It is possible to successfully fight a traffic ticket in court. But if you base it on something you’ve seen in a movie, it might not work.
Cst. Curtis Warnar of the Regina Police Service’s traffic safety unit says he has heard every excuse in the book.
Maybe you think the ticketing officer won’t show up in court, or that the radar may not have been “calibrated” recently. Maybe the Regina Police Service pinched you for speeding near Grand Coulee, out of city limits.
Warnar explained why some popular defences might not work. The conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
CBC: What are the most common misconceptions?
Warnar: One that we get a lot of in traffic is people that constantly tell us what we’re doing is considered entrapment. So, if we’re driving an unmarked car or we have a laser on a tripod set up behind a telephone pole or a tree.
Entrapment is actually a legal defence at court where you have to be able to prove, as the person charged in the offence, that the officer coerced you into committing the offence.
The other one we do get a lot … We have municipal police officers that are members of the RPS that are going to be out on the highways doing traffic enforcement. A lot of people think that if you’re a city of Regina police officer, that “no, you can’t be outside of the city and doing any type of enforcement.” We’re actually sworn police officers within the province of Saskatchewan so we have jurisdiction anywhere within the province.
Is there a chance a radar or laser might be inaccurate or wrong?
We actually typically only use the radar in our vehicle. It’s hard mounted so there’s an antenna on the front dash and an antenna on the rear dash. Whenever you typically see our officers out standing on the street corners or standing in traffic, it’s actually a laser speed gun.
That laser speed gun is actually target-specific so it projects a laser beam from one lens,and it hits the target and comes back. At 300 metres, the width of that laser is only one metre wide which is narrower than every single vehicle on the roadway.
That’s something else everybody always talks about: radar. I’ve even had people go to court and they went on Google and found out how to fight a radar ticket and you get there, “No, I wasn’t even using a radar. I was using a laser.” Ninety-nine per cent of the time when people see us out doing enforcement, we aren’t even doing radar. We’re using a laser speed gun.
A lot of people when we stop them, … they see either my vehicle or they immediately hit the brakes and they look down at their speedometer. We’re typically measuring your speed before you even know that we’re there. All that the reading on the speed measuring device … all that’s typically doing is determining the cost of the fine. It doesn’t matter how far over [the limit] that needle goes, as long as you’re over.
Are police required to show drivers the reading on the devices?
The courts have said that there is no requirement. We don’t have to. We can if we choose to. There are times where we will, time where we won’t. The radar is hard mounted in my car. Am I going to let someone walk up and hop in the driver seat of police car? Probably not.
There are other times where we will show it. But there is no compulsory right to have an officer show you either a radar or a laser reading.
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Does required maintenance or calibration factor into the radar/laser use?
There is no such term as calibration when it comes to me as a radar or laser operator. There is no calibration whatsoever.
With a laser, we do a distance test to verify the distance that you’re shooting.
With the radar, it’s a patrol speed verification test. I take my patrol car out on the roadway, I usually set my cruise to 60 km/h and when I turn my radar on, there’s a patrol speed that pops up. I just have to make sure that the patrol speed matches my speedometer.
Calibration is only done by a manufacturer or an authorized service agent. A police officer will never, ever calibrate a radar. We’ll only test. If it fails to pass the test, then we send it for calibration or maintenance.
Is going to court and hoping the ticketing officer doesn’t show a good plan?
It depends on the circumstances. If I’m doing traffic court here in Regina, they have a copy of my schedule in the courtroom. If you show up and want to fight your ticket, and they set a trial date, they’ll actually look at my work schedule.
I’m a collision investigator. Say there’s a fatal collision occurs at that time, obviously I’m not going to go to court when I have to be investigating a fatal collision. There are other times where the officer either has holidays or is called away on other matters.
The Crown has two options: they could either withdraw the charge or they could ask for an adjournment. It’s up to whether or not the court wants to grant that.