In ye olden days, few people tried to beat a speeding ticket in court. Fines were generally low, driver education course were readily available, and insurance companies normally didn’t care.
Now, all these things are different. Many states, such as Minnesota, could suspend your drivers’ license if you pick up more than one moving violation in a two-year period. Most courts limit driver education courses. Only a few people are qualified to take them. Finally, a single speeding ticket could cause your auto insurance rates to skyrocket.
Fortunately, there are a number of ways to beat a speeding ticket in court. Some of them don’t even require a Minneapolis criminal defense lawyer.
According to popular myth, if a police officer makes any mistake on a traffic ticket, such as misspelling your name, the citation will not hold up in court. This myth is not entirely true, mostly due to an obscure legal doctrine called idem sonans. This phrase is Latin for “sounds alike” and Legalese for “close enough.” Smith/Smythe is the classic example of an idem sonans issue.
Many departments now issue e-tickets. These citations have drop-down menus. If an officer touches the wrong word, the citation might state that the defendant was driving a Fiat instead of a Ford. Sometimes, judges apply the idem sonans rule in these situations, and sometimes they don’t. An advocate, like a Minneapolis criminal defense lawyer, often makes a difference.
Such drop-down errors often result in a variance between the pleadings and the proof. Another example is an incorrect geographic location. If the ticket says the defendant was speeding on Main Street, the evidence cannot show that she was speeding on Oak Street.
If prosecutors spot such errors before trial, they can usually amend the pleadings without a problem. If they don’t see the mistake until trial starts, they must ask the judge to allow a trial amendment. A Minneapolis criminal defense lawyer can often successfully block these requests.
The state has the burden of proof in traffic court. So, a lack of credible evidence is often the best defense. Usually, the evidence in speeding ticket cases is shaky.
- Pacing: “Pacing” is essentially “estimating.” Officers guess vehicle speed based on things like their own speed. It’s nearly impossible to pace cars when one is standing still, and it’s not easy to pace a car while one is multitasking behind the wheel. Furthermore, many vehicles sound faster than they are travelling.
- RADAR: This acronym stands for RAdio Detection And Ranging. These gadgets project and collect radio beams in order to estimate speed. Older RADAR guns have very high margins of error. Furthermore, if an officer points a RADAR gun at a cluster of vehicles, the results prove one of them was speeding. But the results do not identify which vehicle was speeding.
- LIDAR: This acronym stands for LIght Detection and Ranging. These gadgets project and collect cones of light beams in order to estimate vehicle speed. At close range, LIDAR guns accurately identify individual speeders. At longer range, they are much more inaccurate. Furthermore, these sophisticated device require lots of maintenance.
The burden of proof in traffic court is usually beyond a reasonable doubt. So, the state must present overwhelming evidence on this point. In some jurisdictions, the burden of proof is lower, because traffic citations aren’t technically criminal cases.
As mentioned, traffic tickets were a lot different in the before times. The fine, which the city or county usually had to share with the state, was often less than $50. So, the government lost money on speeding ticket convictions. The city or county spent more money on officer overtime than it collected in fines.
Today, speeding ticket fines are much higher. In fact, many small cities depend on speeding ticket revenue for a good percentage of their budget.
On a related note, cities and counties usually take traffic tickets much more seriously now than they did before. In the old days, supervisors didn’t much care if officers went to court and testified or not. Today, supervisors often punish officers who do not show up in court.
Nevertheless, procedural delay sometimes works. That’s especially true if the municipal court is not a court of record, and defendants can automatically appeal to county court. Officers might spend all day travelling to court, waiting for their turn to testify, and going home. If that’s the case, the aforementioned budget issues come into play. It’s cheaper for the city to let the matter fall through the cracks.
About the Author
Gerald Miller is the principal attorney in Gerald Miller, P.A., a Minnesota DWI defense firm. He has over thirty-five years of experience in this area. Gerald has been recognized repeatedly over the years for his contributions to DWI defense and his successful representation of defendants. Click here for more information.