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The vast majority of speeding tickets issued in NC are simply paid off. Bad idea generally, since this can beget driver’s license and insurance points (see previous blog posts).

The better idea is to work out some sort of deal with the DA to reduce the speed charged to a speed whose conviction carries no insurance points (like 9 over the limit if your record is clean for the past 3 years). If you’re lucky, you may even be able to persuade the DA to change the charge to an “improper equipment-speedometer” charge, which is not even considered a moving violation in North Carolina and, consequently, carries no insurance or license-point consequences.  Barring either of these, if you haven’t had one in the past 3 years, a PJC may be just what you need, but that’s up to the judge. If the judge in his infinite wisdom doesn’t believe you deserve a PJC, you may be out of luck there too.  Important note about PJCs: according to the North Carolina statute, speeding more than 25 MPH over the limit is not permitted a PJC.
But what if you can’t deal with the DA and the judge doesn’t think you deserve a PJC? Is there any other option? Well, maybe.

How about a trial?

In North Carolina, if you contest your speeding ticket, you are entitled to a trial before a judge. Trials for speeding offenses typically last only a few minutes since in District Court at least, there is no jury and none of the rather cumbersome administrative procedures that go along with trying a jury case. In fact, these are pretty simple deals. Just like on TV, the DA will produce evidence (likely from the cop who stopped you) and, although not a requirement (remember that thing called the fifth amendment?) you can testify yourself so as to “combat” what the issuing officer says.
Evidence from the cop, contrary to popular belief, need not include a radar speed measurement. The cop can testify to your speed just based on his own visual estimate. This may seem unfair, but NC evidence law allows for “expert” testimony in certain circumstances (such as where scientific, technical or specialized knowledge will assist the trier of fact). In broad strokes, in order for the judge to allow the cop to testify as an “expert” as to his visual estimate of your speed, the DA need only ask a few questions about the cop’s background, training and expertise. Of course, there is plenty of icing on the cake if the DA also asks about how the cop corroborated his visual estimate (here’s where the cop will be asked about his radar device and whether it was calibrated correctly, how long had it been since he’d been trained on its correct use and so on).

So, the cop’s an expert and he’s got his radar gun to back him up. Seems like the cards are stacked against you. What can you do?

Well, first of all, consider whether you yourself can be qualified as an expert at measuring vehicular speed. Unlikely perhaps, but I have seen it happen. No requirement that you be a cop for sure, just that the judge be convinced of your training and expertise. Any certificates of completion of training programs or special classes on the subject will be a boon, indeed. But who would have these? Hardly anyone. Nevertheless, you may still qualify. How about ex cops? Great. How about engineers? Well, if their careers concern scientific speed measurement, maybe (like a ballistics engineer). How about pilots? Absolutely. Lots of training on flying by reference to visual cues necessarily include references to speed measurement. How about professional drivers? Totally. Take a look at a typical CDL training syllabus and you’ll see a substantial portion of the regimen devoted to “what if” scenarios, including velocity equations. So too with professional locomotive engineers, heavy machinery operators and others. Take a look at the requirements here in the expert witness statute link and see how many of them you yourself might fit in order to be considered an “expert”.
Second, how about doing a little bit of measurement yourself? Let the math work its magic. Like this: It should be easy enough to “convince” the judge that a mile has 5280 feet. If 60 mph is a mile a minute, then in 30 seconds, you should have gone 2640 feet. By extrapolating from this, using the numbers that the officer testifies to, a little pen and paper should be enough to show the judge that in fact your speed was not what the officer said, whether you were right at the speed limit or not. If you are successful on this point, then you may be able to create a “reasonable doubt” in the judge’s mind as to exactly what it was the officer saw. Reasonable doubt? Not guilty.
One more trick: Supposing you’ve had your vehicle serviced regularly, it may be that the service station has kept an accurate record of the “calibration” of your speedometer. If so, this means you may be able to use the person who so calibrated your speedometer as an expert witness. Just like the cop testified to all his training on the radar or about his visual estimations, you may be allowed to introduce the service technician as an expert who can testify to his own background (to establish him as an expert on calibrating speedometers!) and then have him offer an opinion as to the accuracy of your speedometer. If you’re successful, any reading that your speedometer gave at the time you were stopped for speeding may be given a bit more deference from the trial judge.

So what’s the upshot here? AVOID trials!

Try to work a deal with the DA. Try for a reduction in speed or even a plea to an improper equipment charge. Those may be enough to help you avoid those insurance points.  No dice there? See if the judge will allow a PJC. If still no luck, you may be looking at a trial. Remember, the radar is only corroborative evidence of the officer’s visual estimate of your speed; it is the estimate of your speed from an officer who has a lot of qualification to make such estimates that will persuade the judge most. Where you can produce your own experts to testify that your speedometer was working correctly you’ll be at least on a par with the cop’s testimony. Also, if you yourself have unique qualifications to estimate speed, don’t be afraid to bring that up. Maybe you can be considered an expert witness yourself and combat the citing officer on equal ground. Don’t forget the power of simple math. If the cop’s estimate of your speed doesn’t jibe with what the world knows as common measurement of distance and time, better get it in front of the judge.


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