Should you pay that traffic ticket or fight it?

Claude Paquin's picture

Traffic infractions are criminal violations. To be convicted of a crime, a person must be found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

When a police officer states under oath that he saw a car driver go through a stop sign without stopping, and the car driver states under oath that he did stop, what should we conclude?

Looking at motivation, it is possible to say that the police officer might be influenced by an underlying and unacknowledged desire to demonstrate his efficiency and his willingness to support the fund-raising necessary to justify his employment.

But the motorist can also be suspected of wanting to save himself a fine, points on his driver’s license and an increase in his insurance premium.

So whom do you believe?

The benefit of the doubt always goes with the accused, the guiding principle being that it is better for 10 guilty defendants to go free than for one innocent to be punished.

In the practical setting of traffic offenses, it would take no time at all for just about everyone to go free if word got out that swearing you didn’t do the crime could get you off. Small city governments most often cannot shoulder the financial burden of corroborating by scientific evidence what its police officers claim to have seen.

Some of that is changing, however, as on-board cameras in police cars can record many infractions, just as radar units can accurately record speed.

In an effort to make traffic law enforcement practical, our state laws contemplate that the accused be charged only with violations of city ordinances when the violation is minor and the accused consents to a trial before a single judge, with no jury.

Unfortunately, to be practical, many of the traffic court judges decide to always take a police officer’s word over that of a citizen. That’s upsetting for a citizen who knows he is truly not guilty.

I suspect our traffic court judges are in part influenced by what we witness in sports. Referees make rulings that can be costly to a team, some of them demonstrably wrong as millions of people can clearly see on TV, and yet the players are expected to accept them and play on. You can’t have a full-blown trial over every referee’s ruling. Trials are costly in time and money, not to mention emotions, and we’ve all got to play on.

Looking upon police officers as if they were impartial referees, traffic court judges are often inclined to accept the ruling on the field when there is no practical means of review. Yet we know there can be some bad calls out there. The desire to be practical seems to trump all the lofty legal principles we have been asked to believe in.

I notice that in Tyrone there are many complaints about police officers handing out citations for failure to stop at a stop sign. It should not be all that difficult for these officers to document their charges with a videotape of the infraction. As technology becomes cheaper and simpler to use, we should use it, as we do in sports.

The ultimate responsibility to make that happen rests much more with our state legislators than with our judges. Our state legislators (like Sen. Ronnie Chance and Rep. Matt Ramsey) should be sensitive to that sort of problem and provide legislative solutions. That’s really what we elect them for.

If the National Football League, and other leagues, can adopt let’s-go-to-the-videotape review rules, so could the Georgia legislature.

In individual cases where it was impossible to make a videotape or procure other scientific evidence, judges would have to rely on testimony alone.

But when scientific evidence could have been had and was not, an honest citizen’s word should be as good as a police officer’s, and there should be no justification for disregarding the beyond a reasonable doubt rule in traffic cases.

[Claude Y. Paquin, a Fayette resident and now retired lawyer, successfully appealed his own son’s speeding ticket from Tyrone to the Georgia Supreme Court in 1991. This is not a recommendation for anyone else to try.]

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Submitted by Insayn on Fri, 03/06/2009 - 1:49pm.

First off everyone has the right to a lawyer, if someone chooses to go to court without one, that's their own fault their own problem. If people like you didn't charge $100 an hour for a consult Im sure more people would use lawyers.

Sounds like your playing off the "CSI" effect like everyone else, Mr. Paquin. More evidence? what do you want? Cameras on every light pole? That'd be great, big brother watching every inch of every road because you think every cop in the nation is corrupt and out to get your money, which they probably don't see a dime of anyway. And guess who pays for the cameras? Taxpayers. Okay for people like you, just tack on an extra $45 to you fees.

Got news for you bub. No one can drive down the road for a good distance and not commit at least one traffic infraction. Theres to much going on inside a car these days. Cell phones, radios, kids, food, Ipods, books, passengers... Aint no one who keeps it at 10 and 2, checks their mirrors every five seconds, and looks at every other car near them at all times. Pay attention to other drivers on the way to and from work one day and count how many cars you see running lights, pulling out in front of you, speeding, driving off the road, or any number of laws that are broken and tell me "Ive never done that". I'd call BS before you opened your mouth.

As for car cameras a simple google search showed some of those digital in car cameras costing anywhere from $3000 - $8000 (even showed some with up to 3 minutes of "pre-record" ie shows 3 minutes ahead of when the lights are turned on). I want to see every car outfitted with one of these and then I want to see how many complaints come from people screaming about spending money. Guess The police would pay the cameras off in traffic court in fines. And Id be willing to bet that those cameras would show that you actually did do what you swear you didn't do.

Ill tell you id believe a corrupt cop before Id believe a defense attorney.

Submitted by dontmakemesay on Sat, 03/07/2009 - 4:10pm.

You missed the point, there are video cameras on the police cars. They could be used to video the running of the stop sign, but they are only turned on when it is advantageous to the police, not the taxpayer. If the police are honest, they won't mind turning them on. We wouldn't be paying one cent more.

I called my insurance company, Allstate, and confirmed. The person that wrote the below quote is correct. If there are a lot of tickets written in your area, they raise everyones rates that live in the are of 'high incidents' premium. Peachtree City and Tyrone are legions for tickets.

"I also was also informed by the adjuster, that since there were many 'incidents' ,....(meaning tickets written),in my area area...(meaning Tyrone)

that also makes my insurance higher. "

This is not fighting crime, this is just making insurance companies more money and anyone that belives a police department that spends all their time sitting under bridges, talking on their cells phones, instead of doing dopers, is stupid! This is what out tax dollars are really being spent on. I for one, don't need it.

Submitted by loanarranger707 on Tue, 03/10/2009 - 11:41am.

At 11:35 a.m., on Tuesday, March 10, I noticed a PTC police car positioning itself on the Highway 54 bridge (or overpass) across Lake Peachtree, on Highway 54, going east, in the leftmost lane. At that location there is a third lane that opens up on the left, right after the grassy median on which there are various plants. The officer was backing up so the police car would not be visible to an approaching driver.

Georgia Code section 40-14-7 states that No stationary speed detection device shall be employed by municipal law enforcement officers where the vehicle from which the device is operated is obstructed from the view of approaching motorists or is otherwise not visible for a distance of at least 500 feet.

It is clear that that officer should have been better trained about what is legal and what is not. Police officers are not permitted to break the law to make a case.

By the time the officer has caught up with the speeding driver, the driver has no idea where the police car was, and is thus in no position to argue that the officer violated the law.

Is that fair?

Does it invite respect for the law, the justice system, or law enforcement?

Submitted by Bonkers on Tue, 03/10/2009 - 1:07pm.

The only speeding ticket I have gotten was on the Fayetteville trap coming west on 54 from the Tiger Lane to the Gingercake Road.
I was ticketed at 58MPH in a 45 zone before I got to the 55 MPH sign.

I don't know if I was speeding or not--it is hard to tell at 58 MPH going downhill on a clear road.

But, I must say that the 500 foot visibility of a police car law is stupid!!!
From what direction? It would have to be ALL DIRECTIONS which in town is quite impossible usually.

The Fayetteville trap uses one of the left side home streets to park under trees usually--across from a cut across to the 54 going west.

I would venture to say that 95% let their car drift down that hill at whatever speed it attains. Seems strange to brake on a main highway from drift speed!

Hiding is OK with me as long as they use common sense and do what they can to get such a speed limit changed at least for part of that drive. Once past Grady, 55 should be the limit.

I doubt much time is spent evaluating these things, however.

matt.barnes's picture
Submitted by matt.barnes on Tue, 03/10/2009 - 1:17pm.

Whats the deal with Hwy 74? Its three lanes now and the speed limit is still only 45mph. What the hell?

Submitted by ptcmom678 on Tue, 03/10/2009 - 1:22pm.

Sweetie, according to the PTCPD and the DOT, that is still a construction zone in spite of the 3 lanes. What is left to do? I don't know - looks done to me and the speed trap cops;)

Submitted by Insayn on Sat, 03/07/2009 - 8:03pm.

The insurance company raising rates because the police give out tickets doesn't show that the police are benefiting. That's the insurance company's using another BS excuse to make more money (how does someone else getting a ticket affect your rates? only the ticketed drivers rates should go up). The same BS that got us into this slump in the first place. Goes back to another post of mine... People (business) will lie, cheat and steal to get ahead or to get one more all mighty dollar.

As for those cameras, more looking on the internet (Google is your friend) showed that VHS type cameras turn on when the officer turns the lights on. I didnt see any of the VHS types having "prerecord". So it wouldnt start until after the officer pulls you over anyway.

Cyclist's picture
Submitted by Cyclist on Thu, 03/05/2009 - 8:04pm.

a citizen. I've pulled up an example of just how the police and the local DA are sometimes ignorant of a law and could use their authority to adversely change to the outcome against the driver or other road user.

The following video has cyclist who contacted the local PD in Wisconsin and the DA concerning his right on the road. (I know many of you disagree about cyclists on the road but, that's not the message here.) Halfway through the video the local PD said that a cyclist can't ride on the road and DA flatly agreed with them. That's a tall hill to overcome in court when these two are working against you.


Caution - The Surgeon General has determined that constant blogging is an addiction that can cause a sedentary life style.

Submitted by cdl305 on Wed, 03/04/2009 - 11:02pm.

Two points:

As an observer of PTC court, I firmly believe that the presumption of innocence is left at the door. The burden of proof is upon the accused. This is what you get when you have a paid city official interpreting the law created by paid city/state officials which is enforced by paid city officials. I am hard pressed to say that there is no bias in this arrangement.

Second, our elected legislature, particularly Ramsey, appears much more interested in legislating the removal of personal freedoms than preserving them. Wrong direction to look for support on that front.

Submitted by Claude Y Paquin on Thu, 03/05/2009 - 1:17pm.

I believe it would not be unreasonable to ask our own local legislators to sponsor legislation which would state something like this:

No conviction for a traffic offense shall be had in any municipal court of this state on the sole testimony of a police officer where all the following conditions shall have been met: (1) the accused personally testifies and denies under oath that he committed the offense, and nothing in his testimony constitutes an admission that he committed the offense, (2) there is no articulable reason to believe the accused is not telling the truth, (3) the prosecutor had or could reasonably have had the opportunity to gather physical evidence of the infraction through a videotape, radar or other device, and (4) the accused was not guilty of another traffic offense occurring within the three years preceding the date of the traffic offense for which he is being tried.

In any such traffic case where there is a conviction after the accused challenged the facts leading to his conviction, the court shall enter upon the record of the case the condition or conditions which were not met which justified the conviction.

As I said in the article I published last week, our legislators are in the legislature "to serve and to protect," and it's up to the citizens to put the pressure on them to do just that.

ilockemup's picture
Submitted by ilockemup on Thu, 03/05/2009 - 4:11pm.

Put the bong down, Claude....What a ridiculous suggestion---- the cop's testimony is not enough. Typical lawyer/legislator--- let's pass another 50 volumes of new rules and regulations to keep the lawyers in business and the perps on the street.

suggarfoot's picture
Submitted by suggarfoot on Thu, 03/05/2009 - 4:58pm.

It seems strange the police have a video camera but only use it ..after... they pull someone over.

Our town governments have got completly out of control with this money maker. It doesn't serve the taxpayers, nor give them justice in court. Only more dollars to the town.

It does a lot of damage to the taxpayer. Case in point. I just got my car insurance canceled because one of Tyrone's finest, gave me a ticket for as they said, not comming to a complete stop. It wasn't true, but you never win in their court.

When I called the insurance ajustor, I was told I had another 'incident' in 2006.

The 'incident' was one of Tyrone's who tickets me for a... blinker light... out.

Not a warning,

a ticket.

I was also informed by the ajustor, that since there were many 'incidents' ,....(meaning tickets written),in my area area...(meaning Tyrone)

that also makes my insurance higher.

So I could be home sleeping in my bed, Tyrone could be out there writing tickets while I sleep, and because this shows up to the ajustors as a 'high incident area', my insurance goes up.

Also in the traffic court, there is no presumtion of innocents. That is a joke. The town and the police should find a more respectable way to earn money.

Submitted by Claude Y Paquin on Thu, 03/05/2009 - 4:44pm.

Three Atlanta cops were sent to federal prison last week because they had lied to a magistrate to obtain a warrant to search the residence of a 92-year-old woman and, after causing her to be killed while she defended her own home in the middle of the night, planting little baggies of either weeds or drugs through her house so they could justify the search.

Now I've got to ask: what planet are you livinge on, ilockmeup?

cogitoergofay's picture
Submitted by cogitoergofay on Thu, 03/05/2009 - 5:47pm.

More laws are not needed. But perhaps that is the only reflexive response which could be expected from the legal profession. Mr. Paquin, I will wager, had an unfortunate traffic court experience (for which he accepted no blame) and wants to create more law. Perhaps the legislature will call it "Claude's Law", have annual parades complete with tee shirts. Please--- just say no to more laws.

The Internal Revenue, it was recently observed, consists of 17,000 pages. The Code of Federal Regulations consists of 75,000 pages. Average Americans waste 5 billion hours doing taxes, estimated to be a net loss to the economy of $200 billion dollars. Businesses, in keeping up with the Federal Regulatory morass, waste another $500 billion on (you guessed it) lawyers to translate the Congressional gibberish.

The answer here is not more laws. It is simple accountability. If a cop is corrupt, send him or her to prison. A single anecdote by Mr. Paquin turns into a justification for making the system even more complicated and making the public even more hopelessly dependent on lawyers. Ah, Mr. Paquin is a lawyer.

Take for example cell phones and texting and driving. Rep. Ramsey, in desperation to show he is doing anything, wants create a new sanction which discriminates against young drivers. Why? If someone is driving distracted, regardless of the cause or the driver's age, there is an infraction and it should be punished. Why is the teen so horrible and yet if I choose to eat my BK Double loaded sandwich while driving, I'm ok....Oh no, here comes the legislative sanction on driving while feeding face.

No, Mr. Paquin, more laws and more lawyers is most assuredly not the solution.

suggarfoot's picture
Submitted by suggarfoot on Thu, 03/05/2009 - 6:43pm.

just saying what is true. With the burden of proof on the novice citizen, and being up against the police, judge, prosecuting attorney,and town, you don't stand a chance. The video cameras are in the police cars. They are only turned on when it is to the police's advantage. We pay for those cameras as well as the police cars. The video would be the only shred of evidence the citizen would have. To not video 'the crime' is BS. And Mr P is also correct. There were some police sent to to prison for killing an old woman and then trying to make it look like she was a dope dealer. If you don't think that happens on smaller issues, like writing tickets to justify their existence, then guess again.

Submitted by Spyglass on Wed, 03/04/2009 - 4:37pm.

If I am not, I fight it. It's as simple as that.

Submitted by johannabartley on Wed, 06/03/2009 - 3:26am.

There aren't many people that act like you. Most people would do anything to get around a fine. Some officers might be guilty and then a good fraud lawyer can save us. Still, a cop wouldn't risk his I'm going with a 20-80% in the cops' favor.

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