Evidentiary Objections in Legal Proceedings in Traffic Court
A driver in a traffic court case can make objections to the prosecution’s testimony, but this strategy should be used sparingly. If you flood the courtroom with a series of objections on minor issues, the judge may become frustrated and inclined to rule against you. You should save objections for situations in which the testimony could have a significant impact. However, an objection that is well-founded and relevant to the substance of the case can derail the officer, making their testimony less persuasive. Undermining the credibility of the officer can go a long way toward a favorable outcome, since the prosecution relies on their testimony.
Objecting to the Officer Reading from Notes
You may be able to object to an officer reading from their notes during their testimony. The notes are the main basis for the officer’s recollection of the incident, and you should gain access to them during discovery if possible. Evidentiary rules usually prevent a witness from reading directly from a document during their testimony unless they create a proper foundation for using the document. If the officer seems to be reading directly from their notes, you can object on the basis that this is inadmissible hearsay. The judge will tell the officer to lay the proper foundation for the notes and allow you to read the notes.
Laying the proper foundation means that the officer must state that they cannot remember the details of what happened, but they recorded the events leading to the violation shortly afterward. They also must testify that they need to use the notes to refresh their memory. Sometimes the officer will not know how to lay a foundation, and the judge may help them. You can object to the judge helping the officer if they ask leading questions, although this may not be successful.
You can then renew your objection and ask that the officer testify according to their independent recollection. Regardless of how the judge rules on this objection, you will have seen the officer’s notes, which can help you strategize for your defense. You also will have cast doubt on the officer’s ability to remember what happened without using the notes. If they introduce new facts that are not contained in the notes, you may be able to challenge the accuracy of those statements.
Objecting to Hearsay Evidence
The hearsay rule is one of the most commonly cited evidentiary rules, and also one of the most complicated. In general, a witness cannot testify about something that they did not personally observe. You can object to a question that would elicit hearsay before the officer answers it, or you can object immediately after the officer answers and ask for the answer to be removed from the record.
For example, if your ticket resulted from an accident, the officer probably did not personally witness the accident. If they testify that someone who witnessed the accident told them something about it, this usually can be excluded. In another example, an officer in a police car on the ground cannot testify about what a police officer in a plane told them about your speed.
There are some exceptions to the hearsay rule, such as admissions by a party to a case. Thus, the officer can testify about statements that the driver made if they admitted to a violation during the police stop.
Objecting to Assuming Facts Not in Evidence
Sometimes a driver’s defense will involve an argument that the officer mistook their vehicle for another vehicle. When this applies, the driver can attack a statement by the officer that they saw “the defendant’s vehicle” committing a violation. If this statement is admitted, it would lead to the inaccurate assumption that you were the driver of the vehicle. Instead, the officer needs to refer to the vehicle as “a vehicle.” This type of objection is also known as an objection based on a lack of personal knowledge.
The judge may tell the officer how to properly state the information without assuming the identity of the vehicle. In other situations, the judge may sustain the driver’s objection and eliminate the officer’s testimony from the record.
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