I'm concidering fighting a driving ticket, need advice.

OK, I’m leaving work to go home for my first break. It’s about 8:00 AM a tad bit dark, not to bad, but very misty, or foggy. The parking lot where I’m pulling out of is perpendicular to a two way street. I look both ways, don’t see any on coming traffic, and pull out, turning left, to the far lane. As I get in it, I notice that I almost hit a car I had a hard time seeing because it’s lights weren’t on. Most of the cars had their head lights on, and I only saw about one or two others that didn’t, besides the car I came close to hitting. I get home, and as I pull up in my driveway, I get out and as I’m about to go into my house, I see flashing lights. It turns out that car I almost hit was a cop car. The driver gets out (he has a partner, but he doesn’t say anything) and tells me that I almost hit him (no duh). I explain that I had a hard time seeing him because of the fact that it’s foggy and he didn’t have his lights on. He tells me that “I’m not buying that…” (as if I’m lying) because when he turned around in the parking lot where I work and pulled out, he had no problems seeing any cars. So he writes me a failure to yield ticket.

Anyway, I’m thinking about pleading innocent and taking this to trial. The one main thing against me is, for tickets, cops don’t need any evidence, judges just take them at their word, and since I didn’t have a camcorder to document just how foggy it was, it’s my word against his, so the judge is sure to believe him, just because he’s a cop. Now, I’m not saying that the officer is lying, I just think that he was mistaken about visibility conditions.

Anyway, to end this rambling, I’ll say that maybe the one good think that taking this to trial could do is that maybe the officer and/or his partner won’t want to take the time to go, and they’ll drop the charges…yeah, fat chance, but I’ve heard of that working.

So, now that you know all the facts, and my feelings on the matter, if I were to plead innocent, is there anything I could do that would help my case? Or is it lost cause since it’s just his word against mine?

You could fight it, based on the argument you provided and the chance the cops don’t show.

Even if you lose, you could petition the judge for a fine or point reduction, and likely get it.

Two tips:

  1. Call the station house or barracks and ask to speak to the officer who gave you your ticket. If he’s not available, make a note of it, and call back. Do this until you can make an educated guess of when the cop’s off day is, and then move your court date to that day of the week. A cop won’t want to come into court on his day off for a stupid traffic stop.

If the cop does show up, don’t even let it get that far, if you’re sure you’ll lose. Head on over to the prosecutor on duty and try to plead out for driving improvement class, fine and point reduction, and the like.

I’ve been thinking of the idea of getting lucky, and getting a chance for a drivers ed class instead of the ticket. I don’t mind the ticket so much, well, I kind of do, but it’s the possibility of this going on my record. It’s clean, but even one infraction like this could mean higher rates. I don’t want that.

I hear ya Joel; that would really piss me off, especially if it was a cop that was guilty of driving in the fog without headlights.

One thing that may be worth considering: Is there a law in Oregon (assuming that’s where this happened) regarding headlights in foggy driving conditions? I know, for example, that in Virginia you are required to use your headlights in any weather situation where you are also using your windshield wipers (thought I don’t know how much it’s enforced).

I believe (VA again), though I’m not sure, that there’s also a law requiring headlight use at certain times with respect to sunrise and sunset (something along the lines requiring headlights at any time between a half hour after sunset and a half hour before sunrise). I don’t know when the sun rises where you are, but it may be worth seeing if there are any such applicable laws.

Good thinking, I’ll check it out. Thanks.

It might be worth seeing if you could get a weather report from a newspaper or somewhere confirming the foggy conditions. It might also work in your favor that the cop wrote you a ticket for something that you allegedly did to him, rather than a violation that he simply observed. That makes it personal, and judges sometimes take offense if they think a cop is using his badge in a personal dispute.

I don’t know about calling his station every day. If he comes to the phone, what are you going to say to him? Ideally, in the weeks or months it takes for the case to get to court, his memory of the event will fade, and if he fumbles in court you benefit. You don’t want to give him a reason to remember you or think about you. And in a lot of jurisdictions, cops are assigned specific court dates as part of their work schedules, and all of their tickets are heard on those dates. You don’t get to schedule a hearing on his day off.

It seems to me that what you said here is an entirely reasonable defense. You didn’t see the guy in low-visibility conditions because he didn’t have his lights on and everybody else did. You might even try to summon his partner as a witness, in which case you could question him separately about road conditions, the driver’s (ticket writer’s) attitude, etc. And if you can get a continuance until they can get the other cop into court that works in your favor too.

Never be afraid to go to traffic court. Sometimes you can win on the facts, sometimes the cop won’t show up, sometimes you can get traffic school, and at the least the judge will usually reduce the fine and sometimes suspend the points. You’re never worse off than you would be if you just paid the ticket.