PSA: Do not base your defence on a news story

When you are building a defence against a traffic ticket, it’s important to do the research. Lawyers spend their lives learning about their chosen area of the law, and here’s the thing: they never stop learning. The law constantly changes and any half-decent lawyer actively works to keep up-to-date with case-law, new legislation and any other developments.

It’s for this reason that you would never see a lawyer advance an argument in Court based on a news story. A story, even from the most trusted of sources, will never be as reliable as a piece of evidence as case law. A piece of news can exist almost in its own bubble in time. When you consume a piece of old news on its own, for example, it’s not immediately obvious if the content of the story has developed since it was published. When it comes to the law, on the other hand, any piece of legislation that is amended has to be clearly labelled. Similarly, any judgement superseded by another judgement will contain a citation to the most up-to-date case.

Why am I bringing this up? Well, a recent case goes to show the dangers of relying on the news for your legal argument. In this brief BC Supreme Court decision, Mr. Pastega, who represented himself, appealed a ticket for use of an electronic device while driving. He explained that he had his phone on his lap which he was using to speak to his wife.

Mr. Pastega argued that he was not holding the phone as defined by the Motor Vehicle Act because it was on his lap. He brought up a news report to support his argument. Presumably, the news story reported on another distracted driving case in which someone had a phone on their lap and was found not guilty.

The BC Supreme Court judge said Mr. Pastega had been misled by the news report, stating: “I am not blaming anyone for that, but the reality is that news is reported in a certain way for a certain purpose, and the analysis of the law is not always as complete as it needs to be.”

I sympathise with Mr. Pastega because, as readers of this blog will know, the law surrounding distracted driving seems to change every week. In recent months, what constitutes “use” and “holding” of an electronic device has gone back and forth. I’ve argued constantly that the law needs to be clarified and unfortunately the appellant in this case got the wrong impression from a news report.

So when people ask why you need to get a lawyer for a traffic ticket case, this case is an excellent example. The law is ever-evolving and news stories may not give the clearest depiction of how a case applies to what happened to you. If the self-represented appellant had sought legal help, they would have been able to tell him that his argument lacked merit.

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