Even though I handle a very specific niche as an attorney, people come to me with all sorts of legal issues. I turn most of the non-Lemon Law stuff down, but I have a hard time saying no to traffic tickets, especially when my friends get them. There is usually very little defense that can be raised to a legitimate ticket–that is, one that the driver really deserved. But I’ve had a few that required some real fancy-pants lawyering.
I had a client who was an avid motorcyclist and one night, when returning from downtown Detroit with other cycling friends, he found himself doing northwards of 100 MPH on the Lodge Freeway. The speed limit there is nowhere near that and, as the group came around a curve, they passed a Detroit police cruiser. Since the car was doing the speed limit, the bikes flew by him like he wasn’t moving. When my client saw the flashing lights come on, he pulled over. His cohorts did not and they were probably a county away by the time the police car pulled up behind my client.
Some bikers might point out that my client would not have been ticketed–most likely–if he had not pulled over since he could have done what the others had done. They had exited quickly and disappeared into a nearby neighborhood. But my client got a ticket for reckless driving and had his bike impounded. When we got to court, I had only one argument.
I found the police officer and asked him if he remembered the incident. He did. Did they ever catch the other bikers? No, they had not. “Well, officer. My client stopped. You and I both know that if he hadn’t, we wouldn’t be here today. I’d ask that you give him some consideration for stopping when he saw your lights.”
The officer nodded and said something to the effect of, “You’re right and I appreciate that. How about 10 over?” As in, a minor speeding ticket instead of a misdemeanor. We jumped on the offer.
I had another client who had lost his license BEFORE he got the two tickets he called me about. These two tickets were going to push his total to 16, in a state where you lose your license at 12. I went into a small conference room with the prosecutor and the officer and they closed the door and began laughing at me. “What do you think we can do on this? We could have written him for driving on a suspended license AND it looks like he drove himself to court.” That last tidbit was news to me.
What could I argue? “Look, he’s already lost his license. More points aren’t going to make him lose it any more. But the guy hired me and I have to get him something.” (Note: This is the Hail Mary for any attorney with a losing argument in front of a prosecutor.) Then I added, “I’ll even drive him home and give him the lecture about how lucky he is.”
I’m not sure why, but the cop started laughing. It was subtle, but he was no longer laughing AT me. I think he felt sorry for me and he found my argument amusing. “You drive him home and we’ll knock a couple of points off if he pleads to one of the tickets.” Yes, we jumped on it. And yes, I drove him home.
Finally, I had a jury trial over a ticket where my client was accused of ignoring a police officer who was waving people off the street and directing them down a side street. The allegation was that my client had driven around the officer–and the roadblock–and had proceeded to force the officer to chase him down, pull him over, and then listen to my client berate the officer to the extent that the officer felt the need to handcuff my client. He then charged my client with reckless driving. Which is a misdemeanor and entitles you to a jury trial if you ask for one. Which we did.
Our defense? During the officer’s testimony he described handcuffing my client. I asked him who else was in the car? The driver’s wife and two small children. During closing argument I glossed over the details of the event–those would probably have only hurt us–and then ginned up the most outrage I could pretend to harbor. “Then, the officer handcuffed him in front of his children! His children!” I made eye with a juror who had let us know he was a father of a small child during jury selection.
Shortly after they left, the jury returned with a verdict of Not Guilty. Had my client driven recklessly? The jury didn’t think so. And that’s the only opinion that mattered. Have I won every ticket I’ve even handled? Of course not. But once in a while a crazy argument can save the day.
Steve Lehto is a writer and from Michigan. He specializes in Lemon Law and frequently writes about cars and the law. His most recent books include , and . He also has a where he talks about these things.