Summary: R.T. fought the law
and the law won. He learned some interesting lessons along the
way. What went wrong? What could or should have been done
differently? How would you have handled the situation? Let's
hear from both sides -- motorcyclists and Police Officers!
Yesterday I arrived in traffic court, where I decided to
contest a fine for an "Obscured Tag". That is, my
motorcycle's license plate was said to be not visible.
What surprised me was that despite the fact that I had
photographic evidence in my favor, all it got me was a reduced fine.
While I am glad that my fine was reduced, I found myself
leaving the court room discouraged, puzzled and insulted. And I am
certain that the officer left there with an even bigger ego trip than he
came in with.
What is the purpose of the State Statutes? I think the reason the
State Statutes exist are to provide a set of rules to bring order on the
streets. I believe they are needed for that purpose and that
But my experience yesterday showed me that the complex
verbiage of some of the laws might be intentionally written to confuse
the average citizen, without regard to whether or not the text applies
to an individual's case.
In my case, I was fined for violating State Statute
316.605; in the remarks field, the Police Officer wrote “Obscured Tag”
So before I begin, let me explore the word "obscured" as
Deficient in light; dark.
So faintly perceptible as to lack clear delineation;
Out of sight; hidden.
Not readily noticed or seen; inconspicuous.
That out of the way, let me give a quick recap of how
the day started...
The Judge first asks that you pay close attention to the
cases preceding yours. This is so that you might have a better
understanding of how to behave without him saying, basically, "LEARN HOW
NOT TO INCRIMINATE YOURSELF!"
That's a tip to you, readers -- it is in all caps
because it is very important! I witnessed how in case after case,
people did just that.
In case after case, excuses where interpreted by the
Judge as “DISTRACTIONS” and he attempted to sympathize.
I will give him credit for his acting in caring. I
was not fooled.
The rest of the day featured a traffic lawyer
representing other fines. If you are wondering if a lawyer is
worth it, I can tell you that for big fines they are. He had
access to summon logs and other paper work from the Police Officers.
However, for a measly $85 fine like mine, in which I had
clear proof of the legibility of my tag, I didn’t need one. Even
after not getting the charges against me dropped, I discovered that it
is still cheaper to pay the fine than to hire a lawyer!
But not to deviate from the point I am making, lawyers
are worth it and they are viewed in court as “Trained Professionals”.
More on that later…
The most disgusting part of the day was to see people
with wreck less driving violations get their cases dismissed because
they had a lawyer or the officer did not show up. That didn’t sit well
with me, I was there to contest a BS ticket, & my officer showed up.
Despite that, after a few cases I felt confident there was no way I
would loose… I had pictures… no one else had such evidence.
Finally my turn comes up and it goes by the book:
You are first asked to plead: "Guilty, Not Guilty or No Contest".
There is a reason for this -- it is my honest opinion
that in traffic court you are GUILTY until proven innocent.
I say that with confidence because unless you have a lawyer, the Police
Officer is the only “Trained Professional”, in the Judge's view.
You are just a motorist trying to weasel out of the
traffic violation you are guilty of. Since you are not a “Trained
Professional”, your word is meaningless.
I was able to deduct that it is virtually IMPOSSIBLE to
get a judgment in your favor unless you have clear evidence. And
even if you do -- like I did -- you better also have a lawyer that is a
“Trained Professional” at interpreting the complex verbiage of the
law…in this case, the State Statutes.
Pleading "Guilty" is self explanatory, but "No Contest"
means you are not admitting to the offense, but are given the chance to
ask that point not be assessed. You either pay the fine, ordered
to take the traffic school, and/or court costs may be imposed.
Pleading "Not Guilty" means you will be able to question
the Police Officer, then address the Judge. That’s about it.
Remember who the “Trained Professional” is here…and don’t get your hopes
Next, after your plea of Not Guilty (which I did) the
Police Officer gets to speak first. They are very detailed; they
name the time, the date, the road names and they specifically say they
did everything as their training demands and they never admit to any
mistakes on their part.
No big surprise, really -- except that this is a huge
advantage for them. Being the “Trained Professional” means that if
there is a conflict in testimony, the officers get the benefit of the
During the traffic stop I had asked the Police Officer a
few questions regarding the stop. He refused to answer, and my
persistence was deemed irate behavior.
I must point out that I was holding a semi-professional
SLR digital camera in my hand at the time (that I could probably shoot
better that the officer could shoot his weapon). Answers to my
questions would have provided me with information during the stop that
would have facilitated me taking pictures to prove him wrong.
Nevertheless, I did all I could and as it turns out, the
officer could not dispute my photographs in court…and you bet your hind
ends he gets a chance to dispute them first.
After the officer speaks, you are given a chance to
question the officer. I kept the questions brief -- too many
questions will result in the Judge interrupting you, especially since
the Police Officers can lie because they are the “Trained Professional”.
I know we can lie too…but guess who is allowed to and who isn’t?
After I was successful in getting the answers I needed
out of the Police Officer, I proceeded. It was obvious that he
lied on one of his answers, but I quickly dismissed it rather than jump
to the bait to argue with him. Got to stay on your toes or these
“Trained Professionals”, or they will quickly turn things against you.
After that the Judge gave me an opportunity to plead my
case. I simply told the Judge that I had evidence for him to see
that proved that my tag was legible, and that is why I was there.
The Judge asks the officer to look at the photos first.
I watched intently as he looked through them and I saw his look of
defeat when he realized how legible the photographs turned out and that
I included his vehicle in on of the photos.
Now I was starting to feel pretty confident. The
Judge then looked at the photos and hands them back. BUT, he isn’t
convinced for some reason, so he asks for them back.
He takes another look and he hands them back. He
then pauses and starts flipping through the State Statutes and he reads
He asks for my photographs one more time and he looks at
them and then looks at the book and goes back and forth like this as he
carefully reads through every piece of verbiage in the statute.
The legibility of my tag by this time was no longer in
question -- what the Judge did was to make sure that even though my stop
was for legibility of the tags, that my tag did not violate any other
aspect stated in the Statute.
Finally, he nails me for my tag "Not being visible from
60 yards". The photos were taken from as far away as 50 ft.
and my bike was next to another that was NOT fined, because the tag was
supposedly being properly displayed.
Nevertheless, the fact that neither tag was legible from
50 ft. was IRRELEVANT, because the other vehicle was not on trial!
“How you like them apples?” Needless to say I left
with my intelligence insulted. Short of a lawyer (another "Trained
Professional”), I could not have presented my case any better.
In the end, the Judge imposed a fine of $50.00, reduced
from the original $85.00. I'm not sure why -- I didn’t ask for
leniency. I did ask for a chance to correct it, but he said I
waved that right by pleading not guilty. And in the end, no
instructions where provided to make the impossible happen -- the
impossible being the ability to read a motorcycle tag from 100 ft.
Is it really impossible? Absolutely! I have
20/20 vision, and the letters on the motorcycle tags are 25.9 mm tall
and the size of the letters on a vision chart at 60 ft. is 27mm.
In other words, for an officer to be able to see a properly mounted tag
from 100 ft., he has to have better than 20/20 vision.
Should I note that both the “Trained Professionals” (The
Judge and the Police Officer) both wore eyeglasses? That’s
probably irrelevant -- their eyes are trained to see better than 20/20.
In my honest opinion, if you plan to contest a fine, go in there only
with the hope of getting your points removed and just pay the fine.
That is, just plead "No Contest" and ask to withhold adjudication.
But here's the trick, and my advice to you: When
requesting a hearing, you have a chance to plead. In most states,
the only way to get a court date is to plead "Not Guilty". Do it
and this will automatically require the Police Officer to court to
testify against you. There's a good chance that he or she will not
show up, due to scheduling. If this happens, you’re in luck!
But if the Police Officer is present, you will still get
a chance to plead again in court. Now plead "No Contest" and ask
to withhold adjudication . Your driving record will be reviewed, and
based on that the Judge may or may not assess points… Good Luck!
Hopefully this serves everyone with useful information
regarding traffic offenses; if so, I think my time and effort was worth
the experience. However, the next time I get a B.S. ticket for my
tag, I will just pay it. My time is worth more than trying to
fighting another small fine.
ADDENDUM From R.T.: "To
the readers I would like to point out that on both
tags the letters of the tags in the pictures are in
between the mounting screw holes.
Mine, the orange bike, has 7 letters
that are clearly smaller than the bike on the left
which has 6 letters.
This is a state issued tag.
And as such even if mounted behind the rear tire,
it's impossible to see from beyond 50 ft.
What we need to pay close attention to here is the
fact that I was fined for something that is
impossible to achieve whether mounted properly or
Date Published: June
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From "R.Z." (12/10): "I feel
that officers who are issuing tickets for such
trivial violations should be supervised closer.
The officer who issued a ticket for the obscured
plate should observe the better officers who use
such minor violations as PC to check for more
serious violations such as Suspended/Revoked
license or maybe insurance. If everything checks
out issue a verbal or written warning and don't
waste the courts time and the taxpayers money."
From "R.T." (10/09): "The ONLY
way to beat a traffic citation - guilty or not - is
if the officer doesn't appear in court. You
assured that the officer wouldn't dare miss your
court date by snapping the photos and implying that
you intended to fight the silly citation.
The thing to do is play it cool and
be apologetic. Plead ignorance and even thank
him for helping you abide by the law. Leave
him with the impression that you intend to pay the
fine and correct the problem as soon as you get
home. Be down right humble. Take
yourself off his 'radar screen' and do not feed his
natural desire to show up in court, make you grovel,
and show you who is boss.
Then do everything in your power to
make it tough for him to be there at the same time.
I call it, "throwing them a scheduling curve", and
it does work a good percent of the time.
Here's the skinny:
Cops hate court days with a passion.
They will only make court appearances a day or two a
week, on their own terms, and plan it in advance so
they can screw as many victims at a time as
possible. They, like everyone else, will have
made their own plans for the other days in a
Therefore, always wait till the day
before your court date and call to reschedule it.
If you are crafty, and willing to fight fire with
fire, this is very easy to pull off. Being
involved in a last minute 'accident' leaves them
Don't make it a spectacular event.
Slipping in the bath tub is as effective as a fiery
crash if you tell them you are bedridden. You
can even show up on the rescheduled date wearing a
garage sale neck brace for sympathy points.
The old 'dying loved one in another state' routine
also works well. Keep in mind that anyone who
loves you will want you to escape the travesty of
this stupid ticket.
You'll never be asked to verify your
excuse for a traffic citation. That's just how
the system works. Trust me, they will not
waste a single resource in pursuit of a lie over a
ticket. However, if this bothers you just
stick to the completely unverifiable 'fell at home'
Remember, it is you and yours
against the "system" which already gets plenty of
your hard earned cash. Think of all those
government employees who sit around and draw a big,
fat paycheck at your expense. That $85 dollar
"traffic tax" will buy your kid some nice school
clothes or add to the college fund. The state should
learn to spend wisely and stop thinking of ways to
take more and more from peons like yourself.
The time to protect your family's welfare and beat a
cop at his own game is BEFORE you both are in front
of the judge. Only he can win a lying contest
at that point."
From "M.W.": "Where are the
mirrors on the red motorcycle?
My way of avoiding motorcycle
tickets is simple. Until the police officer is
"clearly" behind me, blue lights on, and attempting
a pull over, I take evasive measures. If I am
the only guy on the road or the officer wins the
initial battle, I slow down, acknowledge him, and
pull over only after I am certain it is in fact a
law enforcement officer.
Unmarked traffic enforcement
programs are stupid, revenue schemes, and pose a
danger to the public. If it is an unmarked
vehicle, I will slow down, acknowledge, then verify
with dispatch using my intercom and cellular that an
officer is attempting to pull me over.
Most times a pull over might have
been attempted, I see the officer before he even
pulls out. If possible, I take a few knee
dragging turns and ditch him. If he gets out
with his lights on in time, I just pull over and pay
the ticket. In Florida, you can be a real
knucklehead and still have a license."
From "M.N.": "Today I read
“RT’s” amusing article about how he “got screwed” in
the Florida court. I am a police officer in
Texas and I thought I would give a “police
perspective” to even out the balance for all the
law-abiding, motor cycle-riding, readers.
I have been a police officer for 23
years and I have been riding since I was 8 years
old. I am a motor cycle officer and our sole
responsibility is to vigorously enforce traffic
violations, so as to favorably alter the bad driving
habits of violators, in an attempt to reduce
accidents and fatalities. Additionally, our
unit is activated to investigate fatality accidents
to determine the causes, speed calculations, etc…
Our main goal is simply to save lives.
As a Traffic officer, we frequently
encounter sport-bike riders, most of who ride
responsibly but some others that ride like
knuckle-heads. The knuckle-heads I’m referring
to are the ones who you see going mach 3 with their
hair on fire, riding wheelies with one foot on the
seat and weaving in and out of traffic. These
guys are well know to “hide” their license plates
behind their back tires and I often see them riding
wheelies through toll road gates so that pictures
can not be taken of their license plates.
Conservatively, I would estimate that, given just a
little head start, 40% of these bikers run from us.
At least 2 to 3 times a week, it’s not uncommon to
see a pack of bikes riding at well over 100 miles
per hour on our highways.
So, as a result of these riders
giving all the other riders a bad name, we target
the ones who break minor traffic laws to check to
see if the M/C is stolen, that the rider has a M/C
license and all his other papers are in order.
The motorcyclists who have their
plates properly positioned and are not breaking any
laws, we don’t mess with. A large group of the
sport-bike riders install after-market pipes that
cause them to have to move their plates under the
fenders or behind the tires. When I am on
patrol, I look at the rear of EVERY sport-bike to
see if they have done this. It is my opinion
they do this “hiding” technique so that other
motorist can’t get their L.P.s and report them for
reckless driving and so that they can run from us
with less chance of us getting their tag number.
As a result of the reckless driving
of these guys, I, as well as a lot of other
officers, have declared them traffic’s public enemy
#1. For the readers who live in Texas, state
law requires the following under the Transportation
Code under section TRC 502.404 (c) and reads the
§ 502.404. OPERATION OF VEHICLE
WITHOUT LICENSE PLATE OR REGISTRATION INSIGNIA.
(a) A person commits an offense if the person
operates on a public highway during a registration
period a passenger car or commercial motor vehicle
that does not display two license plates, at the
front and rear of the vehicle, that have been: (1)
assigned by the department for the period; or (2)
validated by a registration insignia issued by the
department that establishes that the vehicle is
registered for the period.
(b) A person commits an offense if
the person operates on a public highway during a
registration period a passenger car or commercial
motor vehicle, other than a vehicle assigned license
plates for the registration period, that does not
properly display the registration insignia issued by
the department that establishes that the license
plates have been validated for the period.
(c) A person commits an offense if
the person operates on a public highway during a
registration period a road tractor, motorcycle,
trailer, or semi-trailer that does not display a
license plate, attached to the rear of the vehicle,
that has been: (1) assigned by the department for
the period; or (2) validated by a registration
insignia issued by the department that establishes
that the vehicle is registered for the period.
For all your readers out there who
‘Live to ride and ride to live” safely and
responsibly, I appreciate you and I wish the best.
Keep the rubber side down and stay safe!
For the knuckle-heads I’ve
previously described, look out because it’s just a
matter of time before we stop and arrest you for
driving like idiots…
Just for the record; there are
several times I stop these “hidden license plate”
riders and give them verbal warnings to fix their
plates. The reason for this is because we no
longer have “repair option” citations and the fines
are about $150.00. A lot of it is about
From "PMG": "Guilty! As a
police officer in the state of Georgia you are
guilty of having an improperly displayed license
plate on the grounds that the state of issue is
unreadable. The term that would be written on
the citation is "obscured" -- this is the same
citation that I issue for people with large license
plate covers professing their love of cats,
colleges, etc. In those cases because it conceals
the expiration and county information.
Now why would a police officer be so
picky? Well if you didn't flick him off as you
passed, probably because the theft rate of sport
motorcycles makes it an easy arrest if you simply
run all sport bike tags. You are going to find
one stolen eventually, so if your tag is obscured
what are you trying to hide, lets find out.
As for traffic court, it has been
said a number of times, no you're not guilty, but
the only thing the judge cares about is did you
commit the cited infraction. Everything else
is simply a factor for the fine.
Thank you for another enjoyable
From "F.M.": "Having been to
traffic court on multiple occasions (I have not
always had a sterling driving record), I know that
you cannot “win.” Winning means that you came
out better than you went in – and I’ve never gotten
the courts to give me money or take points off that
I already had. Nor have I ever convinced the
insurance company to lower my rates because I beat
(yet another) speeding ticket, reckless driving
ticket, etc. At best, you can break even --
assuming that you place a value of $0 on your time
and aggravation, that you did not miss time at work,
and that it cost you nothing to get to court and
back home again.
Which brings me to the point: Why
risk tickets for modifications that don’t increase
the performance, comfort, safety, or resale value of
the motorcycle? If I eventually get hauled
into court for doing triple-digit speeds, I don’t
need the judge looking at two pages of convictions
for things like illegally loud mufflers, non-DOT
mini turn signals, obscured tags from “fender
eliminator” kits, or blacked-out windscreens.
Do I really want the judge who is about to impose a
sentence thinking that my history of petty
violations shows a general disdain for the law?
I like having a rear fender.
If I ride on a wet road, the fender keeps the tire
from flinging muddy, greasy water all over the back
of my jacket or backpack. It keeps the rest of
my bike cleaner. It keeps my bike from kicking
up gravel and breaking windshields. In an
accident, it might be the thing that keeps me or my
passenger from being chewed up by the tire.
It’s not like the average sport bike fender weighs
20 lbs., so there’s no big weight savings to be had
by pulling the fender and, besides, it’s not like
shaving ounces off of my bike is going to make me a
serious challenger to Valentino Rossi.
If you want to spend money on sport
bike mods, spend it where it makes a difference:
Aftermarket shocks and forks or re-valving of the
stock components, camshafts, FI remapping,
flow-porting heads, better (but DOT-approved)
brighter headlights, headlight modulators, better
seats, high-end clutch and brake levers, etc.
Those things won’t get you tickets and will actually
improve the bike."
From "P.V.": "I've been a police
officer for ten years, a rider for twenty, and I've
been to traffic court as both. With regard to
the facts of the case, I don't think I could add
anything to the superb response by "R.S." (below).
I would make one suggestion to R.T. regarding future
court appearances: if the barely concealed contempt
for law enforcement displayed in his writing was
equally apparent in his testimony, that's probably
best avoided in the future."
From "D.D.": "I believe those
are Florida plates. (Editor's Note: They are).
Now I'm not a cop or lawyer. But every car,
bike and trailer I've ever had came equipped with a
light, either separate or part of the brake light
assembly, to illuminate the plate. Neither of
the bikes depicted seems to have OEM mounts for the
I've personally never seen an undertail that I would
even image to be legal. Perhaps one of you
readers knows about this...But I see at least three
things that are of I believe dubious legality on
each bike and might cause a cop having a bad day to
pull 'em over.
First, I think that the plate has to be mounted
within 10 degrees of vertical and mounted as far aft
as feasible. Second is the illumination issue.
And third is the minimum distance (I'm sketchy on
this. I've heard anywhere from 10 to 16 inches)
between turn signal centers.
Never mind the fact that those pipes sure don't seem
stock... Don't get me wrong...I sympathize
with ya man. Getting tickets for little chicken crap
stuff like this sucks. But, as soon as we
start modifying anything we run the risk of
attracting unwanted attention.
As to the whole court experience: I've gone to court
twice. The first time was in the mid '80's
when I got a speeding ticket, on my brand new super
trick FJ600, crossing the GG bridge doing 70mph.
I told the judge that I was following the
manufacturers break-in guidelines. Showed him
my owners manual and he smiled, told me to slow down
and dismissed the ticket.
The second time was about five years ago. Same
deal, different bridge. Told the judge that as
it was early and still dark that I was trying to
keep up with the flow of traffic so as to not get
run down. That was actually true. The
judge asked me If I'd ever gone fishing. I
gave her a confused yes. She said "the fish
you catch isn't any better or worse than any
other...It's just the one to get caught".
I guess the lesson is to be as
inconspicuous as possible. And as the other
writer said -- the best way to insure justice is to
stay out of the whole quagmire that is our legal
system. The outcome really is a crapshoot."
I'm definitely gonna have to remember that one about
the owner's manual! ;-)
From "L.W.M." : "In regards to
the conclusion drawn by the author of the article:
"In my honest opinion, if you plan to contest a
fine, go in there only with the hope of getting your
points removed and just pay the fine."
If everyone just pays the fine,
you're just feeding the machine. If you
honestly feel you were unjustly accused, go to court
and plead as much. If you don't get
satisfaction, start writing to your representatives.
If the courts get backed up with people waiting to
fight their BS tickets, I'll bet you that the
tickets won't be handed out as easily. If
enough letters show up on the representatives'
desks, you'll see those dumb statutes changed.
But, if you're not willing to stand up and fight for
what you believe to be right just to save a few
bucks, you get what you deserve."
"As a police officer for 23 years and a bike
rider for 32 here are my comments. As other
have stated, there is a huge difference in the
quality of judges you will get on any given day.
I've seen everything from judges dismissing every
ticket as long as the defendant said "I'm sorry.
I won't do it again", to judges that will always
believe the defendant is guilty, regardless of
evidence presented. In some cases, you don't have to
be good at law, you just have to get
elected/appointed to be a judge.
In Illinois, traffic violations are
considered "absolute liability offenses". This
means you either did it or you didn't do it.
Excuses, like "the speedometer was off", "I wasn't
going as fast as the officer said I was", "no one
else was using their turn signal", are just that,
excuses. They are not proof that you didn't do
what the officer said.
So, your complaint that your
friend's bike wasn't ticketed.......doesn't matter.
The judge was correct in saying you friend wasn't on
trial, you were. I would venture to say the
officer didn't think your friend's bike was in
violation. It is also common knowledge that
police officers don't have to look very hard to find
violations. They are all around and easy to
spot. The question some judges have is "Why
would the officer make something up?"
If you truly caught the officer
lying under oath, and you didn't call him on it,
shame on you. I have no use for officers lying
while under oath and neither do the judges/officers
I've worked with. As others have pointed out,
the only person considered un-biased in their
testimony is the officer. Proving the officer
was lying will wreck their credibility and probably
get your case dismissed without question.
Also, I learned a long time ago not
to care about the outcome of a case. I'll show
up, testify honestly, and at that point, my job is
done. I have no personal interest in the
outcome. I don't get a bonus if the case is
won and I don't lose money if the case is lost.
I do get paid overtime to go to court if it isn't my
regular shift, but frankly, if I've been working the
midnight shift, I'd rather be in bed.
You didn't like the fact the judge
ignored your evidence. Well, it is his job to
evaluate that evidence and see how it applies to the
case. It is what he/she is paid for and for
the most part, they do just fine. However,
every call they make will make someone happy and
This time by making the call he did,
he made you angry. I don't know the details of
the violation, but it is always a good idea to look
up the particular section you were cited for and see
the particulars of that law. You may discover
you are completely in the wrong and that will save
you the trouble of going to court and wasting your
If after you look up the section you
still decide you want to go to court, that is your
right and no police officer I know of will mind at
all. Accept the fact you might not win and
you'll have a better day, regardless of the
From "R.S.": "I just read
"R.T.'s Court Date" and I thought that I would offer
some comments. I'm an attorney, and I spent
several years as a pro tem judge, sitting on the
traffic court bench at least 100 times in the county
in which I used to live. I'm also a long-time
motorcyclist, and like everyone else, I hate getting
The article doesn't mention where
this all took place, but judging by the color of the
license plates on the motorcycles, I'm guessing that
it took place in California. That is where I
I've practiced law for over 20
years, and I've lived in several different cities in
California, and I can tell you that traffic court
can vary quite a bit from one county to another.
You can't generalize too much, even if you are just
talking about California.
I've been in traffic courts in
California where the judge is quite intelligent and
well versed in the law, and goes by the book, and
I've been in traffic courts where the judge is an
idiot (sometimes just a young local volunteer
attorney with no concept of what the state traffic
code says) who did just about whatever they wanted
to. Sometimes I've seen both in the same
county. It's a crapshoot.
During my lifetime (and I'm getting
to be a graybeard), I've seen traffic court go from
being a very serious place where justice was meted
out in a very similar manner to how it is done in
criminal court, to a place where many of the rights
that you would expect when going to court have been
In California, most traffic
violations are now classified as "infractions" and
that means that you have no right to a trial by
jury. You still have a right to compel parties
(usually the police) to give you the evidence you
need to help you prepare your case for trial, but
things are done in a very relaxed manner, and if the
police are not cooperative, you often have little
If your judge in traffic court acts
like Napoleon, there isn't much you can do about
this that will be of any significance. (As a
new, inexperienced, attorney I once appealed a
traffic court case , where I was the defendant, to
the Appellate Court, and after putting the
equivalent of many thousands of dollars worth of
attorney time into it, the case was simply sent back
to the original traffic court judge to do with as he
While all of this erosion of our
rights in traffic court annoys me, part of me says
that it is our own darn fault, because none of this
could have happened it we hadn't allowed our elected
representatives to do it, and it couldn't continue
if we as citizens made a fuss about it to our
elected representatives. As I see it, you
wouldn't be entirely incorrect to consider a traffic
fine to be a random tax that you have incurred.
In fact, it might be more productive to consider a
traffic fine that way.
I can tell you that often you *can*
handle your own traffic court case without the help
of an attorney, and that you *can* win, if it is a
Just using the popular Nolo Press
Your Ticket & Win in California" can improve
your odds significantly. But that book doesn't
tell you a few extremely important things:
go into traffic court and act like you are an
attorney, you are going to look like an idiot,
and it is unlikely that you are going to win
go into traffic court with the belief that the
law is the way that they portray it on
television, you are unlikely to win your case.
What do I mean by this? I mean that folks
who watch TV, even just the news, not just drama
shows, think that people can BS their way
through a trial, and find some sort of cute
technicality to have their case thrown out.
This doesn't happen in traffic court. (It
doesn't happen as often as TV would lead you to
believe that it does in other sorts of legal
proceedings also, but that's another story.)
You either committed the infraction or you
didn't. The judge isn't likely to consider
anything other than this.
are the defendant (the person who got the
ticket), you *never* think that you have done
anything wrong. It's called denial.
It is very rare for someone to actually have a
meritorious case in traffic court. And
your friends and loved ones aren't going to
point out that you don't have a case (not unless
Oh, one other thing: Pleading
guilty, in hope that the police officer won't show
up to trial, is not a good idea. First, in
most places in California, the officer is paid
time-and-a-half to show up for trial. So they
almost always do. And the court can put you at
the end of the calendar to give the officer time to
show up, if they care to.
At the risk of offending, let me
give you my take on what happened to "R.T.":
I assume that R.T's bike is the
orange one (his article doesn't say). The red
bike has its license plate, as far as I can see, in
the OEM position, under the taillight, oriented
vertically so that it is easy to read.
The orange bike has the license
plate placed far forward, practically in front of
the rear tire. It is also mounted at an angle,
making it harder to read. I'm sorry to say
this, but fitting your license plate like this
strikes me as asking for attention from the police.
It looks like you have gone out of your way to make
your license plate harder to read (whether this was
your intention or not).
Once you got the attention of the
police, the traffic court judge wasn't really in a
great position to be able to bail you out. (If
I had been your traffic court judge, I probably
would have wanted to bail you out, but it seems
unlikely that I could have.)
The judge's job is to determine if
you were guilty of the infraction you were charged
with. My guess is that he didn't have your
bike to look at personally. So he had to go by
the pictures you offered, and the testimonial
I don't know if there were other
photographs offered other than the ones published.
Going just off the photos that I have seen, it looks
to me as if your license plate might be hard to read
from 50 feet away, just as the police officer
claimed. (I can almost make out the plate on
the red bike in the top photo, but there isn't a
chance of making out the plate on the orange bike.
You might actually have had a better case if you had
taken pictures without your friend's bike in the
The photos don't contradict the
police officer, and it appears that you didn't offer
any evidence that would dissuade the judge
otherwise. (If I were in your position in
court, I might have actually asked the judge to go
out in the parking lot and see the bike for himself.
If you had gotten me for your traffic court judge, I
would have been happy to do so.)
While you may feel that it is a
close call as to whether or not your license plate
was legible from 50 feet away, the judge had to go
by your photos, and the testimony of the officer,
who is considered to be an impartial witness.
(You, on the other hand, are not
considered to be an impartial witness...and to be
honest, a defendant just about never is impartial
with regard to their own case. It may be a
fallacy that the officer is impartial, but on the
other hand, he/she has his choice of countless clear
violations to give citations for all day long.
He/ she doesn't want to make his/her own job harder
by citing people for hard to prove violations.
So, as a judge, you have to assume that the officer
was trying hard to find clear-cut violations.)
Is there a huge subjective component
to this entire process? There is no arguing that
there is. Is the entire process set up the
best way possible and is it as fair as possible?
No way. Could the system be reformed? No
doubt...and I wish that people cared enough to bug
their representatives to do so.
Were you, R.T., screwed by the
system? I'm afraid that I don't think so.
Even if you have never read the California Traffic
Code, I'm sure that you know intrinsically that the
police really like to be able to see your license
plate, and see it well.
You had to go to a decent amount of
trouble to relocate your license plate to where you
did. No OEM motorcycle comes with its plate
mounted anything like how you mounted yours.
No OEM motorcycle mounts its plate ahead of the
front tire, and no OEM motorcycle mounts its plate
at more than the slightest angle off vertical.
You had to have a sense that relocating your license
plate might draw some attention from the police.
This is no different than the folks who put huge
ape-hangers on their bikes, or who put ear-splitting
glass-pack mufflers on their bikes. Y
ou may be able to get away with this
stuff for a while, but you have to know that you
have painted a big target on your back. These
modifications would come OEM if they were legal.
Also, let's look at this in the
scheme of things: This is an equipment violation,
not a moving violation, correct? No points
were put on your record as a result of this, and the
judge was reasonable enough to reduce your fine.
Your random tax was a lot less than it is for some
of the rest of us. (Try living in a county
where they use automated traffic cameras to give
fines for moving violations to hundreds of folks a
day. In my opinion that is a tax system gone
In the end, I think that you have to
take some personal responsibility for your own
actions. The system has its faults, sometimes
they are huge faults, but you didn't do what you
should have to keep yourself out of the system.
Among attorneys, there is a saying:
"Justice is the thing that the party who lost didn't
get." The best way to get justice is to keep
yourself out of the legal system entirely."