Of course you didn't know you were driving that fast. The speed limit sign was obscured by a passing bird. But the police officer isn't persuaded by your doe-eyed pleas, and now you're faced with a fine, increased insurance premiums and demerit points on your driving record. Here's how to reduce or beat the charges.
Put it in writing
Were you attempting to slow down when the police officer stopped you? Write down everything you can remember about being pulled over. This information may be helpful if you take your case to trial or plea bargain.
Check the fine
"Most people don't know the appropriate fines for the ticket, and many have flaws," says Frank Alfano, a paralegal with Xpolice Traffic Ticket Services, a ticket-fighting firm with 11 locations in Ontario. Most initial consultations with paralegals are free, "so it costs nothing to get them to make sure it's proper," he says.
Some speed demons hire paralegals to represent them in court. Why would you fork over $400 to a paralegal firm to help you fight a $350 fine? "Insurance premiums are what make our kind of practice cost-effective," Mr. Alfano says. Insurance companies "care about the number of entries on your record, and can use a minor conviction to increase [your]premiums for three years." He recommends talking anonymously with your insurance company to find out how legal penalties will affect your premiums.
Book time off
Be prepared to take the day off work for your day in court. You may also need to take time off just to set the wheels in motion: Some municipalities allow you to request a trial by mailing in your ticket, but others require you to head to the traffic court office to file the paperwork in person.
You have a right to see the evidence that will be brought against you in court. Known as "disclosure," it may include copies of the police officer's notes, witness statements and information about the equipment used to record your speed. Disclosure should be requested from the city prosecutor's office - through your local Provincial Offences office - well in advance of your trial date.
Mr. Alfano examines the evidence for possible weaknesses. "There are all kinds of ways to throw a wrench into a case," he says. "The police officer will say he's qualified to use the equipment, and then you start asking questions like 'Who trained you?' "
"What I find is that there's usually a deal to be made," says Toronto lawyer John Spina, who was once clocked driving nearly twice the speed limit. "What they're really interested in doing is balancing the need to deter people from doing these things, and punishing them when they do, with serving the administration of justice."
Mr. Spina negotiated $200 off his fine and reduced his demerit points to two. He points out: "These courtrooms are packed. Imagine if they all went to trial how clogged the system would be."
"There's an assumption of innocence until proven guilty. I have a right to test the Crown's theories," Mr. Spina says. "But if you go in there throwing your weight around, you're going to get a very frosty reception and rightly so. You've got to treat the court and the officers of the court with due respect."
*And don't do this: Admit guilt ("I was only 10 kilometres over") if you plan to go to trial or plea bargain.
Special to The Globe and Mail
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