If you decide to fight a traffic ticket, rather than paying the fine or going to traffic school, you need to prepare your defense before going to court. A driver who has a valid defense may still lose their case if they are unprepared and unable to properly articulate it. You can consult a lawyer to help you decide whether you have a strong argument, and you can even hire a lawyer to represent you in the proceedings. If you decide to proceed without representation, you will want to carefully research the relevant law to determine the defenses that may apply.
Finding and Reviewing the Statute
The citation often will provide the name and number of the statute that you allegedly violated. The officer might handwrite it or check a box in a list of traffic laws. The citation might provide a brief description of what the statute covers. Also, during your conversation with the officer, they likely will tell you what you did that led to the citation. Your next step should be to find the law online by going to the website of the state legislature. A traffic law might be found in its own section of the state code, or it might be found in a related section, such as the Transportation Code. If the citation does not provide the specific number of the statute, you should be able to find it by searching on Google for laws related to that type of violation in your state.
You should be aware that the burden of proof is always on the state to show that you violated every element of the law. This means that you need to identify each element and determine whether you can argue that the state does not have enough evidence to prove it. If you succeed in this argument, you should be able to defeat the ticket.
Disproving an Element of the Law
If a driver introduces evidence showing that they did not violate one element of the law, they may be able to defeat the ticket. For example, a traffic law may provide that a violation occurs when a driver (1) exceeds 25 mph (2) in a school zone (3) between the hours of 8:00 – 9:00 a.m. If the driver introduces a witness who says that the driver was not in a school zone when the alleged violation occurred, they may be able to rebut the second element of the law and defeat the ticket.
Reviewing Cases Interpreting the Statute
While traffic laws tend to be very specific and detailed, the interpretation of a law can make a difference. Sometimes the meaning of a term in the statute is not obvious, or the way in which the statute is written may create ambiguities regarding how the elements interact. These issues often need to be resolved by appellate courts, especially when lower courts reach conflicting rulings. If you are not sure about what a word or phrase actually means, or if you are having trouble parsing the grammar of the statute, you may be able to find guidance by reviewing these decisions. You should make sure to limit your search to decisions in your state. Decisions in other states, even if they are reviewing the same type of rule and the same language, have little or no impact on the outcome of a case in your state.
You can search for relevant appellate cases in your state on the Justia website, which provides a broad range of state court opinions for free. Most other online sources of case law make opinions available only for a price and are not always easy to use for a non-lawyer. Another option is simply to arrange a consultation with an attorney and ask them a question about a specific issue related to the law. You may be able to get an initial consultation for free. If your case is very technical, or if you are making a novel legal argument, you should strongly consider hiring an attorney to handle it for you. Otherwise, you can seek assistance from a librarian at a public law library.