As a driving lawyer, I receive many telephone calls from people who have questions about their traffic tickets. I have also had the benefit of listening to disputants in traffic court present their cases, without having consulted a lawyer. Some people even go so far as to advise others in the courthouse about how to dispute their cases. Helpful tip: don't take your traffic ticket dispute advice from someone who is not an experience driving lawyer.
A lot of people have some common misconceptions about traffic tickets, and how to defend these traffic tickets. This post will help to dispel some of those misconceptions.
The officer did not make me sign my ticket
The purpose of having you sign the ticket is to establish that the ticket was served on you. It does not have any evidentiary value in proving the allegation. If you refuse to sign the ticket, or if the officer does not ask you to sign he or she can complete a "Certificate of Service" on the reverse of their copy of the ticket. This Certificate of Service is provided to the Violation Ticket Centre and the Court to establish that the ticket was served on you. It has the same legal effect as though the ticket itself was served.
The officer got my address, vehicle information, or driver's license number wrong
There are two parts to any Violation Ticket. If you inspect your copy of the ticket closely, you will see a statement that says "Shaded areas of this ticket are not part of the offence charged." If there is a mistake in any of the parts of the ticket that are shaded a darker grey, then it will not affect the validity of the ticket.
The argument you're likely trying to advance when you see inaccurate information about you or your vehicle is that the officer cannot establish your identity. For an idea of how difficult it is to succeed on an identity argument in traffic court, you should check out this case. You'll also note that in that case Mr. Coric did not sign the ticket. Typically, if the officer asks the driver for their license, compares the photograph and is satisfied they are one in the same, and identifies the driver in court, identity is proven. In the Coric case, because his lawyer identified him in court and did not explain that an identity argument was to be advanced, the attendance in court and confirmation of his identity confirmed it.
Even with a lawyer, winning a traffic ticket on an identity argument is difficult. But it's not impossible. Again, an experienced driving lawyer can help you advance an argument if you believe the officer cannot prove your identity in court.
The officer did not show me the laser or radar reading
The police are not required to show you the laser or radar device, if they used it to measure your speed. They should, however, record your speed somewhere. In the vast majority of cases, they will write the speed in their notes on the back of the ticket. You can obtain a copy of these notes from the officer either through a disclosure request, or by asking when you are in court. There is an obligation on the police to provide full disclosure, but that does not require them to show you the laser or radar device at the roadside.
Some people might say "But that means the officer could write down anything. He could lie and say I was speeding!" Well, that may be true. But in my experience the vast majority of the traffic officers that I have dealt with are honest and decent. They have no interest in issuing tickets that aren't justified. There have been multiple times that I've pointed out a legal issue about certain ticketing practices, and the officer has agreed to withdraw the ticket. Later, the officers have approached me and thanked me for helping them to be more effective and only issue tickets properly. Most traffic officers that I meet just want to do a good job.
Police can also face discipline for issuing tickets that are based on false evidence. Never mind the fact that they would then have to testify and perjure themselves, which has serious consequences. The likelihood that a police officer would intentionally issue a speeding ticket to someone who wasn't speeding is pretty slim. And the trial process (until the Government implements the traffic ticket tribunal, of course) gives you the opportunity to cross-examine the officer and to testify in your defence.
Besides, it's not like officers in the Lower Mainland need to fabricate evidence of speeding. If you've ever driven here you'll know that catching speeders is like shooting fish in a barrel.
The officer did not write my speed on the ticket
Just as there is no obligation to show you the laser or radar device, there is no requirement to record your alleged speed on the ticket. The officer in traffic court does not need to prove that you were going any particular speed. For example, if you are ticketed for excessive speeding but after trial the evidence only establishes you were going 39 km/hr over the limit, you will be convicted of speeding.
Even traveling in excess of 1km per hour over the speed limit is speeding. There are different sections in the Motor Vehicle Act based on how fast you were going, and provisions allowing for increased fines based on speeds of different levels in excess of the limit. The section you are charged with and the indicated fine amount will give you notice of what the officer is alleging.
The officer did not measure my speed with a laser or radar device
There is no obligation on the police to use a laser or radar device to measure your speed. An officer is entitled to measure your speed using a variety of methods, including laser and radar. But they can also pace your vehicle, make a visual estimate of speed, or measure the distance you traveled over a period of time and extrapolate using a mathematical formula from that.
If the officer does not have calibration records, I will win
Good luck! Laser and radar devices are checked for calibration and, if necessary, recalibrated at the beginning and end of every shift. The officer may record this in his or her notes, but there is no obligation to do so and their testimony about the calibration check will be sufficient to satisfy the court that this was done. There is no formal calibration done by a calibrator, or by the manufacturer. Laser and radar devices are only sent for servicing where there is a problem that requires a repair by the manufacturer.
In British Columbia, the law regarding reliance on laser or radar devices gives a lot of leeway to the police. Essentially, a conviction for speeding can be based on a reading from a radar or laser, if there is some evidence that the equipment was in working order and was properly operated. The Court has the right to rely on the oral testimony, without supporting documentation, from an officer in determining that he is qualified, the radar or laser was in proper working order, and was properly operated.
The police get bonuses for every ticket they issue, or
There are quotas for traffic tickets the police have to meet
Not quite. While an officer who successfully issues more tickets than another officer may receive faster promotions or win awards for their traffic enforcement efforts, this is really no different than any other job. Promotions are based on hard work. This can be problematic when police aren't asked to account for their conduct, as is the case with the Immediate Roadside Prohibition scheme. But it doesn't work that way with traffic court. Police know they can be cross-examined, and they know that a Judicial Justice of the Peace will scrutinize their evidence. So there isn't the same incentive to lie as there may be with an IRP.
There are no bonuses for issuing the most traffic tickets. The police officer does not receive a percentage of the fine amount that you are charged when you are issued a ticket. If that were the case, we would never see police officers ignoring cars traveling at 65 km per hour on Kingsway, because each one of those cars is dollars in the cop's pocket. If that were the case, this West Vancouver corporal would live in a gigantic mansion. Based on this, he likely doesn't. If he does, it's not paid for by traffic tickets. You can also check out Vancouver Police Department salaries, which are routinely published on their site. If you look at those numbers you can see how consistent the remuneration appears; if bonuses were awarded for issuing traffic tickets, then this would not be the case. Instead, traffic officers would be making more money than the Chief Constable.
If I dispute my ticket, the officer is not likely to show up
This may have been true in the past. In 2008, the Vancouver Police Department conducted an audit of their traffic court attendance and found that 25% of the time, tickets were dismissed because the officer did not attend court. They implemented special measures to ensure that officers were more likely to be notified of court dates, and within a year the non-attendance rate had dropped to 19%. In fact, the police put a lot of resources into studying what makes traffic court time most effective. It is foolish to count on the idea that the officer will not attend. In my own experience, this happens very rarely.
Furthermore, police are paid to attend court. So they really have no reason not to attend. They're being paid to be there. The Violation Ticket Centre has access to every officer's calendar, and will schedule hearing dates based on an officer's availability. This means that traffic court dates will not conflict with previously-scheduled trials, booked vacation, or training. As well, numerous files are scheduled at a time whenever possible. I commonly meet officers who are appearing on five to ten traffic tickets at a time. When they have multiple tickets to prosecute, it is less likely that the officer will not come to court.
There are many other common misconceptions about disputing a traffic ticket that I have heard, but this post would never end if I listed them all. The best advice I have for anyone facing a traffic ticket is to speak with an experienced driving lawyer about their ticket. The worst thing you can do is show up to court expecting that a certain argument will win you the day, only to find out after you've been convicted that you were mistaken. Hiring a lawyer can prevent you from finding yourself in this position. It's a lot easier to succeed in the first instance than it is on an appeal after you've advanced the wrong defence the first time around.
Vancouver Criminal Lawyer with a focus on impaired driving, cannabis legalization and related issues, and immediate roadside prohibition defence.