Friday, March 24, 2006

Speed Trap on Dale Boulevard This Morning

Was driving the boys to school this morning, and passed by (unmolested) a speed trap set up on Dale Boulevard near Darbydale.

At the risk of incurring the wrath of Chad, and without rendering legal advise (I am not licensed to practice in Virginia), it seems that the Prince William County Police may be playing the same game that I witnessed in Fairfax a few years ago.

I had been driving to work on the HOV lanes on I-95, and after topping the hill into Fairfax County (with three in the car), I was pulled over by one of Fairfax's finest. I remain convinced to this day that I was pulled over because the officer couldn't see my young son in the back seat. Nevertheless, I had been pulled over, so they had to justify it somehow, and issued what I believed to be a completely illegitimate speeding ticket.

Now never mind the question of County police running such an operation on I-95 --- just past the County line, where almost none of those cited would be County residents --- in the middle of rush hour. Never mind the sneaking suspicion that it was a fundraiser designed to ensnare individuals who were unlikely to travel to the County Courthouse in Fairfax to challenge the tickets issued.

In any case, about a month later, I appeared, and watched a fascinating spectacle (when your name is "Young" you're near the end of the docket, and get to watch a lot). I learned that a similar operation had been run on U.S. Route 1. And one gentleman got up, and defended himself. He was not a lawyer, but did a quite creditable job cross-examining the officer testifying, demonstrating that he was not the one running the radar, even though he had signed the ticket. After demonstrating beyond any doubt that the Commonwealth could not make its case with admissible testimony --- the officer's testimony was hearsay, because he was merely relating a radar reading taken by another officer --- the judge asked the individual if he had anything else to say. Of course, I was sitting there think "Shut up! Don't say another word! You've won!" Nevertheless, this heretofore very competent amateur stated "Well, your Honor, I was perfectly willing to come in here and admit that, yes, I was probably going about 10 miles an hour over the limit, with the flow of traffic, but not the 20 miles an hour over the limit for which I was cited. However, the officer's testimony was hearsay, and inadmissible."

Of course, any lawyer reading this can guess what happened next. The judge very kindly said "Well, sir, the Court appreciates your honesty. I find you guilty of going 10 miles an hour over the speed limit and fine you ...."

Later defendants caught on fast. After the officer (who was the same officer who cited me on I-95) went through a few similarly bruising cross-examinations, my turn finally arose. I stood up, wearing my lawyer suit and carrying my briefcase and legal pad, and approached the docket. At that point, the officer decided that he wasn't going to throw good time after bad, and said "Uh, your Honor? We've decided that we're not going to proceed against Mr. Young at this time." The Court: "Mr. Young, you're free to go."

One reason that I'll never be a judge is that because, at this point, I would have sua sponte (on the Court's own motion) vacated every conviction (even for those who had not defended) entered on tickets issued by this officer on that day. And I might even have tried to find some way to sanction the officer or the County police for wasting the Court's time in pursuing these cases, and abusing those defendants who had to appear, or didn't appear because of the time involved, by wasting their time on convictions that could not be sustained.

Which brings me to the Dale Boulevard speed trap. At least four officers were there, but apparently only one was running a radar.

I'd love to know what happens to the people cited there when these cases reach General District Court in Manassas. Hopefully some will have the knowledge and/or wit to insure that the Commonwealth can make its case.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for this article!!!! Tony Ares