Cross-Examining the Police Officer in Traffic Court
The core of the prosecution’s case against a driver in traffic court is the testimony of the officer who issued the ticket. They will explain what they observed and why your behavior violated a traffic rule. Once the officer has finished their testimony, you can cross-examine the officer and try to expose holes in their narrative. Or, if you have an attorney, they will handle this process for you. A traffic attorney will be more familiar with the rules of cross-examination and may craft a stronger strategy.
The purpose of cross-examination is to challenge the state’s ability to show that you committed a violation beyond a reasonable doubt. You should prepare in advance by learning about the law governing your case. Then, you should develop a list of potential questions for the officer, based on what you think they will say in court. Getting the officer’s notes during the discovery process can help you develop the list. If they say something slightly different or add new facts, you can adjust your question list while the officer is providing their testimony.
Cross-examination usually can cover anything that is relevant to deciding the outcome of the case. In practice, this involves questions that affect the credibility of the officer and their opinion that you committed a traffic violation. You can ask questions that range from the general to the specific. Judges understand that most ordinary people will not frame questions perfectly and may not get to the point as efficiently as a professional attorney would. However, a judge may intervene if a driver starts pursuing an irrelevant series of questions. A judge is especially likely to intervene if a jury is hearing the case. If a prosecutor is present, they may make objections to your questions, and the judge will decide whether to overrule or sustain them.
Strategies for Cross-Examination
Often, a driver will argue that the officer lacked the ability to see what happened and respond appropriately. They can ask questions about where the officer’s vehicle was positioned when the sequence of events that resulted in the ticket started. Depending on their responses, the driver may be able to show that the officer did not have a clear line of sight. Photos and diagrams of the scene may help prove that there was an obstruction between the officer and the driver or that the officer would have been unlikely to see the violation because of their distance from the driver’s vehicle. Or the driver may be able to show that the officer was not paying attention when the events started, which may have affected their reactions and judgment.
The officer did not have a clear line of sight
The officer was not paying full attention
The officer’s equipment was not properly used or maintained
A driver also may be able to ask questions about the equipment that the officer used to measure their speed. If the officer cannot show that the equipment was properly maintained or explain their method for using it, this can suggest that they may have made a mistake. Remember that the goal of a driver is not to comprehensively prove their innocence but only to cast enough uncertainty over the prosecution’s case to prevent the prosecutor from proving their guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.