“Justice” in Traffic Court

Just-us is more like it …

Written by Gregory Monte.

If you want to contest your unfair ticket, you have to plead not guilty, and then appear in Pennsylvania Magisterial District Court.  Well, the latest released figures indicate quite an uptick in traffic cases in these courts:

“Traffic cases account for the majority of Pennsylvania magisterial district court cases in 2016.”

According to a press release issued by the Unified Judicial System of Pennsylvania on September 14, 2018, a full 66% of the cases heard at this lower court level are related to traffic. Is this a result of more people contesting their tickets or just the fact that more tickets are being written?

Here are the figures to consider when trying to answer that question:

Now, I am not claiming to have conducted major statistical research on this issue, but you can see that slightly fewer tickets were written in the latest years available for study compared to the earlier one.

I can only hope that this means more people are contesting their unfair tickets in Magisterial Court.  

Will you get justice in court? If you know what you are doing you might.

When my son and I showed up in Pennsylvania Magisterial Court on December 6, 2018, we had high hopes for an easy victory.

My son made a valiant effort to present the defense that we had prepared.  He questioned the police officer and got her to admit that she had no basis for her claim that the stop sign was actually in proper position.  Then he offered evidence that Hawley Borough had not passed an ordinance to install that stop sign as required by law. 
 
At this point, the judge stopped him and said that the Borough didn’t need to pass an ordinance, because the police officer who issued the citation was exercising her legitimate powers under Title 75, Section 6109.

Here is the section she referenced:

QUOTE: “The provisions of this title shall not be deemed to prevent the department on State-designated highways and local authorities on streets or highways within their physical boundaries from the reasonable exercise of their police powers.”
 
My son wanted to protest that she was interpreting the Vehicle Code incorrectly, but I could tell that further argument was hopeless at this point.  I was sitting next to him, and I wrote him a note that he might as well just rest his case.  I reassured him that we would appeal the decision. 

He was found guilty and so we walked out of the court room that day with our tails between our legs, shaken to the very core of our beings … in awe of the power and might of that superhuman perched upon that shiny wooden bench …

Eh … not so much …

My son appealed the verdict.

On March 7, 2019 he presented the Pennsylvania Stop Sign Ticket Defense strategy before a new judge (de novo, as the legal expression goes) in the Court of Common Pleas.  If you are interested in all of the details about this trial, you can find it in one of my other publications called The Script: My Detailed Outline for Trial in a Pennsylvania Court.

By the end of the trial the judge acknowledged that the stop sign in question was, indeed, illegal.  The only problem was that she didn’t know what this meant as far as the charge was concerned.  “Can an illegal stop sign be enforced,” she asked the Commonwealth?  Needless to say, the prosecutor said yes.

To her credit, the judge was not convinced.

She then asked my son his opinion.  He said that the stop sign in question did not actually meet the definition of an official traffic-control device as specified in Title 75, Section 102 and so could not be enforced:

“Official traffic-control devices.”  Signs, signals, markings and devices not inconsistent with this title placed or erected by authority of a public body or official having jurisdiction, for the purpose of regulating, warning or guiding traffic.

My son then offered to quote all of the case law that contradicted the Commonwealth’s assertion.  The judge stated that this would be a waste of the court’s time, but she did accept a printed copy of these cases which she promised to look over.

The trial “ended” with the judge requiring both sides to submit a brief concerning the ability to enforce an illegal stop sign.  I wrote that brief, but before I even submitted it, a letter came in the mail pronouncing him not guilty.

Victory at last.

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