I am happy to announce the end of a long saga: my decision to contest a ticket that I received in early March of 2005. I originally blogged about it here:
I went back and toned down some of my original post, because emotion does not help one defend oneself in a court of law.
Having spent an estimated 15 hours working on my defense, doing research into the California vehicle code, and approaching the court with a prepared set of questions for cross-examining my ticketing officer DID help me in the court of law.
I will attempt to give a brief summary of how the case proceeded, because it fascinates me, and because it may be helpful to others who may be contesting the same citation. The most interesting thing to me was that the judge stopped me during cross-examination to dismiss the citation and to discuss his viewpoint: essentially, since the signs over Arroyo Parkway were the same at the time of the ticket, and were later removed due to problems the executive branch had with them, the judge was not going to penalize me for happening to be at that intersection at that particular date. In other words, because the signs had been taken down and replaced, the judge decided to dismiss the case. However, although the judge said I had a pretty good cross-examination, he was not convinced that the officer ticketed me incorrectly, or that this particular sign/signal was illegal.
There were some extremely important things going on legally that I was aware of, yet I did not address through cross-examination to convince the judge otherwise. The most major distinction was whether the “FLASH RED NO LEFT TURN SIGN” was actually an official traffic control device, or a sign. The judge advised me to look into CVC 21351, which essentially allows local authorities to place any sign, regardless of conformance with local law. The distinction is important because official traffic control devices have uniform standards and specifications, outlined in CVC 21400 instead.
The tricky point is that I was ticketed under CVC 22101(d), which allows local officials and authorities to place official traffic control devices (and makes it unlawful to disobey them), but requires them to be placed in accordance with sections (b) and (c). Section (c) covers prohibited turns, and says that local authorities must place signs, not official traffic control devices.
Essentially, what the judge was saying to me was that the question of whether a sign or official traffic control device is required is primarily one of jurisdiction – whether the sign placed up at the Gold Line intersections for a short while is required to be a sign or an official traffic control device depends on whose law is applicable in that case – local or state. In this case, the judge argued that the local law was in effect, but I am not sure I recall the exact reasoning – maybe it’s just a tricky issue between state and local jurisdictions.
Anyway, I’m definitely not a lawyer, but I thought I made a pretty good case for it to be considered a traffic control device! If I were to spend more time on it, I would research more deeply into the fundamental differences between signs and official traffic control devices, specifically for a law on the books that states any lighted bulbs or electronically controlled devices are not signs. Significantly, though, I overlooked an entire section (CVC 21351) that the judge had to point out to me which he said was the law under effect at that intersection. So I wouldn’t hire myself as a traffic court lawyer just yet. 🙂
Most imporantly, I appreciate the judge’s sense of fairness and justice in dismissing my claim, as he believed that it would be unfair to punish me because of the date upon which I took a left turn through that intersection, especially if that type of signage disappeared soon after my violation.
Overall, this was a fantastic experience for me with legal research, and I have to admit that I felt literally excited each time I was in court, especially in the presence of a judge. I know that this was a close call for myself, and I was prepared for any outcome. I won’t forget the lessons i’ve learned in this case, and I definitely won’t forget the strange passion the law seeks out in me.
Here are some of the key things I looked at or did that were very useful to me:
- The searchable PDF of the California Vehicle Code, especially Division 11: Rules of the Road
- CVC 22101(d), the citation statute.
- CVC 21100.1, which requires any traffic control device to conform to the uniform standards and specifications … pursuant to section 21400.
- CVC 21450(a), which restricts colors used in official traffic control devices to red, yellow, and green only.
- CVC 21457(a), which describes flashing red stop signals.
- A plan of defense, including a thorough discussion of the main point (sign was supposed to be a traffic control device and did not adhere to standards)
- An ordered questionnaire to help me stay on track during cross-examination of the officer, which first established the facts of the citation, then attempted to probe the officer’s understanding of the law as it applied to this sign. (This was most helpful in keeping me calm and on track in front of the judge)
- A methodical approach to my defense following specific reading of the law as it applied to my case.
- Proceeding in the cross-examination with respect for the ticketing officer, who was simply doing his job. I fully recognize the need for law enforcement officers to be able to make stops without having to get into a discussion of state and local authority, and I truly appreciate the service that police provide in the community.