In order to determine the viability of a speed trap defense, one must first ask themselves, what is the legal definition of a Vermont speed trap. A speed trap is defined as a speed limit that is unjustified based on specific factors set forth by the National Highway Traffic Safety Association as well as the local Governor’s Highway Safety Program. Based on the evaluation of engineers in these programs, local and state speed limits are set based on specific factors including the type of roadway, the visibility of drivers while on that specific stretch of roadway and population density. It is the intent of these evaluations to reasonably limit the speed limit to ensure the safety of drivers and pedestrians alike. If it is found that a Vermont speed limit sign was posted at a speed lower then what a study would conclude, then it could be defined as a “speed trap” and subject to attack at a Vermont traffic hearing.
However, providing that a speed limit is in fact not supported by NHTSA or GHSP is a difficult task. Further, even if an argument can be made that the speed limit does not fit the defined criteria, once would also have to show what criteria that specific stretch of roadway would fit into and what an appropriate speed limit would be. Most traffic judges will limit such an inquiry at trial, given that the purpose of the traffic court is to efficiently resolve cases, not allow for hours of testimony as to why a speed limit was in fact a speed trap.
One of the only real ways to implement change is to demand a study be conducted on the stretch of roadway by a NHTSA or GHSP engineer. If this is conducted, the study itself could be considered a public record and could potentially be admissible in Court. Certain stretches of road, especially on Vermont Route 100 may be subject to additional studies in the future and could be a key piece of evidence if a favorable result is concluded that will show that a speed limit is unreasonably low and thus is considered a speed trap.
As a lawyer practicing extensively in traffic court, I have had the opportunity to speak to hundreds of law enforcement officers regarding the circumstances of their stop of an individual for a traffic violation. Most of the time these interactions are pleasant and professional. However, from time to time, officers will relay to me important information as to the conduct of the motorist they issued a traffic ticket to, which goes directly toward their disposition in settling the case fairly. Below are a few of the most important things not to do as relayed directly from the officer.
- They begged me to not write them a ticket: Being pulled over by an officer can be a stressful situation. The officer, who has written hundreds if not thousands of these tickets, knows that this interaction may be less then cordial. However, when they are forced to defend themselves because a motorist is pleading with them not to write them a ticket, it puts them in a very difficult situation. Thus, in response to the begging, a law enforcement officer may just put on their professional face and go through the motions of writing the ticket to avoid excessive contact with the motorist. Tip: Take your medicine on the roadside, be polite, accept the ticket and then see what can be done to reduce or dismiss the ticket at a later time.
- Asking to see the radar: An officer is not obligated to show a motorist their radar gun at the roadside during a Vermont speeding ticket stop. This would prolong the stop and put the officer and motorist at further risk. Especially on the highway, but also on winding Vermont roads, officers do not want to be exposed to oncoming traffic for any longer then they have to. Requesting to look at the radar may only put the officer on the defensive, which may hurt your chances of catching a break later on. Tip: If you feel the radar was inaccurate, save the argument for the courtroom, not the roadside.
- Aggressively denying that you were speeding: If an officer is pulling you over, its because they believe that they have reason to do so. If they are pulling you over for speeding, it is nearly a certainty that the officer has a reasonable belief that you were in fact speeding. 99% of Vermont law enforcement officers are good people, performing a tough job to the best of their ability. Thus, if a motorist sits on the roadside and vehemently denies that they were speeding, this will not help their chances, as an officer may take it as a statement against their professionalism without just cause. Instead, to protect your rights, it is better to not answer at all or to simply state that you were not sure how fast you were traveling. Tip: By the time the officer goes back to his cruiser after gathering your identification documents, it is likely that they have already made up their mind as to whether they will be writing you a ticket. Do not expect that you will get a break by making your case on the roadside.
The issuance of a Vermont traffic ticket is only the start of the legal process if a motorist chooses to contest the charge. Thus, it is important to not paint yourself in a corner by performing acts that are contrary to resolving your case. The above three examples are just a few of the acts motorists have committed that have effected their chance are receiving a favorable disposition to their case.