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Representing Yourself in Traffic Court: 101

If you are considering representing yourself in traffic court my first suggestion to you would be: don’t do it unless you have talked to an attorney about the possible consequences of conviction and you are ok with the possibility of failure. But if you are absolutely determined to go to trial alone then here are some things you should consider.

First, when you are representing yourself in court it is hard to predict how the judge will conduct the trial. Without an attorney present some judges will relax the rules and formalities. This can be a blessing or a curse. If there is no prosecutor assigned to you case (i.e. its you vs. the officer) then the rules get relaxed more often.

If the judge is following the procedural rules the court should take the following format. First there is the plea (guilty, not guilty, no contest). Then there are opening arguments (government, then Defense), then the government presents its witness, then the Defendant cross examines the government’s witness, then Defendant presents its witness, and the government cross examines the witness. Then closing arguments (Government then Defendant). Then the judge determine guilt. If you are found guilty, then you argue sentencing and the judge sentences you.

Opening argument is for telling the judge what your theory is and what evidence you will show. This helps the judge to know what you are trying to do so they can know whether you are rambling or getting to a important issue. In a traffic court trial without an attorney opening arguments should be only one sentence long, may be two. Example: “Your honor: I am going to prove that I am innocent by proving that the speed limit sign was not properly posted.”

After opening arguments, the government will present its witnesses. Usually, the only witnesses will be the officer who wrote you the ticket. However, if there was a traffic accident then there will likely be other witnesses.

If there is no prosecutor assigned to your case the officer and witnesses will usually just talk to the judge or the judge will will ask questions to the witnesses. After each witness, the Defendant gets a chance to ask questions. This is called cross-examination.

During cross examination the Defendant cannot make statements, they can only ask questions. Good cross examination questions are short and simple. Don’t ask multiple questions at the same time (bad examples: “isn’t true that the road was a highway that sloped, and turned sharply”). Good cross examination questions should also always be short, simple “yes’ or “no” questions.


“Was there a speed limit sign posted on the 1600 block of Elm street?” -Yes.

“Did that speed limit sign have a plant growing on it?” -Yes

“Was that plant covering any part of the number “5″ written on the sign” -Yes

“Isn’t true that drivers could not read that speed limit sign” -Yes.

Once you are done with cross examining all of the governments witness you will get to introduce your own evidence. Here are some basic rules about presenting evidence.

1)If you are presenting a witness other than yourself, then you must ask questions of the witness. This is called direct examination.

2) Electronic evidence requires permission before hand. (i.e. electronic photos, videos, or audio recordings). So if you want to bring in photos that are on your cell phone you need to get permission beforehand by calling the court clerks.

3) All evidence must be relevant to the legal issues being decided by the court. If the court is deciding whether you are innocent or guilty, you should not present evidence that you are guilty but deserve a light punishment. If the court has moved on to the sentencing phase of the trial, then do not present evidence of your innocence.

At the closing argument stage of the trial, you get to talk to the judge directly. This is an opportunity to make legal arguments and to summarize and interpret the evidence. After closing arguments the judge will make his or her ruling. If you are found guilty then you argue sentencing. The biggest issue in a traffic court sentencing is your traffic record. Always have a copy of your DMV record, especially if you are from out of state. If your record is not perfect, be prepared for a good argument why you should be shown mercy despite your record.

The entire traffic ticket trial process usually takes less than 5 minutes so prepare to get strait to the point and to be effective with very little.


Luke J Nichols.


About Luke Nichols

Luke Nichols practices almost exclusively traffic law in Northern Virginia. His primary practice areas include reckless driving, speeding, DUI/DWI, refusal, hit-and-run, driving on a suspended license, and driving on a revoked license. Mr. Nichols has represented hundreds of Virginia drivers. You can also connect with Luke on Google+
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