Fighting a Traffic Ticket – Discovery or Open Public Records Requests?

Written by Gregory Monte.

You Need Information

To win in traffic court, you obviously need information.  Not so obvious, however, is where to get it.

First, let’s assume that you were issued a speeding ticket.  Depending on the particular state you live in, you would possibly need proof that:

  • the police officer was certified to use the radar gun
  • the radar gun, itself, was certified as accurate within a specific time frame
  • the radar gun was certified by an agent authorized by your state
  • the speed limit signs were properly authorized and placed as required by law

There are two ways to get information related to your case:

  1. discovery
  2. open public records requests

Discovery – Not the Way to Go

At first blush, discovery would seem to be the best way to go.  Discovery is where you ask the prosecutor to provide copies of the evidence that he will use against you in court.  Why not go directly to the source and force him to send you everything that you need?

I would argue that this is not the best approach for two reasons:

  1. Although the prosecutor is required to provide this information, he may not send it to you ahead of the trial.  You may not see the evidence until right before you have to argue your case.  You can object about this, but the judge may just say that he will let you review it for a couple of minutes and then start the case regardless.
  2. The prosecutor will not have in his possession some of the information you will need to win your case because he doesn’t need it to prove your guilt.  I am specifically referring to the documents related to proper authorization and placement of the speed limit signs.  In many states these signs are presumed to be legitimate unless you prove otherwise.

The Advantages of Open Public Records

For these two reasons, I would suggest that your best approach is to get all of the information that you need through open public records requests.  This way you will have everything that you need way ahead of time and so you can plan a proper defense.

But there is one other major advantage to using open public records requests – the prosecutor won’t have any idea what your strategy is.

Here is how I put it in my eBook The Script – My Detailed Outline for Trial in a Pennsylvania Court:

“More than likely, the prosecutor will have no idea what you are going to present as evidence and argument.  He will assume that you are a typical rube, and so will approach your case like all of the other traffic cases he has conducted in his career.  All that he will know about the case will come from his short conversation with the police officer a few minutes before he begins.  With that basic knowledge, he will feel confident that the case will be as straightforward as usual.  He has no idea what is about to come his way.”

Essentially, you are attempting to catch the prosecutor off-guard. 

This is exactly what happened when my son appeared in court on March 7, 2019.  He won his case because:

The prosecutor was so busy in court with previous cases that she never got a chance to speak with the police officer beforehand.  It was kind of embarrassing, because the officer didn’t remember anything about the case.  She didn’t remember the color of the car, the type, the direction is was traveling, the time of day, etc.”

After my son presented all of his evidence (which the prosecutor had no clue he was going to introduce), she didn’t know how to respond.  She thought that she had an open and shut stop sign case, and that the judge would simply believe the cop’s testimony.


Surprise!

But my son’s case had nothing to do with anything that the police officer said.  In fact, my son didn’t even testify on his own behalf.  All he did was present evidence that the stop sign was illegal.  Had the prosecutor known ahead of time that this was the approach he would take, she could have prepared a proper rebuttal.  Instead, she was left speechless, and my son won his case.

A 17-year old high school student defeated a seasoned county prosecutor.

Priceless …

If you want to read about the strategy that my son used to win, check out my 23-page eBook How My Son Beat an Unfair Stop Sign Ticket in Pennsylvania.

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