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How to fight a ticket when it’s the officer’s word against yours

Published December 4, 2013
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You get pulled over. The officer says you were speeding. You’re sure you weren’t. But when it’s your word against a police officer’s, who will the court side with? A reader asked about just such a situation, and Wheels.ca expert Eric Lai had a surprising answer:

Reader: An unmarked police car followed me for two minutes after exiting from Highway 401 to 403 near midnight. I was then stopped and ticketed for 144 km/h in a 100 km/h zone.

I’m confident my speed wasn’t over 110 km/h because I check the speedometer regularly while driving.

How do I fight this ticket considering the judge will more likely believe the officer’s story than mine?

Eric Lai: If a case teetered solely on “their word against mine,” the courts would, in fact, be obliged to decide in your favour. But it’s rarely that simple.

The classic statue of Lady Justice epitomizes what courts strive to achieve. Her double-edged sword shows her authority over both sides; she holds scales representing that she must weigh the facts; and she is blindfolded to represent her objectivity.

The latter ideal is reinforced by a Supreme Court of Canada ruling that a defendant’s sworn testimony should be believed. That is, if both the police officer and defendant present equally credible testimony, unshaken under cross-examination, then the defendant should be believed (and the case dismissed).

For a speeding ticket, the officer must testify that he/she used radar to obtain your speed, or that he/she paced your vehicle using the cruiser speedometer and later verified its accuracy using radar.

You, of course, could state what your vehicle speedometer reading was, but without radar verification of its accuracy, this testimony on its face is “weaker” than the officer’s.

Now, this doesn’t mean a case can’t be won unless you have a radar operator certify your speedometer as accurate. With the sole ticket I ever received, I testified the radar was used improperly by being aimed at a group of vehicles – one of which passed mine and was likely the source of the high reading.

The presiding justice nonetheless entered a conviction, but was overruled by the appeals court citing he erred in not abiding by the Supreme Court precedent noted above. In the end, the ticket was tossed.

Objectively, your version of events raises questions as any driver, using eyesight alone, could easily differentiate a 110 km/h car from one flying by at 144 km/h. You state police followed you for several minutes. This suggests the officer was pacing your vehicle or, perhaps, was anticipating a stunt driving charge should speeds exceed 150 km/h, if indeed you were speeding.

Ask for disclosure to see what the officer’s notes indicate your speed was after he/she fell in behind you undetected. If it was 110 km/h, then some major braking would have had to happen – and been noted by the officer – to be consistent with a claimed prior 144 km/h reading. If, instead, the notes say it was 144 km/h during this extended two-minute time period, this supports the officer’s case.

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