When being charged with a traffic ticket, always remember to respect the police officer in your words and actions: do not make any unpredictable movements and express your frustration after the police officer leaves the scene.
Once you have the citation, read it closely to determine if you need to call the court or follow any other instructions. If you choose to contest the traffic ticket, consider the following approaches or consult your local attorney. If you don’t contest your traffic ticket, you can face increased car insurance premiums, points on your license leading to a revoked license, and even jail time if your traffic violation is linked to more severe crimes.
Why were you pulled over? Under Utah law, officers may stop any person in a public space if the officer has a reasonable, articulable suspicion to believe the person has committed, is in the act of committing, or is attempting to commit a crime. Avoiding where a known police officer is located or having out-of-state plates is not considered a reasonable, articulable suspicion.
Challenge the officer’s subjective conclusion. Subjective conclusions are based on personal feelings or opinions. “Driving too fast for conditions” is a subjective opinion whereas “driving 95 mph in a 65 mph zone” could be more objective. Interestingly, in Utah, you can challenge a speeding ticket if you were reasonable and prudent under existing conditions while you sped. This leaves even more room to challenge the officer’s subjective conclusion.
Challenge the officer’s observations. Whose version of the facts are correct? Yours or the officer’s? Are there witnesses? You can increase doubt to the officer’s opinion by creating a diagram of the scene including your location and the officer’s location, provide pictures of the intersection, traffic signal, key objects, or the other vehicle.
Mistake of fact. If you make an honest and reasonable error, the judge may consider the circumstances were beyond your control. For example, if a temporary speed limit sign was removed or fell over or a stop sign is hidden due to a fallen branch or the pedestrian crosswalk markers are extremely faded, you could have your case dismissed.
Legally justified. If you offer an additional fact to justify your otherwise unlawful action, you may successfully dismiss your case. If you are driving too slow in the left-passing lane, you could argue you were preparing to make a left turn and there was not a turning lane. Driving slow in the left lane, alone, is unlawful. Making a left turn without a turning lane is within the law. There is no other way to make a left turn in that location without being in the left lane. These types of defenses can be very successful because you are adding information to the case rather than contradicting the officer.
Necessary to avoid harm. To claim this defense, you must explain why you were forced to violate a traffic law in order to avoid a serious or immediate danger to yourself or others. Your own inattention or personal needs are not valid reasons to use this defense. For example, missing a stop sign because you are talking on your cell phone is not a valid reason to violate the traffic law. Swerving out of your lane to avoid being hit by a tailgating car, deer, person, bovine, or other unexpected obstacle could meet this standard.
Try to follow all traffic laws and posted signs. But if you are unlucky, consider these options when contesting your ticket.
Disclaimer. As always, my column is not legal advice, instead merely insight into the law and legal profession. If you have a general question about the law or legal profession, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 435.610.1431.
Published in the August 8, 2018 Wayne & Garfield County Insider.