Written by Gregory Monte.
The Case That Inspired This Post
There is a lawyer-based traffic ticket “help” website called AVVO. Back in 2013 someone posted a question about a ticket he received for allegedly delaying traffic in New Jersey, a violation of 39:4-56. Delaying traffic prohibited:
“No person shall drive or conduct a vehicle in such condition, so constructed or so loaded, as to be likely to cause delay in traffic or accident to man, beast or property.”
The “safety-minded” officer who issued the ticket was waiting in an exit lane and this individual apparently crossed over and got ahead of the rest of the cars waiting to exit …
“I did not cut anyone off, but the officer was in the right waiting to exit, along with others, and I passed them all and moved into left hand lane of exit which was completely open. He said I should have waited in line and because I did not, I delayed traffic.”
Because this particular offense is considered pretty minor in New Jersey (it costs $50 and there are no points), the questioner wanted to know if it was worth fighting. Five attorneys responded that it was a waste of time (see below), but none of them took the time to find out that this individual could easily have won his case had he done some very basic research.
“Advice” From the Lawyers
“Almost certainly not worth fighting.” – Dean P Murray
“There is nothing lower that it could be dropped to. It is zero points and $56.00 fine if you go to court there will be $33 on top of it for court costs if you lose a trial or decide to plead guilty there.” – John George Ducey
“The chances of a prosecutor and judge believing your version over that of a police officer or state trooper is not great. Since it is a zero-point ticket with a minimal fee, I would not recommend fighting the ticket.” – James A. Abate
“It is a 0-point ticket. The fine is low but there would be Court costs if you contest and lose or if you go to court and do not plead guilty until you are there. Is it worth the time? – Mark M Cheser
Using the Law to Beat the Law
I often criticize traffic ticket advice websites because of their uselessness. Here are three examples:
The most common suggestion from these sites is to plea down to a lesser offense that costs more money but has no points. Very rarely do they provide information that you can use to actually fight an unfair ticket – and the ticket received by the questioner on AVVO was completely unfair. As I indicated earlier, the cop was pissed off that someone skipped ahead of him in line and took it out by using his authority to issue a ticket.
While most “good” citizens (sheep?) usually just accept their fate and pay the fine, I bristle with indignation when confronted with this type of arbitrary authority. In fact, that is why I started this blog – to help like minded citizens fight back. My advice is to always challenge a ticket as long as you have a decent chance of winning.
How do you know if you have a decent chance of winning?
Keep in mind what Attorney Abate (quoted above) says about judges – they are not going to believe your version about what happened. Because the judge almost always sides with the cop, your testimony is basically worthless. Instead, you have to use the law to beat the law. This means going to a website called Google Scholar to find cases that are similar to yours. If you can show that a previous judge’s opinion supports your version of events, you will have your ticket dismissed.
So, when I searched for cases related to delaying traffic, I quickly found two that would most likely lead to the dismissal of the case against that AVVO questioner.
How come none of those lawyers were able/willing to do this?
When a Delay is Not Necessarily a Delay
If you read the delaying traffic statute, you will notice that it refers to a delay caused by the way the vehicle is loaded – not just a general type of traffic delay. In State v. Brackin, NJ: Appellate Div. 2011, the lawyer for the defendant specifically mentions this:
“Additionally, counsel argued that, to the extent that Tobin claimed defendant’s conduct was delaying traffic, he had cited to the wrong statute, N.J.S.A. 39:4-56, which is applicable only to delays caused by the condition, construction or loading of a vehicle, not the conduct of its operator. The State argued that the Officer had merely cited to the wrong statute, and that the proper one was N.J.S.A. 39:4-67, which governed obstruction of the passage of other vehicles.”
Unless the vehicle of the questioner from AVVO was overloaded in some fashion, the police officer who gave him a ticket cited the wrong statute – just like in the Brackin case.
Why a Delay is Not Always a Delay
Although the following case goes way back, I still think it is helpful in understanding the purpose of that delaying traffic statute. As you read through this decision note that the legislature enacted numerous laws which highlighted the way a vehicle was loaded. These were written specifically to regulate tractor trailers, not standard vehicles.
“Title 39 is otherwise replete with instances of specific legislative notice and regulation of vehicle load conditions deemed to require police-power control. See, e.g., sections 39:3-84.3 (violations as to weights and measurements of vehicles); 39:3-84.4 (damage to highways or structures by overweight vehicles); 39:4-27 (loading and operation of trailer); 39:4-28 (height limitations of certain vehicles); 39:4-56 (delaying traffic prohibited); 39:4-58 (driving with rear or side view obstructed); 39:4-77 (loading so as to spill prohibited). These provisions have a twofold significance. They evidence the legislative habit of dealing with vehicle-load problems in Title 39 in specific terms rather than by implication. And they show that the Legislature is attending to matters of policy with regard to regulation of vehicle-load hazards, thereby serving as a reminder of the canon that in construing statutes courts are mindful that jurisdiction over policy is peculiarly in the legislative province.
My General Method for Fighting Tickets
I started this blog after my son got an unfair stop sign ticket. I knew that the judge would never believe his version of events over the cop who gave him the ticket. This realization led to three months of internet research until I found every possible technicality in the laws governing stop signs. In court he argued that the stop sign he allegedly “rolled through” was not properly authorized and so it was not enforceable – and he won the case.
If you are interested in some more details about his case, check out my three free PDFs. They are specifically geared to Pennsylvania but the theory has a general application to any state.