A Judge’s Discretion in Traffic Court

Written by Gregory Monte.

Court of Justice?

Would you be annoyed if an individual defending himself before you in court on a speeding ticket charge got a more lenient sentence than you for the exact same offense?

Sounds unfair, right?

Well, it turns out that judges have wide discretion when it comes to sentencing.

Consider the experience of the appellant in State v. LING-YI JU, NH: Supreme Court 2019.  Miss Ling-Yi Ju received a ticket for violating New Hampshire’s Motor Vehicle Code Section 265:60 dealing with maximum speed limits.  She indicates that during her original trial the judge was:

“kinder to some defendants, taking an unfriendly stand on my case while it was the same speeding allegation.”

Too bad, so sad according to the New Hampshire Supreme Court.

“Trial judges have broad discretionary authority when determining the sentence to be imposed following a defendant’s conviction.”

In other words, it is completely acceptable for judges to set punishment as they see fit – and there is really not much you can do about it. 

Judge “Impartiality”

I still remember my experience in a Paramus, New Jersey Courtroom where there were a whole bunch of people representing themselves for speeding tickets.  I showed up in a nice suit and tie and the judge treated me very cordially.  But the guy after me was dressed in ripped jeans and a tee shirt.  When his name was called he didn’t respond the first time because he was talking to his friend in the back of the room.  When he finally approached the front table it was clear that the judge’s attitude had changed. 

You could tell that the guy was nervous enough to start with, but when the judge lectured him about wasting the court’s time before he even got started, he got even more flustered.  I felt sorry for him because the judge gave him absolutely no leeway as he floundered through his defense.  Where I was allowed to ask the police officer all kinds of questions, the judge constantly cut this guy off commenting that what he was asking was irrelevant.  Needless to say, he lost the case.

Good Luck Trying to Prove Bias

The only way to possibly challenge this apparant unfairness would be to argue that the judge was impartial in his actions.  According to the New Hampshire Supreme Court:

“A party questioning the impartiality of a trial judge must show the existence of bias, the likelihood of bias, or an appearance of such bias … The test for the appearance of partiality is an objective one, that is, whether an objective disinterested observer, fully informed of the facts, would entertain significant doubt that justice would be done in the case.”

Good luck with that.  It’s difficult and time consuming enough to plan a decent speeding ticket defense.  Filing even more paperwork in order to prove a bias would be a total waste of time.  That is why I focus all of my traffic ticket defense advice on finding technicalities in the law which a judge has no choice but to accept.  That is the only sure way to win in court.  The appellant in this case had nothing to go on except her belief that she was treated unfairly.  That kind of “defense” won’t get you anywhere.

If you are interested in the details about how I find technicalities that win traffic ticket cases, check out my three free PDFs.


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