Thursday, July 29, 2010

Traffic Court 101: Discovery

I don't have very much experience with traffic tickets. I've only gotten 3 in the nearly 20 years that I have been driving. The first was when I was 19. I went to court with my dad and explained what had happened (mitigate). The judge cut the ticket in half and we went on our way. The second was a few years ago. If I knew then what I know now, I would have contested it. But I didn't and the easiest thing for me to do at the time was to just pay the fine. The third was just a few months ago. My What To Do When You Get A Ticket Helper taught me a little something about discovery. I think everyone should have a Helper.

Discovery is a magical concept to me: the formerly un-informed. And in Washington State, it works like this:
If you receive a traffic infraction, it is your right to ask for a copy of the officer's sworn statement and the names of any witnesses not identified in it. If you were pulled over for speeding and don't know how fast you were going (like most of us who drive with the flow of traffic), how do you know that you can trust the speed measuring device? How do you know that law enforcement isn't having trouble with their finances and need to boost revenue by issuing citations?

Sounds simple, right? It is. From what I understand, half of the time the prosecutor never mails it to you. If they don't respond then you are not able to get information on why you were pulled over and what speed measuring device (SMD) was used or what specific laws were being broken. Thus, if you never receive the discovery then the officer's statement cannot be entered into the equation for judgement. The evidence is suppressed and the ticket dismissed. What?! Yes, you read that correctly. They have to send it. So what did I do? I made my request and hoped they wouldn't respond.

Unfortunately for me, they did respond. I received not only the officer's statement but also the speed measuring device expert witness information from the County Prosecuting Attorney. What I didn't know about (or do) was subpoena anyone. There are rules to that have to be followed for subpoenas pertaining to advance notice and serving, so if you are in this situation, consult with the court rules for details.

Bottom line, while sitting in the courtroom, I watched several lawyers get their cases dismissed due to lack of response to the discovery request. Cases were over in less than a minute. And perhaps only half of the people like me had even requested them. That was the sad part for me. This is one reason why I want to educate my readers. It's such a simple thing to do and not enough of us know about it. I will close this post with a sample discovery letter. Next post: what to do when you receive the discovery letter.


Dear [name] County District Court [name] Division Clerk,

I received a traffic infraction on [date]. It is infraction number: [ticket number]. Pursuant to Rule 3.1 of the IRLJ
  1. A copy of the infraction report;
  2. A copy of the officer's sworn statement;
  3. A copy of the SMD certification forms. Please include calibration test date for the particular SMD used for the infraction, and the test date for the tuning fork used to calibrate the SMD device on the day of my ticket;
  4. A copy of the speedometer certification forms. Please include the calibration test date for the particular speedometer used for my infraction;
  5. A list of witnesses the State plans to call;
  6. A copy of my driving record;
  7. The filing date for my ticket; and,
  8. Any other information in my file.
Please send this information to me at the following address:
[your address]

Thank you for your help in this matter.


[your name and signature]

1 comment:

  1. Great Information. That sounds pretty cool. Really helpful thanks for the Article, Keep posting interesting here. Looking forward to it. Thanks and keep it up! All the Best.

    James Anderson
    Traffic School Online California


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