Going It Alone In Traffic Court: Common Mistakes People Make When Trying To Fight A Speeding Ticket Without A Traffic Attorney

Let’s be honest, speeding tickets are a real pain in the ass.  In fact, the whole speeding ticket process is a real pain in the ass.  There is the traffic stop, the questioning by the police officer, making sure you pay the ticket, making sure that the police officer check marked the box saying you showed insurance, calling the already annoyed traffic court clerk to ensure they received your payment, and of course getting two points on your license.

Now, I usually get two types of phone calls from people looking for legal representation to fight their speeding ticket.  The first type of caller just wants the ticket reduced because they already know they are a lead-foot and just want to avoid any license points.  The second type of caller, and my favorite caller, starts asking me questions on how I would fight the ticket, what kind of discovery I request from the prosecutor’s office, what kind of questions I ask the police officer during a speed ticket trial, etc.

At first, I was always under the assumption that this type of caller was asking these questions to see if I was qualified to handle a speed ticket case.  Boy was I wrong!  I caught on pretty quick that this type of caller was just soliciting information from me in a very nonchalant way.  Now when I get these phone calls, I just start to laugh.  I immediately ask the caller if he/she plans on going it alone in a speed ticket trial.  That usually gets a chuckle out of them and they begrudgingly say “yes.”  When asked why, they all say the same thing.  “Well I cannot justify paying an attorney to handle a speed ticket when I can easily handle it myself.”  And then, the truly best part, are the defenses they came up with to beat the speeding ticket.

Below are some of my favorite defenses I have heard over the years:

1)         The officer won’t show up so I automatically win

2)        The officer misspelled my name, so the ticket must be dismissed

3)        The officer marked my car as being blue, but it is actually metallic blue.  So he got the wrong guy as there were other blue cars on the road

4)        I never saw a posted speed limit sign

5)         When I saw the police cruiser, I hit the brakes and slowed down.  If the judge hears that he will know I was not speeding

I can tell you now; those defenses never really go so well in court.  I did find one speeding ticket case that went up on appeal where the defendant was on the right track for defending against his speeding ticket, but unfortunately fell short.  This case is none other than State v. Sferra, 2016-Ohio-7161

In Sferra, the defendant was accused of traveling 53 mph in a 35 mph zone.  Deputy Hopp observed Sferra traveling southbound on Ravenna Road at a high rate of speed.  Because of this observation, Deputy Hopp activated his Python MPH unit to detect Sferra’s speed.

During direct examination, Deputy Hopp testified that he calibrated the radar unit with tuning forks before his shift and midway through his shift.  Based on the calibration, Deputy Hopp further testified that this showed that the radar unit was reliable.  When questioned about Sferra’s speed, Deputy Hoop testified that the radar unit indicated the vehicle was going 53 mph in a 35 mph zone and that was consistent with the audible sound from the radar unit.

On cross-examination, when asked by Sferra if he was certified to operate a radar unit, Deputy Hopp answered in the affirmative that he was certified in radar.

Based on Deputy Hopp’s testimony, the trial court found Sferra guilty of speeding.  Sferra, not wanting to give up, took his case to the appellate court.

On appeal, Sferra raised a sufficiency of evidence argument and a manifest weight of the evidence argument.

With regards to speed, the appellate court opened up their analysis with the following:

In general, a velocity reading made by a speed detection device is authenticated by evidence of three specific things.  First, the device must be accepted as dependable for the proposed purpose by the profession concerned in that branch of science.  Second, the state must show that the device used was an accepted type and in good condition for accurate work.  Finally, the witness using the device must be qualified to operate the device through training and experience.  State v. Jamnicky, 2004-Ohio-324 (citing East Cleveland v. Ferell (1958), 168 Ohio St. 298).

Sferra’s first mistake, as the appellate court rightfully points out, is that he never raised any issue as to whether or not the Python MPH radar unit was an accepted type of speed detection device.  Thus, that argument was waived.

Sferra’s second mistake was not arguing that the state failed to show Deputy Hopp was not properly trained on the radar unit and that the state failed to produce a certificate showing Deputy Hopp was certified to operate the radar unit.

Based on these findings, the appellate court overruled both of Sferra’s arguments on appeal.

It is clear that Sferra tried his best to defend against his speed ticket, but just did not have the proper knowledge and know-how to take on an officer like Deputy Hopp.  Not to mention, Sferra struggled with some evidentiary issues.

Speeding ticket cases are very winnable, but going it alone is usually not the best answer!  Talk with a traffic attorney before you walk into that courtroom alone.  It will be worth it!




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