Many people think a traffic ticket is a relatively simple matter, and believe that they should be able to defend their own traffic ticket and that it’s not worth it to hire a lawyer.
The problem is, without a sophisticated understanding of the rules of law and evidence in a courtroom, and the procedure that’s to be applied in a courtroom, people make significant mistakes while disputing their own traffic tickets.
So here are the top five mistakes we have found people make when disputing their own tickets.
Not challenging police officers on their evidence
Many people go to traffic court and think that it’s just going to be a situation where the police officer tells their side of the story, you tell your side and the judge decides who to believe.
This could not be further from the truth. There is a very important evidentiary rule, called the rule in Browne and Dunne. This rule states that if you are going to advance, as part of your case, a certain set of facts that differ from the other parties’ case, you have to confront the other party with that set of facts.
That means that once the officer is done testifying in chief, you must cross-examine the officer, and put your version of events to the officer, to see what they have to say about it.
People often fail to comply with this rule, and as a result, the court hears untested evidence from the police officer, and the officer doesn’t have an opportunity to respond to how somebody may be characterizing their defence.
While there are no hard and fast rules about what happens when the Browne and Dunne rule is breached, it can often lead to a situation where your evidence is less likely to be believed, because it hasn’t been challenged in the same way.
Consenting to the admissibility of evidence that may not be admissible
Police officers often try to lead evidence, in the course of a trial, which is not permissible. For example, statements that you make at the roadside may not be admissible because they were either obtained in violation of your rights or were made involuntarily.
Certain legal rules apply to determine whether a statement was made voluntarily or made in violation of your charter rights, and who has to prove what and how is also different.
A judicial justice sitting in traffic court doesn’t have the authority to determine if a statement taken in violation of your Charter Rights is admissible, and can only be determined by a provincial court judge. Many people don’t understand what they are arguing when they’re saying a statement was improperly taken, and thus do not ask the judge or judicial justice to enter into the right hearing.
Similarly, taking photos, notes, charts, or videos, all of these pieces of evidence may have certain legal rules governing their admissibility, but when you don’t understand what those legal rules are and how to apply them, evidence that shouldn’t be admissible is often admitted by the court into evidence against you because you consent to its admissibility.
Not understanding how to properly cross-examine
As the author of the best-selling book on cross-examination, Cross-examination: The Pinpoint Method, Kyla Lee can say that she can cross-examine a police officer fairly well in traffic court. However, these skills have been developed through years of experience, years of reading resources, watching other people do it, and understanding the process that leads to getting the answer that you want.
While cross-examination may look very easy when you watch it on TV, it is not that easy when you put it into practice. Because it can play such an important role in your ability to defend yourself or prove your version of events, doing it properly is critical to helping your case.
Not understanding essential evidence of the offence
While we often refer to tickets in their colloquial ways, like speeding or distracted driving, in reality, these traffic ticket offences are far more complicated to prove. Each word that the legislature chose when they wrote the offence in the Motor Vehicle Act has meaning and is important in determining how that charge is to be interpreted.
So not understanding each fact that the prosecution must prove, and facts that always must be proven in a case, such as a date, time and jurisdiction, can also make it difficult to successfully defend a traffic ticket on your own. We have watched many self-represented people in traffic court end up providing evidence about missing essential evidence of the defence which then leads to them being convicted of the distracted driving offence.
This is unfortunate and it is one of the many reasons why having a lawyer can assist you in better defending yourself in a traffic ticket case.
Not understanding the consequences of certain plea deals and negotiations with the police
Police will most of the time, try to negotiate with you outside the courtroom. Because they are not lawyers, and not familiar with all the different consequences that come along with getting a traffic ticket, they can sometimes misadvise you on the consequences of pleading guilty, unintentionally. This can lead to you pleading guilty to an offence that has a greater consequence that may cause you to get a driving prohibition or penalty points.
Coming to reasonable resolutions outside of traffic courts is important, and one of the things that the court expects is going to happen in order to facilitate the efficient resolution of the numerous cases that are all scheduled to be heard at the same time, but unless you know exactly what you’re pleading to and all of the consequences you are going to face, a plea may hurt you. This is why having a lawyer to advise you on the consequences of any plea is helpful.