Index for Insanity, Inc.
Traffic Court: Guilty until Proven Guilty
First off a disclaimer. The comments which I state here are from my experience at the East Ventura Traffic Court, located in Simi Valley, CA and also investigations relating to these matters on the Internet. It may or may not be the same in other locations, even though I strongly suspect that it is. I am not an attorney nor do I play one on TV or the Internet. I do not have a legal background, so it is possible that my views of the laws might be wrong. None of the comments or information is intended to be viewed as legal advice. The only advice that I can give you is to avoid getting a ticket and having to deal with traffic court.
A simple question: If you are in California and the speed limit is 35mph and you are doing 45mph, are you breaking the law? Most people would say yes because you are exceeding the posted speed limit. An educated person would say that there is not enough information in order to determine the answer. Why? In the California Vehicle Code (CVC) it states the requirements for setting the speed limits in order to prevent speed traps, although there are some exceptions like residential streets, but in that case there is a requirement that there be a certain number of houses per distance.. A speed trap is a section of road which the speed limit is not justified or that the police are not properly trained with respect to the devices that they are using. In order to have a valid speed limit a traffic survey must be done. According to Case Law, this does not mean that they can do a traffic survey and then set the speed to anything that they want, it has to be justified. The basis is that most reasonable people go a safe speed. There can be hidden aspects which justify a lower speed limit, which most drivers would not notice, such as blind turns, numerous driveways, schools, etc. So, in the above question you are only breaking the law if the speed limit was set using the traffic survey or other proper means. This is not always the case, as I once saw in traffic court. This means that even if you think you violated the law, you might not have. The police have to prove that you are guilty and there are certain requirements that they must meet, but they don't always do that, so you need to know what the requirements are in order to protect yourself. Don't expect the court to do this as I have seen them ignore the law and lie and the people who supervise them don't care to do anything about it.
It is not about justice, it is about ego and money. If you think that the traffic court system is fair, think again. There are some officers who have ethics and honor, and in those cases it is clear that the defendant violated the law and just want to get off. In other cases, the police officer typically refuses to admit that they could have made a mistake. I have even seen an officer change his testimony, in front of a judge, in order to secure a conviction on a defendant. Don't expect the court to care if you are innocent or guilty. It seems that the "judge" assumes that you are guilty. The judge will let the officer say whatever they want, but don't expect to be able to try to respond to that since I have seen the judge refuse to let the person speak. The court does not care if you are innocent or guilty, they are more interested in the money and the control/power that that have and so they prefer that you pay. It is all about money, your money and they want it.
I have attended numerous traffic court sessions in order to learn how the system works. I have also looked up the law, both the Penal Code and the California Vehicle Code, as well as related case law regarding traffic laws.
Most people have little to no experience with the so called justice system. Due to this I suspect I have more experience than most as I have had to sue in small claims court for the landlord failing to return the security deposit, which I won and had to garnish her wages in order to get the money. Also I had to sue regarding a complete lack of disclosure regarding earthquake damage from a real estate purchase, I again won, but it took several years and a lot of money in order to collect the judgement. Getting the money was only possible because I found a really good collection attorney (former PI) and I was willing to play the game. From all of this I have learned that it is best to avoid the courts at all costs. It does not matter if you are right or not, it is not fun to have to go through all that. If there is anything you can do to avoid the courts do it.
When I started attending the traffic court to learn how the system works I was shocked. The first thing that I saw what that the defendents were often their own worst witness. Perhaps they had read things saying to ask for mercy. Asking for mercy in the traffic court is like asking a hungry lion for mercy. The Lion is hungry for food and the court is hungry for money. Often the defendents would make the case for the officer. This is understandable since sometimes the people thought that they had a valid excuse for doing what they did. Unfortunately for them it does not seem to ever work. I suspect that a Doctor might get off of a speeding ticket if he was rushing to an emergency, but I would not count on it.
The real reason for writing this is because of what I saw on the part of the police officers and the commissioners (the trier of facts, who may not be a real judge). Now this is just my impression, but it sure seems that defendents are guilty until proven guilty in traffic court. Well, also the Baliff told me that he thought that everyone who was there was guilty since otherwise they would not be there. This was in response to my question as to whether anyone really defended themselves. Sure, there are times in which the people get off, but that is rare, perhaps making sure that there are a few people which get off. Several times I saw a 100% conviction rate of those who went to trial. What would you say to an officer which testifies that he never saw a sign that the right lane must exit, then when questioned more say that he thought that there was such a sign and when he realized that the person would get off if he did not testify that there was a sign, said that he is 100% certain that he saw a the sign? This was all in a period of 5 minutes. The judge asked him about the sign and it was very clear that he never noticed the sign, regardless of whether it was there or not. The judge did not seem to care in the end as he found the woman guilty. It seems to me that there was reasonable doubt and that the officer committed perjury by changing his testimony.
I wrote a letter to complain of the commissioners lying and refusing to follow the law, in addition to having one of the commissioners harass me and make blantenly false accusations. I also stated that I had seen the commissioners fail to give people a fair trial. This letter was sent to the supervising judge, Judge Bruce A. Clark. My request was something be done in order to correct and prevent this situation, but his response was: "... you complain that other defendants are being convicted unfairly. I can only respond that they have an absolute right to appellate review, if they feel that were unjustly convicted"." Notice he does not say that he will look into it or anything else, just that people can appeal the decision, this from the person who is supposed to oversee these commissioners. There is also one some problem with his comment: Most people don't realize that they have a right to appeal the decision and instead think that it is a final decision. Add to that there is additional cost involved. There is no notice of this right and when you ask for the forms, it can take some time to find them.
Another example of our "justice" system is on 07-Jul-2004 during the 10:30am session, in the court of Commissioner Daily, a 17 year old was convicted of speeding. What was unusual in this case was that there was a witness, his mother, who was driving in front of him. Both of them stated that they had turn onto Westlake Blvd from this side street. The same street in which the officer claimed that he got the kid with a Lidar gun as he was going straight. Just before this case, Commissioner Daily had to ask the officer a question because he said "I was not really paying attention".
One of the biggest problems is relating to the Radar and Laser/Lidar devices. The only reason I can see that the courts allow evidence from Radar and Lidar devices to be admitted is in order to get the money from people.
The problem with Radar guns is that it is really unknown as to what is being detected. The beam width at 1000' is around 300' across. Even if the target vehicle is closer, the radar gun is sending out a wide beam, like I shot an arrow into the air, it landed I know not where. Also consider how they "test" the Radar device. They use a tuning fork and hold it in front of the device and the unit measures a speed, yet the center of mass of the tuning fork is NOT moving. What the Radar gun is doing is detecting the vibration speed of the tuning fork, ignoring the reverse speed and the slower speeds as the tuning fork changes direction. I doubt that Radar guns have been tested on all vehicle. This is important in my opinion because there are vehicles, like BMWs, which have a fan in front of the radiator. It might be possible that speed readings from such a vehicle will be from the fan, rather than the speed of the vehicle. Unfortunately the defendant has to prove they are innocent.
Also In my search I found:
"In the MATTER OF the ADMISSIBILITY OF MOTOR VEHICLE SPEED READINGS PRODUCED BY the LTI MARKSMAN 20-20 LASER SPEED DETECTION SYSTEM. Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division (Criminal), Morris County. Decided June 13, 1996."
The order is this case:
For the reasons expressed in the foregoing Opinion, speed readings produced by the LTI Marksman 20-20 Laser Speed Detection System shall not be used in the prosecution of any case arising under the motor vehicle laws now pending in the Municipal Court of the Township of Rockaway or in the Municipal Court of the Township of Parsippany-Troy Hills.
IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that, until further Order of the Superior Court, no municipal court in Morris County and no municipal court in Sussex County shall receive in evidence a speed reading generated by the LTI Marksman 20-20 Laser Speed Detection System in connection with any prosecution arising under the motor vehicle laws.
They found that the Laser devices are not accurate beyond a reasonable doubt. There are many things which affect a Lidar gun, yet this is ignored. I also found mention that there was no judicial notice for the Lidar devices, which means that an expert is needed to prove that it is accurate, which I have never seen done. Also, it was mentioned on some of the web pages I found that in order to determine that the Lidar is correctly working the officer needs to have a vehicle with a calibrated speedometer drive past. This is not done either, but it would also mean that in order to avoid hearsay, the officer in the vehicle would have to testify in court.
The number of examples are endless. All you need to do is to go to traffic court and see for yourself. Personally I would suggest that you get a Radar/Laser detector, not so that you can speed, but so that when it goes off you can look at your speed and all the vehicles around you to ensure that you are able to better defend yourself, should you not be speeding or that the detected speed is not what is claimed. Personally I like the Valentine 1 detector as it has sensors front and back, as well as a remote display option. It also counts the number of signal sources, so that a police officer can't hide around stores with the radar door openers. I own one myself and I have no benefit by recommending this unit.
Some examples of things that don't make any sense: With a speeding ticket, specifically 22350, the officer has to prove that the speed was unsafe. The officer testifies regarding the stopping distance. I don't understand how this is even accepted, perhaps because no one ever objects. It seems to me that the stopping distance data is hearsay and not relevant. The officer did not conduct the stopping distance test and therefore has no personal knowledge of the test or anything about it. The vehicle is not the same as the defendent's and the stopping distance will be different. I doubt that the officer could even say what type of vehicle was tested, whether it had anti-lock brakes, four wheel disk brakes or anything else. I think it would be different if the officer tried to introduce the stopping distance chart since that might be acceptable evidence, but that is not what is done. The officer testifies as to the stopping distance when there is no personal knowledge and the source of the information is not introduced.
One thing I really don't understand is that the officer claims that the speed is unsafe due to the increased stopping distance. Yet the stopping distance can be less than the stopping distance of a motorhome or truck going the speed limit. So why is the stopping distance for a passenger vehicle unsafe, yet it is safe and legal for other vehicles to have that stopping distance?
Another area which seems to not follow the law is in relationship to the witness officer. The officer is just a witness, not a prosecutor and can not act as a prosecutor unless he/she has a law degree. As far as I know, a prosecutor can not act as a witness. Yet, it seems that often the officer is allowed to do things which seems to be not allowed, such as introducing evidence. There is an exception for the citation, but the code section which mentions that says that all the other rules apply. So how can the officer submit the traffic survey and other evidence? Again, perhaps it is because the people do not object. I have also seen the commissioner allow the officer to question the defendent's witnesses. That seems to me to be a clear cut violation, yet nothing is done.
Something I just found:
Whether or not the People provide a prosecuting attorney, the citing officer who testifies as to the circumstances of the citation is a witness, no more, no less. People v. Marcroft (1992) 6 Cal.App.4th Supp. 1 , 8 Cal.Rptr.2d 544
I have to wonder what would happen if a defendent objected to all of these things. Perhaps the commissioner would still allow it, but then maybe that would be grounds for an appeal. It is possible, although not likely, that the commissioner would follow the law and you would get a fair trial. Perhaps I am insane for thinking that a fair trial and justice is possible.
Update: In a recent Traffic Court session there was an interesting example of how fair the traffic courts are. A man was charged with sleeping in his vehicle, although the woman he was with was not. The interesting aspect was that the police officer justified the search by stating that he had a previous encounter with this person and this vehicle. The commissioner said nothing about it, but when the man tried to testify that the basis was a lie, the judge refused to let him testify. Why is it ok for the officer to testify to this, yet when the defendant tries to it is not? I think that part was that the judge mentioned that it was not a hearing to exclude evidence, as if the average citizen would know that they could and should do that.
I got a letter back from the Commission on Judicial Performance and their decision is that there is not a problem. Of course, they don't think that it is a problem that the commissioners lie, don't follow the law or inform people of their rights. That is not their problem.
If the officer is a witness, how can they submit evidence?
Why are the officers allowed to present hearsay evidence? Specifically when giving testimony regarding the stopping distance. They did not do the test, they do not know the vehicle used, they do not know the type of brakes on the vehicle, etc.
Why, when the C.V.C. states that the prosecution must prove that the officer has taken the required courses, does the court allow for only testimony and no proof, such as the certificate. I thought there was something in the law which required the best evidence possible, meaning that if there is a document, then that must be submitted, not just testimony.
Why, when the C.V.C. states that the prosecution must show that the laser or radar device in on the approved list, is there no testimony regarding this?
From the TIPMRA web site, which really helped me become informed and prepared:
Beat that Evil Speeding Ticket - The Genuine TIPMRA Speeding Ticket Defense
The parole evidence rule: Although primarily intended for contracts it applies to criminal cases as well. Simply put it means that if a document exists no oral testimony as to the contents of that document is permitted. The document must be entered into evidence for examination
The best Evidence Rule: If a document is presented, it must be the original. If the original is unavailable a copy is permitted provided it is certified as a true copy of the original. In other words, unless a copy is certified, it can't be presented as evidence.
Stating that a document exists is a form of HEARSAY evidence that is not admissible provided you make and objection. the court will not make an objection for you.
Disclaimer: I have no interest in this site other than as a user.
The reason I feel that this is related since the traffic stop was declared illegal and that the officer involved admitted to looking for excuses to go after people. It also seems that since the officer is still working, that the department considers it acceptable behaviour.
I recently saw a program called The Investigators: An Officer and a Gentleman, which was on CourtTV. What made this different was that the traffic stop was on video tape. Unfortunately the video did not tell the whole story, but some of the interviews and court testimony with the officer who pulled over the vehicle showed the reality of what is going on. The bottom line summary is that officer Richard Mankewich used a bogus excuse to pull over a motorist and his statements in court and on interviews show that there are bad apples out there. Based on what I heard officer Richard Mankewich say in interviews, as well as the court video, I personally think that he should be fired and the department he works for should be turned upside down to correct the abuses which are going on.
FYI: it seems that officer Richard Mankewich has managed to make the news again, which can be found with a websearch using his last name.
Orange County officer Richard Mankewich was parked in median in one of two unmarked police vehicles at night. Off-duty Major Aaron Campbell (Dade County Police) drove past in the number one lane of traffic. He stated that he had the cruise control set to 69 mph, 1 mph slower than the speed limit. Officer Mankewich decided to leave the median, from a stop, and accelerate to a high rate of speed to catch this vehicle. So, the question is why did Officer Mankewich decide to go after this vehicle? It seems that the claim was that part of the license plate was obscured, namely the county name at the bottom of the Florida plate. There is a problem with this though. Officer Mankewich had been previously told by two judges that this was not valid grounds for pulling someone over. He also stated in an inteview that he thought that this information was important for an officer to see, no doubt because it is easier to ticket people who are from another county. So, what was the real reason for going after this vehicle?
After following the vehicle, Officer Mankewich claimed that the vehicle changed lanes without signalling and used that as an excuse for pulling the vehicle over, but the fact is that the bogus license plate issue was the excuse used to follow this vehicle.
As a side note, but which relates to this story, it seems to me that far too often the "race card" is played in situations which involve different races and to be quite honest I feel that the person is claiming that in order to get out of trouble. It is rare that I agree that race is really an issue in the story. In this case it seems to me that race was really the issue, well, that along with drug traffic profiling. Mr. Campbell, to his credit, in my opinion, did not claim that it was racially motivated until later, most likely because did not realize it until later. This seemed to be used against him, when in reality it seems to me to be more honest in that it was only afterwards when he thought about it that he made the charge. In court Richard Mankewich testified that he could not see Mr Campbell due to tinted windows, yet the front windshield and the driver and passenger windows were not tinted. Why would Officer Mankewich say that he could not see the driver due to tinting when that was not the case? Well, it seems that Officer Mankewich is part of a drug team which profiles drivers in order to catch people transporting drugs and a black man driving a nice new vehicle fit the profile.
Officer Mankewich said in an interview that had Mr Campbell said that he was an officer right away he would have just let him go. If that was true, why then did he not let him go when he found out? One must ask why it seems that it is acceptable for police to not have to follow the law, as the rest of us do, but that is another topic.
In some of the interviews shown Officer Mankewich basically said that he looks in the Florida statudes for things in which gives him an excuse to pull people over. In this case the court ruled that the traffic stop was illegal. This means to me that Officer Mankewich was harassing Mr Campbell, as well as other motorists who fall under his power and control. It was also clear that Officer Mankewich did not care that two judges had said his excuse to pull motorists over was illegal and had no intention of changing his behaviour.
In the same style as Officer Mankewich, Mr Campbell was charged with every imaginable charge. Also mentioned was that the Orange County Sheriff released the video the next day to the TV news, most likely as yet another attempt to harass Mr Campbell. Even though the reason for being pulled over was declared illegal, Mr Campbell was convicted of resisting arrest without violence. Personally I think that this is an abuse of the justice system. It is clear what occurred and when you add that the stop was declared illegal, Mr Campbell should not have been charged at all. While I don't agree with all of what Mr Campbell did, I don't think that it is acceptable to allow officers to harass motorists, especially when it seems clear to be racist.
More information on the case can be found at: http://www.courttv.com/archive/trials/campbell/
I found one web article by Phil Brennan, NewsMax.com, Friday, Feb. 8, 2002, Book Reveals How P.C. Media Are 'Coloring the News', which shows makes obviously false claims regarding this event in order to promote his claims. It seems clear that he gets his information from the TV news and does not investigate the real story.
I was walking around the other day and came across this police trailer which uses a radar device to record the speed:
What I found interesting is that it kept displaying a speed, yet when I looked down the street there were no vehicles to be seen. In the picture you can see that it is reading 21 mph. The vehicle in the picture was actually parked there. It was a windy day, so most likely it was picking up the speed from something moving around in the wind. It was not possible to take a picture of both the unit and down the street, so you will have to trust me there were not vehicles moving. It occurred numerous times as I stood there and I certainly was not moving at 21 mph.
One thing that I noticed is that there is a standing motion by the DA to dimiss certain charges against a person if they decide to plead guilty. In other words they threaten you with additional charges if you don't cave in and give them their money. This seems a bit like blackmail to me, but what do I know as I am not an attorney.
In a case of serious stupidity, yes, I do mean stupidity, I recently saw a case where a woman was pulled over for speeding and not showing proof of insurance. The "judge" asked her two times if she wanted to plead no contest to not showing the insurance, if she had proof of insurance, and she refused. He made it very clear that it would cost $10 if she provided proof and that if she went to trial on the matter that the cost would be $660 ($681 with the costs). The funny thing is that the officer had not had the required training to use radar, so the speeding charge was dimissed, but she got nailed with the not showing proof of insurance. Later, another person got the concept and since he did not have proof, although he showed the traffic clerk proof earlier, and got his trial delayed.
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