Written by Gregory Monte.
“Do you know why I stopped you?”
I know that there are many people out there who support the police no matter what. According to their way of thinking, we should have the utmost respect for the men & women in blue who put their lives on the line for us each and every day.
I get that viewpoint, but I also realize that, all too often, most citizens only encounter the cops when they get a traffic ticket. This is often a negative experience, and it turns many of us into cynics when it comes to law enforcement in general. It doesn’t help if during that encounter the cop is arrogant rather than polite.
I was inspired to write about the police after I read the article quoted at the start of this blog post. The sad, but true, fact of the matter is that the police are not always honest. Even if you are stopped for a minor traffic infraction, you have to watch what you say when the officer who pulled you over asks you a question.
After all, as the Miranda Warning indicates:
I am going to break down this blog post into three parts.
- My personal experience with a cop who misrepresented the truth (lied) in court.
- A reader’s personal experience with a cop who misrepresented the truth (lied) lied in court.
- An actual PA Superior Court case where a defendant’s verdict was reversed because a cop got caught misrepresenting the truth (lying?) in court.
My Personal Experience – The Stop Sign Ticket
I got a stop sign ticket about 5-6 years ago in Deer Park, New York. On that fateful day, there was an unmarked police car parked near the stop sign at the end of the Port Jervis exit ramp off of Route 84. As far as I can remember, I stopped at the sign, turned left, proceeded about 300 feet down the road and was then directed into a parking by a uniformed police officer. The officer told me that his partner had radioed down to him that I had failed to come to a complete stop. A ticket was “duly” issued.
Needless to say, I pled “not guilty” and went to court to challenge it.
I had done some research ahead of time using open public records requests and found out that the Deer Park police were operating a seat belt check the day I got my ticket. This operation involved three officers working as a team – one at the stop sign, and two in the parking lot.
This was a very efficient set-up which minimized traffic back-ups on the main road. The officer in the unmarked car could easily observe seat belt violations as cars stopped right next to him, and the officers down the road could pull people to the side to write the tickets. The only potential problem with this very efficient operation was that the witness to the “crime” was not the person who issued the citation. In fact, the notes on my ticket strongly suggested that the alleged violation was not actually witnessed by the issuing officer.
My Personal Experience – In Court
When the officer who actually witnessed my alleged failure to stop (the one in the unmarked car) didn’t show up, I figured I was home free. After all, there was no witness to the alleged offense:
“In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right … to be confronted with the witnesses against him …” 6th Amendment – your right to face your accuser
This case should have been a slam dunk for me, but I lost. I did everything that I was supposed to do. First I told the judge that the charge should be dropped because there were no witnesses to the alleged violation. Then I even pointed out the notes on the ticket to support my point of view. But when the judge turned to the cop for his response, he outright lied. He said that, not only had he received a call from his partner in the unmarked car, he had also personally witnessed my failure to stop.
I was dumbfounded. Remember how I indicated that he was something like 300 feet down the road? Well, that road also curves slightly to the right. In addition, he was stationed in a store parking lot 25 feet in from the highway with no direct line of sight to the exit ramp.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t expecting this mendacity, so I didn’t have any proof that he couldn’t possibly have personally witnessed my alleged failure to stop – stupidity on my part. Yes, back then, I naïvely thought that all cops were honorable individuals sworn to uphold the law, tell the truth, enforce justice, blah, blah, blah.
A Reader’s Experience
Here is a statement that was posted on my Facebook page about a reader’s experience receiving an unfair stop sign ticket. As in my case, the cop misrepresented the truth (lied):
“That’s what I did, came to a complete stop. Bushes was blocking line of sight. Eased up to intersection all was clear, I proceeded across, Greenville County deputy who I saw setting on side of road, pulled me over wrote me a ticket for running a stop sign & reckless driving, $469.00 and 6 points. Went to court and lost but won on appeal proved Deputy was lying, and that Magistrate disallowed the evidence that supported my case. In other words, the Deputy and Magistrate were lying their ass off and didn’t think I would push it that far. I would have done it on a $25.00 fine with no points taken. If you are not guilty I’ll fight it tooth and nail. Take no crap off the law, work to take their badge off their chest!”
Judges More Principled in Appellate Court
The individual who posted on my Facebook page experienced a typical traffic court situation – usually judges believe the police officer. I discussed this unfortunate fact in a blog post last month: Your Traffic Ticket Testimony is Trivial and Trifling in a Trial
This is why I often say that the only way to win in court is to find a technicality in the law which a judge has no choice but to accept: A Sure Fire Way to Beat a Traffic Ticket
At higher levels on appeal, for some reason, the judges are more even-handed. I discussed this particular issue in another blog post also from last month: Your Car is Your Castle – Sort of
Whether higher level judges are more intelligent or just more concerned with the law, you do tend to get a more even playing field on appeal. Maybe it is because they are not caught up in local politics, but whatever the reason, it is encouraging to see that they are more inclined to decide cases based on principle.
The Pennsylvania Superior Court Case
The appellant in the case I discuss below also had his verdict reversed because a higher court didn’t just automatically believe everything the police officer said.
“However, at the suppression hearing, Trooper Walsh’s testimony changed. First, Trooper Walsh maintained that there were no vehicles in front of Appellant’s at the intersection, despite being confronted with his preliminary hearing testimony that he could not recall this fact … Appellant’s counsel once again confronted Trooper Walsh with his contradictory preliminary hearing testimony … The only evidence presented by the Commonwealth was the ambiguous and inconsistent testimony of Trooper Walsh … Judgment of sentence reversed.”
After I write a post, I then have to decide how to categorize it. When it comes to judges, I have three categories in my archives:
- Judges are Funny!
- Judges Rule!
- Judges Suck!
I think that this will be the first of the “judges” posts to be placed into two categories. While there certainly is nothing funny in any of the situations I described above, there is definitely a lesson to be learned about how judges can, on occasion, both rule and suck. This post makes that abundantly clear.