Criminal Law

Defenses in a Presumed Speed Limit State

You've decided you don't want to deal with the consequences of a speeding ticket such as fines and insurance rate increases. What can you do to prepare yourself and your attorney to successfully defend your case?

Be Prepared

You'll first need to find out whether your state's speeding laws involve "absolute" or "presumed" speed limits. In absolute speed limit states, you've violated the law if you drive even one mile above the posted speed limit. In presumed speed limit states, you're presumed to be breaking the law by going above the posted speed limit, and it's your burden to prove you were going at a safe speed for road and traffic conditions.

If you decide to contest a speeding ticket, it is important to scope out your options. If you ask correctly, you are entitled to receive copies of the evidence to be used against you through a process called "discovery." .

It's a good idea to go to traffic court ahead of your court date and observe trials similar to yours, so you understand the traffic trial process.

You'll want to gather together evidence to be used in your behalf. You might want to take photos of the intersection or stretch of road where you got the ticket at the same time of day you received the ticket (and under the same weather conditions if possible). It's especially important to get photos of any obstructions in the line of sight between your vehicle and the police vehicle, such as moving traffic, power lines, signs, bends in the road and so forth. You may also want to make a diagram of the scene, if you think it will help the judge understand your point of view.

You'll also want to contact any witnesses identified in the police report, as well as witnesses who may have been in the car with you.

General Defenses

Some general defenses to a speeding ticket in a presumed speed limit state include:

  • You weren't going the speed the officer said
  • You were moving above the posted speed limit, but the road and weather conditions warranted it
  • You were driving consistent with the flow of traffic
  • You were moving above the posted speed limit, but it was necessary in order to avoid serious injury in an emergency situation (such as to avoid a serious accident, or cope with sudden mechanical problems or sudden unanticipated illness)

Radar Defenses

A radar system like the kind used by police to monitor traffic simply tells the operator how fast the vehicle with the most dominant reflective surface is going, but can't measure distance or pick out one moving vehicle among several. It's up to the officer to make that discretionary call.

One of the best defenses against readings from a radar unit is that the radar system picked up another vehicle or more reflective surface instead of your vehicle. Reflective or interfering surfaces can include:

  • Metal traffic or other types of signs (even neon signs)
  • Utility lines
  • Power stations
  • Vehicles moving around you in dense traffic

One way to prove the possibility of an inaccurate radar reading due to obstructions is by using the photos you took of the scene to show that the officer would have had to "shoot" the radar through an object between his vehicle and yours.

A less reliable and more time-consuming defense is to try to prove that the radar system wasn't properly maintained and so it wasn't working properly. To prove this, you have to subpoena the maintenance records of the radar system, as well as the maintenance records of the tuning forks sometimes used to calibrate the radar systems. This isn't a defense you should attempt without an attorney to represent you.

Another radar system defense is to prove that the officer wasn't properly trained and qualified to operate a radar system, and in fact operated the radar improperly. You would have to have:

  • The police department's admission that the officer wasn't trained up to the standards of other officers, and
  • The officer's testimony on cross-examination that shows up his lack of knowledge on proper operation of the system
  • Laser Gun Defenses

    Laser speed guns used by police can measure distance and calculate speed by comparing the change in distance against a specific span of time. Fighting a laser gun speeding ticket is more difficult, as it's harder to claim the gun was measuring some object other than your vehicle.

    Many of the defenses to speeding tickets are complex and technical, so it almost always makes sense to hire an attorney to represent you properly.

    Related Resources on

    - Defenses in an Absolute Speed Limit State
    - Absolute vs. Presumed Speed Limits
    - Traffic violations articles and information
    - Selecting a lawyer
    - Find a Traffic Violations attorney in your area
    - Visit our Traffic Citations Message Board for more help

    Web Resources

    - State Speed Laws from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration

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