Besides witnesses, what else should I bring with me to traffic court?
The copy of the ticket that the police officer or trooper gave you does not contain the facts of the incident. Therefore, you must submit a request in writing for a copy of all the police statements, photographs, diagrams, and evidence that the prosecutor/police intend to use against you in court. This is known as the “discovery.” Your request should be submitted with the clerk of the court and the prosecutor. You can contact the court that your case is assigned to and ask for the prosecutor’s name, address, and phone number. This request should be made at least 14 days prior to your hearing. Make sure you provide a current address to which the documents can be sent. You should also send your request for discovery by certified mail or any other way in which there is proof of when you sent it and when it was received.
What happens if I don’t get the “discovery” in time or at all?
If the prosecutor sends you the discovery less than 7 days prior to the hearing, you may ask the court to suppress the evidence. However, the evidence will not be suppressed unless you can demonstrate that the delay in providing the discovery to you prejudiced your case. This is a high burden, and many judges will not suppress delayed evidence. If, without reasonable justification, the prosecutor fails to send you the discovery prior to the hearing, then you can ask the judge to suppress the evidence. If the evidence is suppressed, there is no proof of the infraction and the case will be dismissed.
Now that I have everything I need for court, what actually happens when my case is called?
In some courts, the judge will read the police statements out loud and identify the evidence against you (i.e. radar gun readout, photos, etc.). In other courts, a prosecutor may be the one reading aloud the evidence and statements. If the police officer is present, he/she will be called to the stand by either the judge or the prosecutor and asked, under oath, to recount what happened. This is known as direct examination. After he/she has done so, you will be given the opportunity to ask him/her questions. This is called cross-examination.
I have never asked a witness questions in court. What do I do?
Be calm, respectful and polite. Don’t try to argue with the police officer – he/she has had a lot of experience testifying in court. You won’t win. Calmly try to get your points across to the judge by questioning the accuracy of the officer’s memory and perception and perhaps his/her bias. The same should be done while questioning a civilian witness.
What happens after the evidence against me has been presented?
At this point, you will get to present your evidence. You may call witnesses to testify on your behalf and you may also choose to testify on your own behalf. If you have photos or diagrams, you will generally need to establish that they accurately depict what they are intended to depict before you can use them. In a calm and respectful manner, present your side of the case. If you are asked questions by the judge or the prosecutor, be truthful and calm in your answers.