Making Objections in Traffic Court

Evidentiary objections can mean the difference between winning and losing a traffic trial.

By , Attorney

Few people who step into traffic court know much about the rules of evidence. Fortunately, in traffic trials, you typically don't need advanced legal knowledge to make a few basic objections. In fact, raising lots of meaningless objections in traffic court can quickly become counterproductive—many objections are more likely to annoy the judge than result in any benefit to your case.

But a few well-placed objections can serve you well. If you're able to surprise the officer with even a few valid objections, you may well throw the officer off balance and weaken his or her testimony.

Here are some valid tactical objections that might help you in a traffic court trial.

Officer Reading From Notes

Immediately after issuing your citation, some police officers will note what happened on the back of their copy or on a separate piece of paper. Officers make notes because they issue lots of tickets, and if one of these tickets ultimately ends up in trial, it can be hard to remember precisely what happened without the notes.

But in most states, it is technically improper for the officer to simply read directly from notes (or from any other document) while testifying in court. Notes and other documents can be used by a witness to refresh his or her memory, but the testimony of the witness must be based on memory rather than read directly from notes.

So, if an officer is obviously reading directly from notes, you can make a "hearsay" objection. In response to this type of objection, the judge will normally ask the officer to state what he or she is looking at (the notes) and then look up when done reviewing the document. In other words, the judge will let the officer review the notes but then require that the officer's testimony actually come from his or her recollection.

If you don't have a copy of the notes the officer is reviewing (it's possible you might have obtained these through the discovery process), you should ask for a copy or an opportunity to review the notes.

Lack of Foundation for Device Measurements

Most speeding violation tickets are based on an officer's radar or LIDAR speed measurement. But a measurement is only as good as the measuring device. So, it's important that speed measuring devices be operating properly. Otherwise, the speed measurement could be inaccurate.

Officers in speeding ticket cases almost always testify that they clocked the driver at a certain speed. If possible, before the officer specifically makes this statement object for "lack of foundation." If prompted by the judge, you can explain the officer's testimony as to speed lack foundation unless the officer can establish that the radar or other instrument was properly maintenanced and calibrated.

Hearsay Objections Generally

An officer reading from notes (addressed above) is a specific instance of a hearsay violation. However, more generally, hearsay is defined as an out-of-court statement admitted for the truth of that statement. The most common type of hearsay is where a witness testifies in court as to what someone else said or wrote.

Sometimes it's a little tricky to recognize hearsay. But, generally, a witness can testify only as to what he or she personally observed. If a witness's testimony strays from his or her own observations, it's likely hearsay and time to make the objection.

Unfortunately, there are a number of exceptions to the hearsay rule, which allow certain types of hearsay to be considered by a judge or jury. Probably the most common in traffic court allows an officer to testify to any statements you made, which would tend to prove your guilt. This exception is called a "statement against interest" by a party.

EXAMPLE: Your vehicle collides with another at an intersection controlled by stop signs at all four entrances. You tell the officer you entered the intersection first, and that the other driver ignored the stop sign. But based on the statements of the other driver and a bystander, the officer concludes you were at fault for failing to yield to the vehicle to your right. You contest the ticket and go to trial. In court, the officer appears, but neither the other driver nor the bystander is present. When the officer testifies what the driver and bystander said about the accident, you should objection based on hearsay.

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