diary for information purposes only and it reflects information presented and discovered in my personal case. I have broken the diary into sections which may be accessed easily for quick reference.

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You have right to know what you are charged with.
Once stopped, the police should identify themselves and present you immediately with why you were stopped. They often do not do this as was in my case. Will this provide an excuse for your minor traffic crime? Probably not, but it is a factor in a case of police misconduct and may become a factor in any appeal that may be filed. If the officer did not immediately present you with the cause of the detention (stop), you have a right to know it and it is appropriate for you to ask about it immediately. You are not required to answer any questions at all, but keep in mind the officer has discretion to issue the ticket or a warning and usually the power to rescind the citation at any time, either personally or through his/her supervisor. Your non-cooperation in answering the officers' irrelevant questions will probably be considered points against you by the officer, but cannot be held against you in court.

You have the right to understand the charge
How the charge was arrived at and almost any aspect of the charge including the history of the law - this will be determined in court. After writing a citation, the officer will present it to you and should ask you if you have any questions regarding it. Use this opportunity to ask any questions you have about it. Frequently, they will refer to the 'back of the ticket' for instructions of what to do. In my jurisdiction, and I presume many others, the writing is small and purposely shaded like the writing on the back of a credit card statement, I would ask the officer to read it in it's entirety, I'm not sure if the officer is legally required to do so. This will give you time to cool down from the original excitement of being stopped and time to think of questions to further ask. It's no use to provoke the officer or otherwise complain - this is simply a job to most traffic cops - they pull over people fairly equally around here and are used to the insults and affronts they encounter daily, but it doesn't help to make a guy with a gun angry. Just accept the moment and settle it through the court process where they won't immediately deploy a gun to enforce their views.

The Citation
There is a lot of discussion about what a citation is. Some courts have taken the position that the citation is 'judge jury and executioner". Other courts aren't so bold, yet the procedural effect is the same. Black's Law Dictionary defines citation for our purposes, "2. a police issued order to appear before a judge on a given date to defend against a given charge". It is often considered 'evidence' of a crime and is presumed so by traffic courts where the rules are skewed in favor of such unfounded assertions. That being said, there are a number of elements that must be presented for the traffic citation to be valid and enforceable. After all, if a ticket is not valid, you are not obligated to pay or appear before the judge.
Errors on the ticket that should cause the case to be dismissed immediately in my state include: 1) The officer failed to sign the ticket - essentially there is no witness so you will probably win. 2) The officer failed to place the correct date or time on the ticket or left it blank. 3) There is no violation stated on the ticket or an incorrect one - if the violation does not correspond to the code in the law, you have a good chance of getting it thrown out. Keep in mind, these clerical errors are not automatic disqualifications of your ticket. The courts generally don't look favorably on those who use such tactics, but the errors listed are critical in that they point to serious doubt whether a violation actually occurred. You will still have to defend yourself through the legal system against even an error filled ticket, so be proactive and don't challenge it directly to the police or prosecutor, simply plead "not guilty" at your first appearance and present your case at trial. If you tell the prosecutor the ticket has errors, they will simply reissue a correct ticket and they usually have 6 months to do so.

Your options and court appearances
In some states, you have the option of Trial by declaration, this means you simply write a letter to the court explaining your case and include a copy of the ticket I did this once. Make sure you include why you are innocent and should not have to pay. It has been said that this method is successful 30% of the time.. This method requires a written response by the issuing officer and it appears many times they fail to do so, possibly accounting for much of the success rate. If you are found guilty, you may still ask for a trial to determine the case so there is really no reason not to try it. If I knew of this option I would have done this first in one case I had - it appears you have nothing to lose by doing so.
Settle with the Prosecutor
You can call the prosecutor's office and ask for a settlement. Provide your case or ticket number to the secretary and you should be allowed to speak with the prosecutor. You simply make them an offer to dismiss the charges. You are simply buying your way out of the ticket with your money and it is legal. Be sure to be clear about what you want to happen. Dismiss the ticket and remove the violation from the record is a common desire. The prosecutor "called my bluff" when I did this by saying, "Well, you know, court costs are $100". He/she can accept any amount, and sometimes you can reach an amicable solution by using the settlement method.

Motions are the manner by which you make requests of the court. Simply making the proper motions to the court and pointing out any fatal errors can reduce or eliminate your fine - you do not need a lawyer charging hundreds of dollars per hour to do this - you can do it yourself, it is easy, simply follow the rules for your local traffic court and present your motion properly. The clerk of your local traffic court can and usually will help you with the format. They may be trained to reject your question by saying something like, “We are not allowed to give legal advice”. Simply tell the clerk that you're not requesting legal advice, but you are just asking for the format requirements for this particular court and in my case at least, they answered my questions. Rules particular to your court may be available online if your court has a website. In my local court, or jurisdiction, the motions are simple: 8" x 11" paper, top 3" blank for the purpose of court markings; state the court case number on the motion; the case name (usually in the form police dept w/ address and officer's name and badge number v. you and your address; and your motion with court citation(s) reflecting documented cases where courts have upheld a request similar to yours, try to find cases that are recent and located in your state, those issued previously by the same court you're addressing are best. Usually, you must provide a "service" section. This is where you or your representative simply signs it with a statement like, "This is to certify that a true and correct copy of the foregoing has been submitted this (date). to (name and address). signed (your signature)" Make 3 copies of your motion, one for you, one for the court (no need for address in the 'service' section for this one), and one for the prosecutors office. My traffic court requires a 'memo' with the motion presented to the court. The memo should be brief and include the case or ticket number and what it is: " motion for continuance, motion to dismiss, motion of discovery, motion in limine, etc" When I present these motions, I usually ask for a signed "chain of custody" this provides further documentation that I appeared at the clerk of courts office or window at a specific date when I ask the employee receiving my motion to sign and date a form. This form merely states that I presented the court with x number of pages of whatever paperwork I am submitting to the court, (i.e. motion to dismiss and memo) .This provides a record that I delivered the document in case it is asserted that no document was delivered or it was lost (this did not happen in my case despite multiple motions and notices), you can mail these as well, include all the elements the court requires for your motion and send it by certified or regular mail, maybe with delivery confirmation for an extra dollar would be best.
When you present your motion(s) at the clerks window, you may notice that they examine it for proper format and stamp it with the date you presented it to them.
Motion for Continuance. This is probably the simplest motion to present. What you’re doing here is simply asking for more time. You probably can get away with your first motion to continue the case to a later date by simply stating you, “need more time to prepare your case”, but it’s always best to give a defined reason for your request. My simply stated Motion for Continuance was granted, but the woman at the clerk’s office who received my continuance motion warned that I should call the clerk’s office the day of the trial because there was not time enough for a response to be sent through the mail ( my trial date was just 2 business days after the evening of my citation). I later learned that in my jurisdiction, the court routinely allows the first continuance upon request, but later ones are granted upon the nature of the stated reason for the request by the presiding judge who weighs the merits of the request.. In my court, each continuance request increases the court costs by $5.00. So that is due if found guilty or plead “No Contest”, but realize this will probably vary in your local area. In many jurisdictions, the responsible court has a website and these court costs fees are many times listed there.
Motion to Dismiss. This was the second motion I presented, but it may have been better to present my Motion for Discovery instead. A Motion to Dismiss is how you present your reasons why the case should be rejected by the judge, thus freeing you from fault and obligation to pay fines or penalty. This includes the errors mentioned earlier on the ticket and any previous rulings in similar cases that may cause doubt in the judges mind of the veracity of the states’ case against you. I presented my motion to dismiss based on a number of constitutional issues and included citations of court cases that have been successful in the past. I tried to include a number of citations from my state. My first attempt at this was unsuccessful. Looking back, I may have overstated my case to a large extent ( I used a motion to dismiss I found on the internet and adopted it to my circumstances and added to it from other cases I discovered). The judge did not address the specific issues contained in my motion, but instead offered a simplistic reason for his rejection of my motion that had nothing to do with the merits I had presented. This was frustrating, but not as frustrating as what happened at trial, more on that later. The judges’ rejection is not uncommon and is not uncommon for him to not address the merits if internet postings are any guide. Perhaps it is useful to point out that you should not in any case argue with the judge about his rulings regarding your case and your motions — it simply will not help and will definitely hurt your case. I think it’s better simply to restate your motion and resubmit it or present it in person in court. In cases like mine where the motion to dismiss was not properly addressed by the judge will be part of your basis for appeal if you’re found guilty. So presenting a plausible motion to dismiss is a valid plan of defense when looking forward to appeals, and should be cited in your application for appeal.

Motion for Discovery
This motion is easy to make as well. I simply asked for all the evidence the prosecutor and police had regarding my case. I mentioned the type of evidence I was interested in such as personal body cam videos, in-car DVR footage of my case, any notes the officer made of my case, any documents the prosecutor had on my case, the log file from the dispatcher regarding my case — try to get a copy of everything you can think of. If the charging department has a police officers manual, it’s handy to have a copy. I asked for one of these some years back and that afternoon the police chief emailed me a complete and convenient PDF of the manual. Look at it and make sure the officer followed documented procedure for his/her department in your case, if not, make note of it and bring it up at trial when the officer takes the stand — a significant departure from clear policy by the officer should present an opportunity to request dismissal of the case and may be presented immediately to the judge when it is revealed, such as — “Your honor, the officer has testified that he did (x) when the current police policy manual I have submitted as a defense exhibit states the correct procedure is (y). Therefore I’m asking for this case to be dismissed”.
I filled out my Motion for Discovery with the stated reason “to prepare an adequate defense in my case” which was accepted. A few days later, I received a reciprocal request from the prosecutors office along with some of the evidence I requested. It’s important that you respond to this reciprocal request as well. Supply them with copies of anything you might use at the trial for your defense as you are obligated to do so, failure to do this properly may be grounds for having the case decided against you. In my case, I simply informed the prosecutor’s office “I had no further evidence in my possession”.

Motion in Limine
A motion in Limine is a motion to limit the evidence presented in the case. This is useful in cases where you have had other issues with courts where a prosecutor may bring up your past history. You can limit the evidence to that which are directly relevant to the present case. This may be useful in limiting the case evidence to those facts that are relevant to your case in order to save time or to prevent biases that could work against you. Keep in mind the judge does not have to grant any of your motions but if you don’t present them, then you will never have any ruling in your favor issued unless it is of the judges’ personal discretion which sometimes happens but shouldn’t be something you should rely on, in my opinion. As with all motions, you must submit the reasons why you wish to limit the evidence and you should provide case history with your motion from similar cases and preferred cases from your state.

The Trial Some things you want to be aware of at the trial.

1) Have a plan — have a plan on what your defense is and what you want to happen. No lawyer goes to court not knowing before hand what is likely to happen, and you shouldn’t either. Don’t delude yourself, fighting the system is not simple and bucking a system designed to take revenue from citizens to finance it will be resisted. But if you have a plan that has been successful in courts previously in similar cases may have a positive result in your case. When dealing with witnesses which will be the officers, don’t ask questions that you don’t know the answers to or that don’t help your case — limit your questioning that helps your preconceived plan.

2) Practice your defense :
Have a friend or spouse go over the trial with you in role play. Practice your defense position and allow your friend or spouse to answer as the judge or officer. This will help you stay calm and focused on your goal during trial and may reveal to you methods of defense you hadn’t previously considered.
3) consider a jury trial.
Having a jury trial is far more preferential than a bench trial where the judge ultimately determines the guilt or innocence. This is further complicated if fines are involved as the judge is often times paid out of the same funds that finance the court, at least in my state. This provides a conflict of interest that courts are loathe to address, so to avoid this conflict a judge might have, I’d say request a jury trial. Of course, when selecting jurors you will want citizens similar to you both in temperment and social status.

4) Don’t get rattled by inaccurate testimony.
If the witness responds with obvious falsities or inaccuracies it is important to point these out, not directly, but by referring to the evidence already submitted or submit new evidence which shows the conflict in logic. I doesn’t help to say, “Your Honor, the officer is lying”, in fact this hurts your case as the officer in most cases will be known to the Judge. Simply point out the inconsistency through previous evidence and logic — this can be helped immensely by practicing with a friend beforehand as it will help you determine and correctly provide a logical trail that may be useful on appeal if your case is not settled to your satisfaction. It may be necessary to recall previous testimony that conflicts with the evidence or statement, it is appropriate to say to the witness, “didn’t you say earlier that (x) and now you’re saying (y)?” In this way your allowing the witness to answer his own inaccuracy. In my view, this is the correct way to point out falsities and inaccuracy, in my case, the officer said, “It’s been a long time ago since I stopped you”. In any case, don’t get disturbed or upset, simply proceed with your plan, but know these issues of conflicting views of the facts will come up, just stick to the script of what you came up with in your original plan for defence and through your practice you had with friend or spouse. If something is especially egregious that endangers the success of your plan you may immediately ask for a recess or even a continuance to adjust your plan. Don’t get your hopes up for this to be granted as you are the outsider here and it is not in the interest of the court to grant these as they increase the time it takes to conclude the case and hence the cost, which in most jurisdictions is not recoverable by the court, at least currently in this state.

5) Object!
In my experience, the prosecutor tested me as my own representative in a number of ways by floating innuendo and assumptions in court which becomes part of the record. You must Object when these are presented and do it immediately. Do this calmly but be firm and persistent. You should present the reasons for your objection. There are many valid reasons for objections, some are “requires the witness to arrive at conclusion of which he or she has no direct knowledge, refers to facts not established, etc. Generally if a fact has not been established at that particular trial and is referred to as fact by either the prosecutor or witness you can and should object. Don’t allow them to get away with anything. In my trial, I was objecting so much the judge said, “:let her (the prosecutor) talk”. He did this without ruling on my objections which in itself was reason enough for appeal in my view. Object with reasons that are congruent with your predetermined court strategy.

6) Witnesses
A personal witness such as a bystander who can and will corroborate your version of events is invaluable, however not a guarantee of success. It may be necessary to ‘practice’ your witness so they’ll be aware of what will happen in court — this is done not to influence the testimony regarding the relevant facts but to expose them to the experience and questions that are likely to be addressed to them. People get defensive and fearful when in situations unfamiliar to them. When they are afraid they often forget. Practicing is a method to alleviate the apprehensions associated with presenting themselves as a witness in a public trial and to ensure they recall all the relevant facts and can vocalize them coherently.

7) Your strategy
Have a goal for everything you say and present in court. It doesn’t help your cause to purposely or be seen to purposely obstruct the court business. Stay focused on what your established rights are, specifically those which you’ve chosen previously as your core defense. Stay on course and use the information you learned when developing you strategic defense and your practice sessions with friends. Like politics, court is war by other means, so it may be wise to use all the tools at your disposal to achieve your desired outcome.

8) Taking the stand to testify on your own behalf
Usually it is of no value for you to take the stand. When electing to take the stand, you're vulnerable to the prosecution’s manipulative questions in which they are well practiced. Know what you want and how taking the stand will advance that goal in a critical manner. If it is not critical for you to take the stand to advance your defense, don’t do it.

9) Final Statement
After the prosecution and yourself have presented your cases, each side can give a final statement. If you’ve stayed on course with your plan so far then this will be a summary of what you have presented as your defense. Summarize the evidence and testimony presented that helps prove your view of events — don’t help the prosecutor by summarizing evidence that doesn’t support your innocence and deviates from your plan. Be sure to vocalize what you want to happen, such as, “in view of the evidence presented and I’ve summarized here, this case should be dismissed”.
10) Verdict
After the final statement the judge will make a ruling in your case or in the case of a jury trial will instruct the jury and they will be dismissed to deliberate your case. Usually if there is not a dismissal, the sentence will come right away and cannot exceed the fine and court costs originally assessed — at least in my jurisdiction.
11) Sentencing
The sentence in traffic court cannot exceed the fine and court costs originally assessed and these are prescribed by statute in my jurisdiction. There is some room for negotiating in sentencing. For instance, you can ask for community service in lieu of the monetary fine, community service in my jurisdiction is programmed that you ‘work off” your fine. For example, your fine and court costs are $500, the community service is counted as $50 per day, so it would take 10 days of community service to pay the entire fine. However, there are restrictions, such as the courts community service program only operates Tuesday thru Friday from 8:00AM — 4:00 PM. I expect other jurisdictions may not have a community service program and others may have an expanded program allowing for work to be done in soup kitchens or hospitals in settings other than the courts’ community service program which in this jurisdiction is administered by a retired law enforcement officer.
If you want your sentence to be carried out other than paying the fine, you need to settle it before the case is closed and the next case is called, so address the judge directly after sentence is proclaimed before he closes the case, but don’t talk over the judge, be polite, but don’t wait, address it immediately.
If you plan to appeal, you should ask that the sentence (payment of the fine) be delayed in lieu of appeal.
12) Appeal.
Appeal of a traffic violation is currently available in my jurisdiction, however the court costs rise substantially. Appealing is $250 in this area, and I think that is due whether they actually decide to hear the case or not, but if you’re found innocent at trial, these charges are refundable.. You can apply for appeal by asserting poverty so you won’t have to pay the fee. I’m not sure of the success rate of this is but imagine someone somewhere has done it and posted it some place on the internet. For a court to accept an appeal of a judges or magistrate’s decision, errors in procedure or failure to adequately examine evidence are in many cases asserted by the appealing party.
1. Engage — Be proactive. Traffic court is a somewhat relaxed venue. The judge may simply ask you to state your wants, why you’ve chosen to pursue a court appearance rather than simply pay the fine. Don’t be shy, tell him exactly what you want Hopefully you’ve thought about it before hand as described above. If you can’t pay the fine, tell the judge. Too many people simply can’t pay and disregard the ticket or court appearance, this is a poor choice that will result in a bench warrant for your arrest. A bench warrant means the next time you engage with an officer of the law anywhere, you will be taken to jail and remanded to face a court appearance. It’s far better to engage them head on and has the added benefit of having your testimony to the judge recorded so there is no doubt about your motivations as you can clearly state them on the record, so engage!
2. Observe the court — In my area, you can come as a private citizen and observe the proceedings as long as you;re not disruptive. If you can do this, it will give you an idea of how the procedure works and what kind of person the judge is, if there are multiple judges in your court, try to visit the one with the judge assigned to your case. This will help you feel more comfortable with your surroundings once your case is called. Dressing appropriately always helps.
3. Be Honest — There is no point in lying or misinforming the judge or jury. Just observing a few cases, and you will be able to notice folks who apparently are trying to lie or hide something. How much more will the judge be able to pick apart your lies or misinformation who has set on the bench for years or decades? Lying will permanently tarnish your reputation publicly and on record — it simply isn’t worth it.
4. Know what you want and present it clearly — If you observed even a few cases, you will see some who even after being pressed by the judge for information, it is unclear what they want. Even the judge is not all knowing and needs info to adequately adjudicate your case and get on to the next one. Mumbling and being too shy about what you want frustrates that objective and I’ve noticed that frustration on judges’ faces. Speak loudly and clearly and know what you want and be prepared to answer. It may be embarrassing as the court will likely have numerous people in the room unless you’re fortunate enough to be last for the day. Simply disregard the others awaiting their cases — in this moment, it’s just you and the court that will be on record and approach it accordingly. Everyone in the room is in the same boat as you and the judge has likely presided over hundreds or thousands of cases just like yours, so address the court distinctly and clearly. If nothing else, you will be an example for others to follow by simply being forthright and positive about your objectives.
5. Attorneys — I would consider hiring an attorney and try to get him or her to work with you on fees or allow you to do some of the legal leg work or research in your case. In any case, you should be in charge of your case and how it is handled in my opinion. The attorney should present you with a list of options, not just one. I haven’t hired an attorney for over 25 years, so I’m no expert. I would expect that one would be able to handle some things on one’s own, such as a first court appearance, presenting a motion for continuance, or other tasks that I consider simple. But again, I’m no expert and have extremely limited experience in jurisdictions in just this state. That being said, I see no harm in at least broaching the subject with attorneys when discussing retaining their services and consider what they say.
6. My mistakes — My biggest mistake was not practicing my case and understanding what I truly wanted to happen. Not practicing caused me to get rattled at the officers inaccuracies on the stand and judges failure to address my objections — I knew this was a likely possibility, but still was upset by it. If I would have understood what I truly wanted in the case, I could have focused on it much more narrowly and this would have hopefully been conveyed to the judge and possibly resulted in a more positive outcome. Since I didn’t practice and became rattled, by the time closing statements came around, I was too upset to present a coherent statement — I hope folks get one message from this, Practice!

I want this diary to be the resource I wished I could have found during my hours of research for my case. Again, this diary is NOT legal advice and should not be considered as such in any manner, but I’d call it a mere catalog of some things I discovered, my personal thoughts about them and those methods that I tried in my personal, singular case in my local jurisdiction, even in that narrow view, I’m sure it fails in some respect. Sorry it is so long, but I hope it helps someone understand their own predicament better which I hope allows them to discover cost effective avenues to address their own legal problems.
It has been an increasingly glaring feature of our judicial system that competent legal representation is critical yet cost prohibitive to an increasing segment of our society. I think that instead of ignoring this difficult issue, it is important that we engage it by any means we can. I hope that by reading this, one can become inspired to do the homework necessary to present an effective defense that can be respected and considered in any court: let all the facts be known and hence be judged of guilt or innocence; not simply be judged by the evidence presented by just one side. In my view, we have become far to docile in allowing the judicial system to “happen” to us, instead of engaging this aspect of our legal system boldly. I believe in some cases that representing oneself in court is far superior than allowing a court appointed attorney to muddle through our case without our engagement. Below is an episode of Full Frontal with Samatha Bee that I hope illustrates this point (7 min.).
(just say no to drug test kits episode)

I want to list some resources I used to investigate how to approach my own case.:
- Duck duck go search : be specific as to state and possibly locality and offense, try to find sites that match your own circumstances. Be sure to read some about ‘representing one’s self’ or ‘pro se’.
-Blog that I started on a website that encourages resistance to the legal system, some people have apparently found use in it as it has over 35,000 views, will be 36,000 by July 4, 2017 in my opinion.
- Youtube search for: traffic court
- Black’s Law Dictionary is a legal dictionary that helps one understand legal terms. Useful if you’re not familiar with them and what they mean exactly.
- The Law Library — this is a free library available at courthouses and is useful as a research tool in searching out cases and should contain a copy the laws in one’s state. I’m sure it’s uses run beyond that. Your local public library may also have some of these same resources.
- — research terms, ask a lawyer a question, etc. You may not get an answer to your question. One such site allows you to pay a small fee for an answer, but in my view, this is defeating the purpose.
-The website from the jurisdiction issuing the ticket. You will need this to know the local rules and forms needed to engage the court with motions/requests. It will probably have a place where it lists the fees and procedures of the court and phone numbers if you have any questions.