Appealing decisions on your own can be difficult

Appealing a speeding ticket on your own

Appealing a traffic ticket for speeding can be difficult. Appealing a traffic ticket for speeding without the help of a lawyer can be doubly so. People who decide to represent themselves in traffic-related matters in BC face a complex system that requires a lot of skill and experience in order to succeed.

Recently, a BC Supreme Court Decision demonstrated how difficult it can be to successfully challenge a speeding ticket, even if you are a highly qualified person.

Dr. Christian Friedinger, an engineer whose original career was in traffic research, appealed against a speeding ticket. His case serves to highlight some of the pitfalls of representing yourself.
[pullquote]”Hiring a lawyer to fight your case, who can skillfully cross-examine witnesses and set out the grounds of appeal, can drastically increase your chances.”[/pullquote]

Clearly stating the grounds of appeal

There is plenty of advice online about representing yourself in court. But it can be difficult to win a case if you don’t know the Motor Vehicle Act or court procedure.

Dr. Friedinger did not clearly set out the grounds of his appeal. Consequently, the Supreme Court judge had to sum them up based on the appellant’s description of the issues.

Setting out the grounds of an appeal is essential. Judges are only able to make decisions based on the arguments presented to them. It is not a judge’s task to find holes in the Crown’s argument on their own. Self-represented appellants often try to fight their conviction from every angle, weakening the impact of the overall case. Spending your time honing one or two legal arguments is a much better strategy.  

Anyone appealing a speeding conviction could save themselves and the Courts a lot of time if they set out specific grounds for their appeal. Or better yet, hire a lawyer to do it for you.

Some people try to bring forward new evidence on appeal, which is not possible. If a defendant was unable to bring forward evidence effectively in the initial trial it cannot be resubmitted. A judicial justice of the peace (JJP) can only make a decision based on the evidence in front of them so an appeal against that decision cannot be made because of fresh evidence.

Consequently, a judge on appeal cannot say that a JJP made an error because their decision was fine considering the evidence in front of them.

Cross-examination

In Dr. Friedinger’s case, one of the reasons he gave the judge for his appeal was that the police officers who issued him the speeding ticket “stonewalled” under cross-examination.

This assertion was not accepted by the Supreme Court judge, who said: “The transcript reveals the officers did not necessarily agree with the appellant or his at-times-argumentative assertions. A witness who does not agree with a cross-examiner is not ‘stonewalling’ simply by not agreeing or refusing to accept a statement.”

It’s easy to let emotions get the better of you while conducting a cross-examination. It’s next to impossible to stay in control when it’s a case in which you are personally involved.

Cross-examination requires a lot of skill and a cool head and it’s not something that would come naturally to a layperson. Lawyers receive extensive training in cross-examining witnesses. Perhaps had Dr. Friedinger hired a lawyer, his attempts to dispute the police testimony would have been more fruitful.

Be specific

It is not enough to point out inconsistencies or contradictions in the Crown’s case when disputing a speeding ticket. You also have to prove how those inconsistencies raise a reasonable doubt.

Dr. Friedinger suggested that the device used to measure his speed could be inaccurate in certain circumstances, such as when it’s pointed at a certain angle. However, he did not establish whether it was inaccurate in this case. The judge found: “There was, on the evidence, no inconsistency that required resolution”

Challenging radar readings is not enough

It’s tempting to obsess over the accuracy of radar devices in speeding cases and neglect other more crucial evidence. If Dr. Friedinger only had the evidence of a radar device against him, he might have stood a chance of raising a reasonable doubt. But as it happened the evidence against him also consisted of the visual speed estimates of two police officers. Radar readings are normally used to back up visual estimates and rarely form the sole basis of a speeding ticket.

The Supreme Court judge stated: “The law is clear that a visual estimate alone is sufficient. In this instance, I have two independent visual estimates as corroborated by a laser estimate.”

It doesn’t always help if you’re an expert

If you have specialist knowledge of a certain subject, you might think you can use that knowledge to disprove a case against you. This would be a dangerous assumption. In Court, it’s not about what you know but rather the legal argument you make.

Dr. Friedinger’s background as an engineer in traffic research clearly afforded him more knowledge than most people about some of the principles involved in radar speed detection. Surprisingly, this specialist knowledge may have ended up counting against him.

The judge said: “Much of the appellant’s argument was either based on evidence not before the court or was in the nature of expert or quasi-expert evidence. The appellant was not qualified as an expert and even if he had been, virtually no weight would be given to such an opinion from a party, as it would lack the independence and objectivity required of an expert.”

Is it safer to hire a lawyer?

If you are determined to fight a speeding ticket on your own, hopefully, you’ll take one thing away from this blog: Don’t enter into a speeding ticket appeal lightly. Traffic ticket appeals require a high level of skill and preparation in order to be successful.

Hiring a lawyer to fight your case, who can skillfully cross-examine witnesses and set out the grounds of appeal, can drastically increase your chances.

As dedicated driving lawyers, we are prepared to handle driving-related cases, including speeding and excessive speeding tickets. We know the elements that can go wrong in a speed measurement and we can help to determine if police followed procedure.

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