Disclaimer: The content here is based on Arizona laws. Always be sure to consult your local laws and a lawyer.
Beating Your Ticket In Court
So you got flashed by a camera, you got a ticket in the mail that you ignored, and then you got served by a process server, and now it's time to got to court. If you haven't been served by anyone, make sure you go visit PhotoRadarLaw.com and brush up on the law and legal requirements for being served. If you haven't been officially served with a photo radar ticket, you can JUST THROW IT AWAY!
Before you get too far here, we strongly recommend that you consult an attorney. Do NOT rely on any advice presented here. These tactics are theories and suggestions only, it will be YOUR responsibility to research the legitimacy and practicality of these approaches as they apply to your situation. Not all photo operations and state laws and processes are the same, and presentation of your defense can make all of the difference. Again, the following theories are mostly unproven - use at your own risk!
Before we get too far, I want to point everyone to a VERY helpful website that I was made aware of just after putting up this page, HighwayRobbery.net. This website has MUCH MORE and MUCH better information about getting out of tickets than the information here. The website is geared toward California laws; however, much of the information is applicable here.
Questionable Identity Defense
The biggest weakness of photo radar systems is that the driver is never properly identified, so it's easiest to make the most of this weakness. All they have is a photo and a vehicle registration to identify you. THIS IS NOT SUFFICIENT! This would never suffice in a murder trial, why is it sufficient for a traffic ticket? The best way to convince a court of your innocence is to explain that you are not the person in the photo, and that it is the plaintiff's job, not yours, to identify beyond any doubt the person in the photo. Remember, it is the prosecutor's burden to prove it was you, it is not your burden to prove it wasn't you. You don't have to prove that it wasn't you, all you have to do is bring doubt that it is you in the photo. How do you do that? Simple. "Your honor, I have a twin brother/sister or friend that looks like just me who frequently borrows my car. I can't tell and I don't recall if that is him/her or I. I ask you to drop the charges on the grounds that the plaintiff has failed to adequately and properly identify the person in the photograph either by asking for ID at the time of the incident, through DNA, or any other conclusive or scientific identification method." Remember, it is not YOUR burden to prove that you have a sibling or friend who looks like you, it is the prosecutor who must prove that it was you and not your sibling or someone else. If a criminal trial, remind the court that you are innocent until proven guilty (not a valid argument in civil court), and they have not sufficiently proven the identity of the driver. Remember also that you are not saying that it wasn't you, you're saying that it might not have been you and that their evidence saying it is you is inadequate.Your Rights in Maricopa County
The Maricopa County Website identifies civil traffic ticket defendant's rights. If a judge denies you of these rights, he is in violation of the County Court policies and procedures. We are interested in these particular rights:
- The right to question witnesses testifying against you and cross-examine them as to the truthfulness of their testimony.
- The right to present evidence on your behalf and the right to have subpoenas issued by the court at no cost to you to compel the attendance of witnesses.
Hearsay is another possible but untested defense that may work in court. Documents and evidence (photos) produced by non-government personnel are legally considered hearsay unless those responsible for the generation of the documents are present in person to testify about them. Evidence that is hearsay can be objected to and barred from being used in court, making the case against you extremely weak if not non-existent. At a minimum, and if applicable, be sure to emphasize to the court that the information being presented was not produced by anone present in the courtroom and that such evidence is to be discounted highly because of such. Go on to mention that the information being shown in court is from a financially interested party - that is, they make money if you are found guilty.
If you're not comfortable with the above defense, here are some more ideas for your trial. Be sure to use as many of these approaches as is reasonable because each one just adds more doubt. Remember, the burden of evidence is on the city/state, NOT on you. Your job is to create as much doubt and questioning of their evidence as possible.
- Operating Temperature - Temperature can affect the operation of most electronics, especially senstive electronic sensors. As a result, electronics must be certified to operate at the temperatures in which they are operated. Try to find out if there is any information about what temperature the sensors, the processing unit, and the camera unit was operating at when the data was collected. Then during trial or beforehand, check to see what temperature range those components are certified to operate at. If temperature was not recorded for all of the components, and/or the equipment is not certified for operation at those temperatures, and/or the certified temperature range information is not available, demand that the charges be dropped because there can be no certainty that the equipment was operating properly. Remember, operating temperature inside of units in an enclosure is going to be higher than the ambient temperature for the day. Do NOT let them use ambient temperature!
- Discovery - In order to defend yourself properly you're going to
a) subpoena everyone and anyone who touched the photo or evidence.
b) request blueprints and schematics for all equipment
c) request installation blueprints and specifications and
d) request a copy of all maintenance logs and calibration data.
Make the case a big deal and make it more worth it for them to drop the charges than to supply all of the evidence.
- Improper Signage:
a) Check your local laws to see if there are any signage requirements for photo enforcement zones. In Arizona, ARS 28-654 requires two signs to be posted, and one of which must be at least 300 feet before camera installations.
b) Check that the posted limit is properly posted! For example, sometimes mobile vans are parked on the freeway immediately after an on-ramp but before a speed limit sign.
c) Check to make sure the signage meets regulations. This blog entry details how the signage for most mobile speed vans is not mounted high enough per MUTCD regulations). This other blog entry shows signs that don't meet city ordinances.
- Signal Timing - If it's a stop light, find out what the legal limits or standards are for the length of yellow lights. Cities love to set the yellow light times lower in able to generate more revenue. You could also compare that intersection's yellow light to that of surrounding intersections. If there is a signifant difference, you can use this evidence combined with the conspiracy theory defense below.
- Machine Malfunction - Since no one is monitoring the machine, there's a good likelihood that the machine was malfunctioning. When a human cop stops a speeder, they first visually estimate the speed and then confirm it with their radar equipment. They won't pull you over if there's a discrepancy. With photo-enforcement, there is no redundancy and no active monitoring so no one can be certain that the machine reading is correct. Ask the judge or tell a story about unreliable electronics that you've owned that worked fine one moment, but worked screwy the next. Everybody has owned something like this. Explain that this is likely to be what happened when you were flashed by the machine, and that the city/state lacks evidence to prove that their machine was working properly at the precise moment of the citation - despite the fact that it may have been checked or calibrated hours, days, or weeks before or after. No one was there to see anything, so no one knows with confidence that the machine was working at that moment in time, even though it may have worked fine later that day. The point here to make is that the machines are not 100% accurate and flawless and they are lying if they say they are. If they try to make such a claim ask that those making the claim be held on charges of perjury, as no machine like this is 100% accurate. If an officer is present, ask the officer about his experience with radar, and ask how often he got spurious readings. Most handheld units provide bad readings fairly frequently.
- Proper Maintenance - Make sure you question the authenticity of the maintenance logs. Is the person who maintained the unit available for questioning? If not, wow do they know the maintenance was performed and that the technician didn't take a long lunch hour instead? Has a third party recently verified the accuracy of the machine? What is the educational background of the technician? Is he a certified electronics technician or just a high school graduate who took a short training class. Also ask if they would they really throw out a few day's worth of citations if they found a malfunctioning machine? Not if doing so would cost them thousands!
- Discovery Not Possible - If you are flashed by a mobile unit or a stationary unit that has been taken down, you can argue that your opportunity for discovery of evidence was destroyed, and this is a direct result of them taking 180 days/weeks/months to serve you with your citation.
- Raise Doubt and Question Everything - Bring in articles from this website to reinforce your positions and cause the judge to question the city/state's evidence. If they talk about how qualified or competent their equipment operators are, bring out the article about the van operator arrested for DUI while on duty. If they talk about how reliable their machines are, pull out some of the articles about malfunctioning machines.
- Uncertain Identity - Make sure you emphasize that they have not convincingly identified the driver of the car. If they had bothered to pull you over and check your ID, we'd all know for sure. But since they merely took a photo, all we know is the driver of the car in the photograph is alleged to be you. Mention that you're not sure if that's the day your brother/sister borrowed your car and that you look a lot alike. Ask the prosecutor how they know that it's you and not a family member. The answer is they DON'T KNOW. All they have is a PHOTO! You don't even have to prove that you have a sibling - they have to prove that YOU are the one in the photo.
- Photo/Evidence Manipulation - Remember the for-profit motive of the photo equipment operators? In order to make more money they're likely to modify and make-up evidence to generate more revenue. And there's on thing that anyone with a computer and PhotoShop knows is that it's very easy to convincingly alter a photo. Even though the photo may have been encrypted or may have a special code on it to "ensure its authenticity," in the end, you can take any photo, modify it, and print it out just like the print-outs they'll be showing in court. Remind the judge that it's worth doing if there's money to be made.
- Check and then challenge the Private Investigator license status and legal requirements of the camera operator in your state. In Arizona, the statutes are ARS 32-2401:2413 and check their status here.
- Fair Trial - This approach most likely requires a lawyer and a pre-trial motion. Attempt to have your case dismissed or evidence thrown out on the basis that you cannot get a fair trial when the state's witness (the camera operator) stands to profit from your conviction.
- Conspiracy Theory - Paint a picture to the judge of a conspiracy theory and/or motive of a for-profit company creating or modifying evidence. Be sure to expose, emphasize, and repeat the for-profit nature of the very existence of the evidence and the lack of witnesses and the number of people involved in the evidence (maint. technician, person who collects the data, person who modifies the pictures (cropping, etc.), person who processes the citation, and the person who shows up in court.
When you're all done making your case, make sure you have a powerful summary. Remind the judge about what they did NOT prove (such as your identify) and remind the judge how flimsy their evidence is, that machines break and malfunction all of the time, and that their motive is profit.
We hope this list will be helpful to you in your defense. If you have a success story or if you have additional ideas, be sure to let us know so we can add to this page and make it better!Regardless of whether you win or lose, we all win when you contest your ticket because contesting tickets costs the photo program more money. And the more money the program costs, the more likely it is that it will be discontinued. Remember, their motive is profit, NOT safety!
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