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How to Defend Yourself in Traffic Court in a Jury Trial

1.

Try to settle the case. Be prepared for an offer from the prosecutor or suggest a compromise yourself at any time before trial. Make sure any settlement is beneficial to you.

2.

Make no decisions on the day of the trial until you are certain the officer who issued you the ticket is in the courtroom (in jurisdictions where his absence can lead to dismissal of the case).

3.

Use a seating chart and Post-Its to keep track of potential jurors during the selection process.

4.

Challenge a potential juror "for cause" if he or any of his close associates were seriously injured by a driver who broke a traffic law similar to the one you have been charged with; if he asserts that he would believe a police officer before he believes you; if he is friends with the prosecutor or the officer; or if he had previously heard about your case and expressed an opinion about it.

5.

Use up to your allotted number of preemptory or automatic challenges if you just feel uncomfortable with a potential juror; if he, members of his family, or friends are police officers, security guards, prosecutor-office employees, close with anyone injured in a traffic accident caused by a driver charged with the offense you're charged with; if he doesn't drive much or has never received a traffic ticket; if he resents jury duty; or if he appears to live a lifestyle very different from yours.

6.

Give your opening statement immediately following the prosecutor's opening statement. You don't want the jurors to make up their minds prematurely before hearing what you have to say. Stay in one spot and turn slightly toward the jury.

7.

Treat the officer and prosecution witnesses with politeness and respect when you cross-examine them. Your goal is to convince the jury that these people made an error in interpretation and not give the impression that you believe they are liars.

8.

Ask that you be allowed to present your testimony in narrative style. Include a bit of positive, personal, humanizing information about yourself so that the jurors can identify with you.

9.

Answer the prosecutor's cross-examination questions honestly. Explain your answer when a mere "yes" or "no" would be misleading. Admit that you don't know when that is the case, but avoid appearing evasive. Look at the jurors occasionally.

10.

Try not to show any emotion during the prosecutor's closing arguments. Take notes.

11.

Present your closing argument. Go over the legal points of your case and rebut damaging statements made by the prosecution. Jurors are attentive to closing arguments. Here is your chance to capitalize on all your hard work and pull all your facts together.

Tips and Warnings

  • See the Related eHows to prepare your case before a jury.
  • Not all states allow jury trials for traffic violations (as opposed to traffic offenses, which are criminal cases).
  • Even when a state has jury trials, the court may try to discourage you from asking for one because it's more costly to the state and takes up more of a judge and prosecutor's time.
  • Books such as Nolo Press' "Beat Your Ticket: Go to Court and Win!" by attorney David Brown provide a listing of the states that allow trial by jury, more detailed descriptions of a trial before a jury, and cross-examination questions that deal with specific traffic violations.
  • A "jury trial" is different from a "court trial" or "judge trial." Make sure you request a jury trial if you want the decision to be made by jurors (instead of a judge).

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