Back in December of 2007 I was riding around West Hollywood when I heard the siren and saw a motorcycle cop in my rear views. He ordered me to pull over and cited me with two violations - speeding (55mph in a 35 mph zone) and license plate not visible. As hard as it is to believe I was not speeding and was going with the flow of traffic. And yes my license plate was not street legal. But I did not know about that till the cop had pointed it out to me. All my arguments about me being a new rider and not knowing about the license plate deal were futile.
I was really upset and decided that same day that I’d fight this ticket. That would be my first time pleading not guilty to a traffic violation.
This is going to be a long post. So if you do not feel like reading the whole thing the winner is … Sideout. Yes, I succeeded in beating my ticket. It was dismissed and I will be getting the bail money in the mail. Now goes the longer version.
Back then I was still riding my first bike - 2005 Suzuki SV650S. And while I was thinking up strategies of how to fight this ticket an opportunity came along and I had bought my second bike - 2003 Aprilia Futura RST. My license plate violation (California Vechicle Code 5201) was a correctable one. What that means is that you correct it and let the court know that you did that. However I was selling my bike. So I thought the correction was not necessary. And once I get to my court hearing I’d just let the judge know that the bike is sold therefore I no longer have to correct it.
So as of January this year here is what I knew:
- my due date to pay the bail and plea guilty or not guilty was Jan 29
- my ticket stated two violations - California Vechicle Code 5201 (correctable) and California Vehicle Code 22350.
- I am selling the bike that I allegedly committed those violations on
- I have absolutely no idea how traffic courts work
Armed with this “extensive” knowledge base I decided to do the following:
- request extension to make sure I have enough time to sell my bike as I was convinced this way I did not have to correct the violation
- at the end of the extension term plea “not guilty”
- get my ass ready for traffic court
Requesting extension is really easy. The Los Angeles Superior court website lets you do this in no time. So that was promptly done. And right then my due date became April 1. Great. After that I sort of put everything else on hold. I was enjoying my new bike, travelling and so on. Then came end of March and I almost forgot that I had to plea not guilty. It was already late to mail it in. And I was forced to go to Downtown LA and pay a visit to the traffic court.
Visiting the LA Downtown traffic court was far from pleasant. Unfriendly cops at the front door managed to drop my Z1R helmet and scratch its shield, the signs inside the building were neither informative nor intuitive, the line to the clerks window was enormous and there were only 3 windows open out of like 12 of them. I hope you already got the picture. 50 minutes later I got to the next available clerks’ window. So as it turned out the fact that I had sold the bike (although luckily at that time the bike was still in my possession) does not make me ineligible to pay the fine for the illegal plate. How unfair. So on top of my $169 for alleged speeding I had to add another $68. The court date was set to Jun 24 and off I went. Upset, frustrated and tired from the experience.
Now the time came to do my research. Thankfully Internet is not only the endless universe of porn. With the right amount of effort one can seek and successfully gain useful knowledge. So with a bit of luck I found these two websites that went into very thorough details of how to contest your tickets and be successful at that - http://www.mothercopper.com/ and http://www.helpigotaticket.com/. I am not going to go into every little detail and option of what could be done and how. If you are curious I hope these sites are of proper help for you. What I will mention though is that I did file an informal discovery request on Apr 23 requesting the copy of officers notes, engineering and traffic survey for the area I was cited in and a couple of other minor things. I never got this information. That was a clear violation of California Penal Code Section 1054.5(b), 1054.7 and California Penal Code Section 19.7.
Still thinking that won’t be enough to argue my case be dismissed I came up with … 3 more strategies.
Strategy 1 - go after the fact that the violation
I was cited with does not state maximum speed limit. The most detailed description of this strategy is described here - http://www.helpigotaticket.com/speed/30questions.html. The bottom line is that CVC 22350 does not say anything about a posted speed limit. So if the conditions are good and there is no threat to property or persons you are not guilty as charged. December 15 was a clear sunny day, the violation had occurred at 4pm in the afternoon on a 3 lane street. With all this said it would be really unlikely that the conditions would qualify.
Strategy 2- go after the cop motorcycle speedometer calibration.
The cop had stated on the ticket that the speed was measured by means of pacing. What that means is he was riding behind me for some time while looking at his speedometer. A friend of mine gave me this book to read and I took some pointers about how to go after the speedometer calibration - http://www.beatmyspeedingticket.com/. What it comes down to is the fact that you can question the accuracy of the officers speedometer and the calibration unit that was used to calibrate it.
Strategy 3 - embarrass the cop with a simple math.
Google Maps is your friend. I know for the fact that he did not ride behind me long enough to gauge my speed. He just saw me and decided to catch up and fine me. How do I know that? I heard the siren almost right after I made a safe left turn onto a street. I must have ridden less than 1/8 of a mile when he’d already pulled me over. I had measured the distance from the point of my turn to the point where I had been caught, built a very nice looking Excel spreadsheet with times, distances etc, and was ready for battle. Numbers never lie. And what the numbers showed was the fact that the cop did not have enough time to pace me.
I decided to use these strategies in succession. In case Strategy 1 fails move on to Strategy 2, if that fails then employ the last resort - Strategy 3. Armed and ready I was patiently waiting for my trial date - Jun 24.
I arrived to the court house 20 minutes prior to the time of my hearing only to see this picture:
The line was really long and there was no way I was going to make it to the court room on time.
Fortunately the line was moving. And I got to the court room only 5 minutes late - at 8:35. To my surprise the courtroom doors were locked. About 10 people were nervously waiting in front of it. What I noticed right then was the lack of paperwork other than actual tickets and court notices in the hands of the people who were wating for their hearing. A couple of officers were pacing back and forth in the hallway. I did not seem to recongnize any of them.
The courtroom doors opened 10 minutes later at 8:45. As you probably know first they make you do is check in with the bailiff. When my turn came the bailiff whispered to me “You can go”. I was stunned. “You can go” - he said again, this time a little louder. “The officer is not going to show up. You case is dismissed. Check in the mail within the next 2 weeks”. That was great news. Although I would be interested to see how I fare against seasoned professionals I also did not mind this ending at all.
In conclusion here are the pointers and observations I made on this journey:
- looks like the fuss I had created with my discovery request made them realize I was not going to be an easy target like the rest of the people I saw in the court room. So instead of wasting time on me they can easily cycle through 10 easier targets and accept a defeat in my particular case
- informal discovery request is a must if you want to go to court and be somewhat successful, it puts a lot of burden on the prosecution and cops shoulders and makes them do work (for once). This can lead to some loop holes and can potentionally let you win the case (see the two sites I had mentioned above for more information on that)
- it is totally worth it to fight your ticket, especially if it is a speeding ticket. Don’t be lazy, spend time on researching what section of CVC were you cited with and try to find inconsistencies, they might hold the key to your win
- and the last but not least - I am DEFINITELY fighting my bogus ticket.