Pitfalls of Self-Representation in Traffic Court

Traffic court is a very confusing and often frightening place for self-represented litigants. Unfortunately, that can sometimes result in people being taken advantage of by police officers who are trained in the law and rules of evidence in traffic court. It can also result in people not knowing when the court is making a legally incorrect ruling.

A recent BC Supreme Court traffic ticket appeal case demonstrates some of the pitfalls of being unrepresented in a system that can feel stacked against you.

The BC Supreme Court released a decision today reminding police that they must abide by rules of evidence when prosecuting traffic matters.  

In R. v. Chan, (https://www.bccourts.ca/jdb-txt/sc/21/13/2021BCSC1383.htm) a decision of the Honourable Mr. Justice Williams, the Court found fault with an officer who successfully entered evidence which amounted to an egregious breach of the rules of evidence. The officer was said to have proceeded with “considerable zeal” to enter inadmissible hearsay, likely with respect to a collision.  

The presiding Judicial Justice, who refused to allow an adjournment at the outset to allow Mr. Chan to hire a lawyer, allowed the hearsay evidence and then substantially overstated the effect of the evidence to found a conviction.

Although the Crown conceded the appeal, Mr. Justice Williams felt it was necessary to go further and decline the Crown’s application for a new trial, stating that “the irregularities that enabled the admission of the evidence were not minor or technical in nature; these were not close calls. They were quite egregious violations of basic rules or evidence.”

It is unusual to find the BC Supreme Court would characterize a proceeding in a lower court as “most troubling” and find that a police officer “ran roughshod over fundamental rules of evidence” which makes this decision an interesting read and particularly instructive for the police when they act as prosecutor at trial.

Had Mr. Chan been represented by counsel, the impugned evidence may not have been considered. The Court notes that “it is as well not without significance that (Mr. Chan) was not represented by counsel at the hearing.”

This is why it can be important to hire a lawyer to represent you in your traffic court hearing… because if you do not you may not know when things are not going the way they should.

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