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02.02.11

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Challenging the CHP

Yes, you can fight illegal speeding tickets

By Paul Sarran


Like most upstanding citizens, when we get a speeding ticket, we pay it. Without thinking. We are not inclined to question authority. Especially not the authority of the CHP.

However, when my wife got her third speeding ticket in the same place, on Barnes Road between River Road and Dennis Lane, in Santa Rosa, I thought, "Wait a minute—something's wrong here." I began to research. And thanks to David Brown's book How to Fight Your Ticket and Win, I learned that if a radar speeding ticket is issued in a location where the posted speed is not justified by an engineering speed study, the ticket is illegal. (See California Vehicle Code  4080040808.) Even if the officer testifies that in addition to the LIDAR, he visually determined your speed, legally he is an incompetent witness and none of his testimony can be used. That is the law.

Perhaps my wife's tickets were actually illegal, I realized. I decided to find the speed study for Barnes Road. CALTRANS didn't have it. They were very helpful, though, and suggested I try a more local authority.

Sonoma County Public Works had the study, and also issued a statement that there was no valid study for the road, which they provided free of charge. The most recent study dates back to March of 1989. Since, for the purpose of speeding convictions, the study is not supposed to be more than five years old, I knew we had a legitimate case. All three tickets were issued illegally.

Unfortunately, my wife had already pled guilty to the first two, as a compliant and trusting citizen would. We were left with a sense of injustice. We could have gotten those tickets removed by visiting the DMV with a copy of the court's judgment of dismissal for cause, but we have to take the time to do it. That is a cost.

So we requested a formal trial with the officer present.

In order to use these documents in court, I sent copies of the papers we had to the CHP, along with requests for the officer's notes from the back of the ticket. We also requested that the CHP produce a valid speed study as part of the discovery process. We got a letter back from the CHP with the officer's notes and a statement saying that they were not in possession of a valid speed study.

The day of the trial, several CHP officers present stated that the officer was out tending to an accident and would be late. We sat in court all day. The officer never did show. We were the last to be heard that day. When the judge offered all kinds of reduction bargains, we remained firm and refused.

The judge offered to drop the case, since the officer hadn't shown. We didn't accept. We showed the judge the speed study, the declaration of lack of valid survey and the note from the CHP that they were not in possession of a valid study. Shocked, the judge immediately dismissed the case "in the interest of justice."

That is what we wanted, and that is why we spent all day waiting: to have our day of being heard in court, and to have justice.During this process, we were told that the CHP "dot their i's and cross their t's," and that they would never operate an illegal speed trap.

This is a myth. All three of the officers who issued those tickets simply ignored the law. Officers have issued hundreds of tickets at that spot on Barnes Road—all illegal since 1996! I think the individual officers and the CHP owe their victims damages.

We paid fines, got points on our licenses, experienced raised insurance rates and could have lost our license or job because of points on our licenses. It is their fault, and they should be held responsible for the damages they caused. They can't say they didn't know. They are the first ones to tell us that ignorance of the law is no excuse.

This warrants legal suits against the CHP. They got it wrong, and they should have to pay for breaking the law.


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