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  1. #1

    Default Federal Reckless Driving Conviction in U.S. District Court

    My question involves a traffic ticket from the state of: VA

    I was convicted for reckless driving by a federal magistrate judge in Alexandria, VA. He told I can appeal the verdict. But after talking to several local attorneys, that seems like a lost cause and a waste of money. Most wouldn't want to take my case, and some have quoted me $5-10K with no guarantee the appeal will be successful. I am distraught by this news. I don't want this misdemeanor charge haunt me for the rest of my life. I had a clean driving and criminal record before this conviction.

    To make the story short, I was charged by a park police for speeding and reckless driving on George Washington Parkway. He lied and said I was driving at 70/40 mph while I was, in fact, driving at the speed of 50 or between 50-40 mph. And right before he pulled me over I was driving at 41 or 42. I asked for proof/evidence of my speeding, but he wouldn't provide me any and just gave me 2 tickets, 1 for speeding and 1 for reckless driving. I am certain I was not speeding or driving at 70 mph because I checked my speedometer when I noticed him pulled right behind me from his parking spot and started to follow me very closely, and with bright high beam on. In court, however, the only evidences the prosecutor used to convict me was the cop's testimony (which full of lies) and the radar certificate which dated back in July 2018. I was ticked on March 03, 2019. There were no pictures, print-outs of the radar reading at the time I was ticketed or records of the radar calibration on the date of. I didn't have an attorney to represent me at the trial. It didn't occur to me to acquire one as I didn't know and wasn't aware of the severity of the matter. I never had a speeding ticket before or gone to trial. I thought I could just show up and explain/tell the judge what happened and present the facts why it was impossible for me to driving at the speed of 70 and he would believe me. I was clueless of the whole legal process, in terms of what to request from the prosecutor or question the cop's credibility, etc. Lo and behold, the judge chose to believe the cop and convicted me instead.

    Based on that, do you think I have a chance with the appeal to expunge the misdemeanor conviction? And if I do, what do I need to ask/request from both prosecutor and cop to discredit the cop's words and get these charges to dismiss?

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Sep 2010
    Posts
    18,997

    Default Re: Reckless Driving Conviction in Us District (Federal) Court

    Understand, that unlike Virginia General District Court, appeal in the federal court is not a do over. You have to show an error of law on your appeal.

    The officer is not required to show you anything on the side of the road. THere's no pictures or printouts required. Just his testimony.

    There's no expunction of federal (or Virginia for that matter) convictions. You should have consulted an attorney before you screwed yourself at trial.

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Oct 2014
    Posts
    7,199

    Default Re: Reckless Driving Conviction in Us District (Federal) Court

    A lot of self-represented (pro se) parties face the kinds of challenges you faced in that trial. So you arenít alone in that. There is a lot that you need to know in court, and much of isnít obvious to someone new to it. Beyond that, you need to be able to think a bit like lawyers do, especially when going up against a lawyer on the other side.

    Federal court in particular is hard because the rules are much more formal and complex than you will see in small claims court or in a typical state traffic hearing. And while my experience is that judges are bit sympathetic to that problem in cases like yours they are unable to give you much a break when you miss something or make a mistake. For the most part, youíre held to the same standard the lawyer on the other side is.

    Because of that, having a lawyer would have been a really good idea here. But donít beat yourself up over not doing that now. You didnít know the challenges and had to decide what to do based on what you did know. Kicking yourself after the fact wonít do you any good and certainly doesnít make you feel good.

    Letís look now at the situation you had. Iíll break it down a bit to hopefully give you a better understanding how a lawyer looks at it and what happened to you in there.

    Iíll start with your statement that it was ďimpossibleĒ for you to be going 70 mph. Unless your car could not possibly reach that speed, it was not impossible for you to go 70 mph.

    I gather what you really meant was that it was impossible for the cop to be telling the truth that he believed you were going 70 mph because when you looked at your speedometer when he pulled you over, you saw your speed at 42. There are several problems with that, though. First, when the cop is pulling you over is too late for you to check your speed. Heís already checked your speed sometime before, and the speed you are going when he pulls you over isnít what is going to be at issue. It is the speed you were going at the point in the road the cop determined your speed, wherever that was on the parkway, that matters.

    Now as it happens I lived in that area for quite awhile and have driven the GW Parkway myself. I know from experience that people vary the speed they drive as they go through different parts of that road; Iíve done it myself. Indeed, on any road the speed at which people drive is going to vary a least a bit, nobody can keep a car at precisely one exact speed. But it can vary a lot over the course of driving the GW. The point here is that while you saw you were going 42 when the cop lighted you up, you might well have been going a higher speed at whatever point he determined your speed. It might have even been 70. You wouldnít really know unless you were recording your speed or paying more attention to it than most folks do.

    So the issue here is that the cop says he measured you doing 70 at some point along that roadway. You have no direct evidence of your speed at that particular point in time. All you could testify to, apparently, is that you saw you were doing 42 when the cop pulled you over. Thatís unfortunately not very helpful to the judge in siding with you because it doesnít contradict what the cop said you were doing at the time he measured your speed.

    Also, you are assuming that your speedometer is accurate. It might not be. Sure, it probably isnít off by 30 mph, but even if you were to say you looked at it right when the cop measured your speed the prosecutor would object if you had not first introduced evidence to show that at the time you were stopped the speedometer was accurate. And that objection would have kept that evidence out.

    The prosecutor, on the other hand, did apparently present evidence to show that the copís speed measuring device was calibrated and thus reliable. You could have sought discovery before the trial to get information on the certification to see if you could have raised any challenges to the device and you could have cross examined the cop to see if you could find weaknesses in how he used the device. If you had any basis to prove the cop was untruthful in some way, you could have raised that character issue, too.

    But if you didnít raise those issues then the court doesnít have much to go with to say the cop was wrong. The cop testified you were doing 70 and the prosecutor showed a cert that he says shows the machine the cop used was good. You didnít give direct evidence that contradicts the cop on the speed you were going at the spot where the cop measured you, you didnít make a challenge to the accuracy of the device he used, you didnít contest how he used the machine, and you apparently had no evidence regarding the copís character to show that the cop is a liar. That, in a nutshell, is likely why the judge sided with the prosecutorís case.

    Appeals from federal district court decisions are also complex. An appeal is not a new trial. The appeals court has three judges assigned to hear the appeal. The appeals court uses the record from the district court and confines its review of that record pretty much to challenges to the legal decisions of the judge. You write a brief that outlines what legal errors you think the judge made in the case that justifies overturning the verdict, and the prosecutor submits a brief stating why the judge got it right. The court might grant oral argument on the appeal, though it doesnít have to do that and increasingly the appeals courts skip the oral argument and just rule on the briefs, so the briefs have to be good.

    The court does not review the factual determinations of the judge. The factual determinations are things like the courtís determination from the evidence regarding what speed you were going, what the speed limit was at that point in the road, how reliable you and the cop were as witnesses, etc. The legal decisions are things like the judgeís rulings on motions and objections in the case and how the judge applied the law to what the judge said the facts of the case were.

    So the appeal canít be based on the argument that the court got it wrong that you were doing 70 mph. Thatís a factual determination that the appeals court wonít reconsider. But if you objected to the prosecutorís introduction of evidence on the speed you were going, that the court could consider since the judgeís ruling on the objection is a legal determination. Of course, youíd have needed to point to a rule of evidence in your objection as to why the court should not allow it.

    The bottom line then is if you want to win in the appeal, you need to find a legal error by the judge, like a bad ruling on an objection or motion. If your contest is just that the court was wrong in determining as a fact in the case that your speed was 70, that will fail.

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