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Thursday, April 26, 2012

Speeding ticket? Fight like a lawyer

Image: Speeding ticket © Corbis

Sometimes you need to challenge a speeding ticket, particularly if it could drive up your insurance rates. Instead of hiring an attorney, try these lawyer-recommended tactics.
You just got hit with a speeding ticket. Now what?
For first-timers, the response could be simple: Pay the fine or take the opportunity many states offer to erase the offense from your record. Odds are, you won't suffer higher car insurance rates.
But with two or more moving violations, you'll find that an additional ticket may endanger your finances. Beyond possible license suspension or revocation, you could be staring at escalating fines and premium hikes in the hundreds, or even thousands, of dollars. An analysis of 32,000 car insurance quotes found that drivers with two violations were offered rates 34% higher than drivers with no violations.
You may want to fight the ticket. A lawyer could cost from $75 to $500, depending on where you live. Or you could go to court on your own. Lawyers specializing in traffic violations offer the following five strategies, which could help:
1. Delay the hearing date if possible

The more time passes, the better the chances the officer who pulled you over may not show, causing the infraction to be dismissed. He or she could be sent to another division. Or the officer could find another job, move to a different city or get sick and be unable to appear.
Over time, the circumstances that caused you to be ticketed may become hazier. Any equivocation on the facts could convince a judge to throw out the ticket. It happens more often than you might think, says Brian S. Laviage, a Houston attorney.

"A very good client of mine got caught going 120 mph (in a 65 mph zone) on the Sam Houston Parkway from a Texas state trooper," Laviage recalls. The man was able to delay his hearing for almost two years due to business obligations.
"When he finally ended up in court, he found that the trooper had been transferred to the Dallas/Fort Worth area," Laviage says. "His case was dismissed."
And here's another tip, courtesy of Mark D. Hauser, a Philadelphia lawyer who often handles speeding cases: If you can, schedule the hearing for summer.
"An officer isn't as likely to appear during his vacation," says Hauser. "There are usually more no-shows during the summer."

2. Remember every detail you can
Information -- specific information -- means everything in court. The more details you can present before a judge that contradict the traffic officer, the greater the likelihood the charge will be thrown out and you'll be able to maintain your affordable car insurance.
Start thinking the moment you see those red lights in the rearview mirror. What are the weather conditions? How heavy is the traffic? What did you ask the officer about the violation, and what did he or she tell you?
Lawyers recommend taking notes right after you get a ticket, right by the side of the road.
"Ask the officer if he remembers what you were wearing, or did you have any passengers, or what was the weather like," advises Laviage. "If he is unable to answer, this takes a major blow at his credibility in the mind" of the judge.
Study the ticket for comments the officer may have written. Then question him or her about them. Again, a judge may be responsive if facts can't be recalled.

3. Use the discovery channel
File a discovery motion with the court clerk to get the officer's notes about your ticket. Officers are encouraged (and required, in some jurisdictions) to list details about why you were stopped. Your defense could be strengthened if the officer's notes are skimpy.
"Your job is to create doubt about whether you committed the violation, and the more often an officer has to say 'I don't remember,' the better," stresses the website FindLaw.
The notes will also provide a peek into what the officer may say in court, allowing you to prepare a defense against it.
Legal experts say you shouldn't be intimidated by the discovery request. It's a common tool allowing court participants to share information. The court clerk should walk you through the process.

4. Go for the gun
If a radar gun or other speed-tracking device was used by the officer, there's more information you may want to gather during discovery.
Laviage says you could ask for all literature provided by the manufacturer on proper use and maintenance of the radar gun or other device. Is there evidence that the equipment has been properly maintained? Ask for maintenance records from the past six months.
You may not get all the information, but what you do get could help your questioning. For example, is the officer's training recent? Does it actively reflect the radar gun maker's requirements?
Could the police be using an older model, one that may not be as accurate? Now you've got a place to start your research. Boring, you say? Not nearly as much of a downer as losing your car insurance discounts.

5. Use a great excuse
Attorneys point out that judges can be sympathetic to a driver who hit the accelerator for safety or because of an emergency. Were you on the way to the hospital? Did you need to get home quickly because of a legitimate crisis?
Or were you speeding to avoid an accident? Hauser offers this scenario: "Because there is a car just to your right, you briefly sped up to avoid being rear-ended by a super-aggressive big rig that is tailgating you," he says. "Once in the clear, you moved to the right and resumed a legal speed."
Tell the truth, of course, and it helps if there is corroborating evidence, such as a passenger or your newborn's birth certificate.