If you have been cited for speeding or another traffic violation, there are certain preparatory steps you must take to mount an effective defense. The first step is to obtain a copy of the notes taken by the police officer who issued your citation. These notes will contain the officer’s impressions of what happened, why you were pulled over and cited and what traffic conditions were like at the time.
Before your trial date, the citing police officer will review these notes in order to present the case to the judge. If you have ever attended traffic court in the past and been impressed by the police officer’s recall of the case facts, these notes deserve most of the credit.
How to Get a Copy of the Police Officer’s Notes
Your goal during the trial preparation stage should be to get a copy of the police officer’s notes for your own use. Reading through these notes will clue you in on how the officer plans to present the case and protect his or her position in court. Most states permit the defendant in a traffic case (you) to view these notes as part of a process known as “discovery.” You will need to contact your local traffic court to find out if your state permits discovery and, if so, how to write for permission to view the officer’s notes as well as other helpful material you can use in your own defense.
In states that permit discovery, you still bear the responsibility for requesting the officer’s notes and any supporting documents or material related to your citation case. If you don’t ask for this information, the court will not volunteer it to you. You also want to be sure to make your request in writing and to do so as early as possible to ensure the notes and materials arrive prior to your court date.
If you have not yet had your arraignment hearing, you may be able to request this documentation at that time. If your arraignment date has already passed, your best bet is to make your request in writing to two different offices – to the police department and to the local prosecuting agency of record.
If Discovery is Permitted But Your Request is Ignored or Denied
Very few defendants in traffic court are even aware of the discovery process. As such, very few defendants go through the process of requesting the police officer’s notes and other supporting documents in advance of their trial date.For this reason, you may find that your initial request is ignored or denied, even if discovery is legally permitted in your state. If this happens, don’t give up! Instead, be persistent until you get the material you are legally entitled to see.
If three weeks have passed since you made your request and there is still no response at all, your best recourse is to go to the courthouse in person. At the courthouse, you will need to present your own pre-trial motion to the judge. In this motion, you will ask the judge to enforce discovery by issuing an order to the citing police officer to release the notes and materials to you.
If your court date arrives and there has still been no response to your legal request for discovery, be sure to bring your documentation of the many times and ways you have tried to access the notes and materials and ask the judge to dismiss your case due to failure to follow proper protocols.
How to Use the Police Officer’s Notes in Your Own Defense
If your request during discovery is successful and you are able to obtain a copy of the police officer’s notes and any other material you need to build your case, you definitely will want to use them to help yourself in court!
The first thing you need to do is study the notes carefully, because there is a good chance the officer will stick to the notes word-for-word during your actual trial. As well, you may find valuable intel in the notes about the police officer’s strategy for upholding your citation and conviction. The police officer will want to prove that the citation was valid so he or she gets credit for issuing the citation.
Here are some particular items to pay close attention to during your trial preparations:
- The level of detail. If the police officer wrote sparsely in the notes about your case, there is a good chance he or she won’t even remember you, your behavior on the road or the specifics of why he or she chose to cite you. However, if you notice the officer made detailed notes, there is a greater chance you will be facing off against an officer determined to uphold his or her choice to cite you.
- What is missing in the notes. If there are certain important details that are omitted from the notes, it may be that the officer didn’t even write the notes up at the scene of the citation and doesn’t remember these important details either.
Here is a list of the important details the notes should contain (but may not contain):
- The lane you were in when you were pulled over (NOT the lane you were in when you were cited!).
- The method the officer used to record AND verify the speed you were going (if you were cited for going over the speed limit). Some methods might include pacing you in his or her police vehicle or pointing a remote digital speed reader at your car. Here, also look for details regarding how long the officer paced you or how long the reader was pointed at you (for instance, if it was only pointed at you for a second while you changed lanes, this may present you with an opening to state that you only sped up to pass someone and then immediately slowed down again).
- The details of when, where, what, how, who and what. Here, you are looking for specific details regarding weather conditions, road conditions, traffic density and level, other surrounding cars and similar notes to explain why you were cited and others drivers were not.
- The details of the officer’s own position. The notes should contain information about where the police officer was (whether parked or driving) when he or she witnessed you taking the action that led to your citation.
- Citation diagrams. Some police officers will not only make text notes but will also actually draw out a diagram of how the violation occurred and what led to the citation being issued. This is especially common if your violation took place near or at a major thoroughfare or intersection where there was a stoplight, stopping or other traffic control instructions posted. The more carefully your citing officer has drawn out the details of your citation incident, the more challenging it can be to get your case dismissed. Here, your best approach will be to conduct your own cross examination to prove the officer does not remember the details of what occurred precisely enough to uphold your conviction.
- Statements made by the driver (you). In many cases, a police officer’s notes will also contain details about what you said when you were pulled over and issued the citation. You will have the strongest chance of overturning your citation and getting your case dismissed if there are no such notes. But if the officer did make notes about your statements, you will want to read them and prepare a defense for any questionable or aggressive statements you may have made.