Tips for Defending Yourself in Ticket Court
If you have received a traffic ticket that you believe to be unjustified, you are fully permitted to represent yourself in any Pennsylvania traffic court. Pennsylvania residents may also have attorneys present, but for those whose tickets were issued for moving violations or were not related to collisions, then self-representation may be the more cost-conscious option. Understand that you will not be proving to the court that you are innocent, but rather establishing that the state was wrong in issuing the ticket. Tickets are very sometimes issued in error. If the ticket is of a significantly large amount, accuses you of an action that you did not take or may result in a license suspension, then you may want to fight the ticket. While an attorney can certainly make the process easier, in the long run, most tickets will cost less than the attorney's fees. If this is not the case for you, then you may want to consider legal representation. Otherwise, with some due diligence and research, you can adequately and successfully represent yourself in traffic court.
Collect the Necessary Documentation
Paperwork and physical evidence are important when it comes to legal proceedings. One of the first documents you will want to obtain is the police reports. All witness statements and official police reports are legally available to you. In Pennsylvania, you can request this information through the Pennsylvania State Police website, where the appropriate forms can be submitted. The crash report is not free and entails paying a fee of $22. You should wait at least 15 days for the report to be available for access from the date of the incident. If you have a copy of the traffic citation, compare it to the State Vehicle Code to make sure that the violation and the conduct that is stated in the Vehicle Code list gives you a solid reason to defend your position.
One of the best steps you can take when you are involved in an accident or are pulled over for a traffic violation is to take pictures of the scene. Taking pictures of where the incident happened can work in your favor. Additionally, take a picture of the car's odometer to show that it is not broken. If you have any witnesses, especially those who were in the car with you at the time, make sure they are willing to testify on your behalf. If there were bystanders and you can get their pictures and contact information, then you can also call them.
If your evidence is solid and plentiful, then you can ask the judge during the hearing for a dismissal of your case. You will also be allowed to question the police officer who gave you the ticket. Of course, if he or she does not show up to the court at all, your case is automatically dismissed. While you have the right to question the police officer, he or she does not have the right question you.
Police Errors Happen
One of the easiest ways to get a ticket dismissed when representing yourself is to make sure the traffic ticket was filled out correctly. Any errors on the police officer's part is grounds for dismissal of the ticket. Of particular note is the use of the VASCAR system to check a vehicle's speed. This type of radar has been shown to be prone to error on many occasions. The VASCAR system has to be recalibrated every 60 days, with the radar guns being calibrated every year. If none of the equipment has been maintained as required, then you have grounds to have your ticket dismissed.
Dress Appropriately and Be Respectful
Emotions may be running high, so plan to remain calm, respectful and polite as you state your case. You need to convince the judge, and dressing appropriately as well as speaking respectfully to the issuing police officer will go a long way toward the judge listening to what you have to say.
When You Should Not Contest a PA Traffic Ticket
Not all traffic tickets are worth contesting. For example, if you have not had a ticket in a decade or more, and you do not think it likely that you will have another one soon, it may be best to just pay the fine. However, there are some common defense attempts that most judges will never accept. Simply claiming that you misunderstood the traffic law will not gain you any leverage or traction with the court. Arguing that your traffic violation did not result in injury or damages does not work either since you may have broken laws even if no one was harmed. Claiming that the police officer was targeting you when others around you were just as guilty of the offense generally does not work unless you can prove that the officer has a habit of this type of conduct or you have a history with the ticketing officer.