Preparing Diagrams and Photos for Traffic Court

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iagrams or enlarged maps of the place where you got the ticket are often useful to help the judge understand what happened. That's why so many officers include them in their notes and show them to the judge at trial. And that's also why you'll be better equipped to illustrate inaccuracies in the officer's testimony by preparing a diagram of your own.

Here are some common situations where diagrams are a big help:

  • In radar or laser speed cases, they can help illustrate how the radar or laser beam might have intercepted targets other than your vehicle.
  • Where pacing was used to give you a speeding ticket, a diagram may illustrate where the officer was when first seeing you and where you both were when the officer stopped your car. This can show that the officer was closing in on you and thus could never have accurately measured your speed.
  • In defending against traffic-signal and stop-sign violations you may be able to show the officer would have been unable to accurately see the charged violation from the location where he or she was watching.
  • For turning violations, you can show how far away oncoming or cross traffic was from your vehicle when you made your turn.
  • With tickets stemming from an accident, you want to show how your driving was safe under the circumstances and that the accident was caused by the other driver. 

A good diagram should be reasonably detailed but not too cluttered. Thus, for an intersection, it should normally include the location of stop signs or signals, dividers or traffic islands, crosswalks, limit lines, and the location of parked vehicles. In addition, it should indicate the approximate widths of the streets and traffic lanes. With speeding violations, where the officer paced you over a long stretch, the diagram should show any intersections, nearby buildings, and other principle landmarks, and, of course, it should indicate the distance between where you first saw the officer and where the officer stopped you.

How to prepare a diagram. Never try to draw your diagram in court. The result is sure to be time-consuming and klutzy. Instead, carefully prepare it beforehand. You can draw your diagram with a computer or by hand. In either case, use a white background with blue or black ink to denote the roadways and intersections, and other colors for vehicles and traffic signals. If you use a computer, be sure to print it out large enough for the judge to read easily—you may need to go to a copy store with large printers to print out your final version. If you draw it by hand, consider using cardboard or foam board so that it stands up well in court. If you are artistically challenged, have a more talented friend help.

How to Use Your Diagram and Maps in Court

You'll obviously want to refer to your diagram in court as part of presenting your testimony. To do this, inform the judge that you have a visual aid that you would like to use when you testify.

EXAMPLE: You made a left turn at a stoplight and were stopped and charged with running a red light in order to make the turn. You claim you entered the intersection when the arrow light was turning from green to yellow. In court, you testify as follows:

As I approached the intersection and got into the left-turn lane, I saw a green-arrow signal, which changed to yellow just as I crossed the final line of the crosswalk at the entrance to the intersection. As I made the turn, I saw the officer's car behind two other cars. I proceeded because the light was yellow in my direction and because a car was right on my tail, making a quick stop unsafe. I have a diagram of the intersection. I made it last week just after I went back to the intersection. May I please show it to the court?

At this point, if a prosecutor is present, you show it to him or her (otherwise to the cop). Then hand it to the court clerk (who may mark it Exhibit #1 before handing it to the judge). If the courtroom has an easel or blackboard, place your diagram there, facing the judge or jury. If not, find a place to prop it up so that it can be seen clearly. (The judge or clerk will probably help by telling you how to do this.)

Your testimony should continue something like this:

Your Honor, my car is shown on this diagram in green. The dotted green arrow shows my path as I completed the turn. The officer's vehicle is indicated in red. The roadway is outlined in black, and its curvature is shown, indicating that if the officer had been 100 feet behind me as he testified, he would not have been able to see my vehicle around the curve. The road is marked to scale, as I've confirmed with a photocopy of that portion of a city map, which I'd like to have marked as Exhibit #2 and present to the court. At this time, I ask that evidence….

How to Use Your Photographs in Court

In addition to diagrams, you may want to use photographs. Photos are best used to show conditions like:

  • obscured traffic signs or signals
  • the view from where the cop was sitting when he or she claimed to have seen your vehicle
  • road obstructions such as curves and hills, or buildings that restrict visibility, and
  • road width and straightness to show that an over-the-limit speed was safe, if you're charged with violating a "presumed" speed limit (see Fight Your Speeding Ticket: What is the Law?).

Have key photos enlarged. It's hard to look at 3x5 photos, especially in a courtroom where you are trying to explain why the photo helps establish your case. It's far better to present 8x10 enlargements that the judge can see without a magnifying glass.

There are some things photos don't show well, including situations where road and traffic conditions rapidly change so that what happened when you were ticketed can't really be replicated. It also rarely helps to show the judge photos of an accident scene taken after the vehicles have been moved.

You must personally take any photograph that you intend to use in traffic court or, if someone else is the photographer, have that person come to court with you. This is because you—or the photographer—must testify where and when the picture was taken.

To refer to a photo and show it to the judge, formal trial court rules require you to have it marked as an exhibit and formally introduced into evidence. But in most traffic courts, judges will simply look at your photo without the need for a lot of legal formalities. Here's an example of what to say (if the judge is not a stickler for formality, leave out the part about marking it for identification):

EXAMPLE:Your Honor, I would ask that this photograph be marked for identification as Exhibit #1. (Show it to the prosecutor or officer, then hand it to the clerk, who will mark the exhibit.) I took this picture along Main Street, at the same place where the officer indicated in his notes—and just now testified to—that he was parked when he says he saw me fail to stop at the stop sign on Market Street at its intersection with Main. I took it just two weeks after he issued me the citation, at the same time, 4:45 p.m., during the same rush-hour conditions. I believe it accurately shows the impaired visibility the officer had of traffic coming in my direction, and it shows why he couldn't have had a very clear view of where he claims I ran the stop sign. I request that this Exhibit #1 be introduced into evidence.

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