Defendants who know what to say and when to say it are far more likely to win at a traffic trial than those who try to wing it. So, before your date in court, it's best to be well prepared and practice your presentation.
In most criminal trials, the defendant doesn't testify. In many cases, it's best for the defendant to keep quiet and argue at the end to the case that the prosecution hasn't met its burden of proving the charges.
But in traffic cases, the driver's testimony generally improves his or her chances of winning. If a driver doesn't testify, the evidence presented to the judge at a traffic trial will typically be limited to the officer's testimony about what happened. With just one version of the story—that of the officer who wrote the ticket—chances are slim that the judge will side with the driver. When the driver testifies, it gives the judge another version of events, and if things go well, some doubt as to whether the driver is guilty.
The focus of a driver's testimony should be aimed at creating doubt as to guilt. Taking a look at the statute you're accused of violating is a good starting point. Once you know what the government must prove to get a conviction, you can better assess what your testimony should cover.
For example, suppose a driver receives a ticket for violating a basic speed law that prohibits motorists from driving at a speed that is faster than is "reasonable and prudent" given the current conditions. At trial, the driver's testimony should be focused on the factors—such as clear visibility and favorable road conditions—that would support a finding that the speed was reasonably safe under the circumstances that existed at the time.
With other types of violations, the driver might want to concentrate on raising doubt as to whether the officer was able to accurately see what happened. For example, when a driver is cited for running a red light, the issue is whether the driver crossed the limit line before the light turned red. If the officer who wrote the ticket didn't have a good vantage point to see the limit line and the front of the driver's vehicle, the driver will want to point this out in his or her testimony.
The bottom line is you want to go into court with a game plan for your testimony. If your testimony is unfocused and irrelevant as to whether the government has proven the violation, you're unlikely to win your case.
There's no trick to practicing your testimony. In most types of cases, a witness testifies in a question-and-answer format. But in traffic court, the driver typically just tells his or her version of events. The judge might interject questions from time to time. But, by in large, the driver will just be giving a narrative of what happened. So, to practice, the driver will just want to run through the story out loud a number of times. After practicing the presentation enough times that you are getting comfortable, it might help to have a friend or family member listen to the presentation and ask any questions that come to mind.
For those who have never previously appeared in traffic court, it can be helpful to drop by and watch a few cases.