Previously I discussed what to do when a DOT or police officer gives you a traffic citation or notice to appear. What's next?
As quickly as possible afterwards, write down every detail, starting from five minutes before your alleged violation to when the officer drove off. The more detailed, the better: What were the last billboard and traffic signs you recall? What mile maker were you pulled over at? What were you doing for the past 10 minutes (talking on the phone, changing the radio)? Was traffic light, medium, heavy? Other cars or trucks around? Did you see the police or trooper cruiser before you saw the blue lights; what was it doing? Write down what the officer said and asked, and your statements and responses. And the big one: "Did you do what the officer said you did?" Be honest. If it was an equipment violation, take photos of the "defect" from all angles, preferably with the officer present. Tell him you want to send photos to your mechanic.
I never received a citation that I didn't go to court to contest, even when there was a possibility I did what the officer said I did. Why? It's imperative to protect that CDL at all costs, especially with today's CSA rules. And I didn't actually represent myself in court. A good friend (and attorney) told me, "Only a fool represents himself in court, even if he's a lawyer." There are several excellent law firms who represent truckers in courts all across this country. I used one that had attorney contacts in nearly every court system nationwide. I wanted an attorney from that jurisdiction who knew the judges, prosecutors and court clerks and how each one operates to represent me. Most attorneys will negotiate with the prosecuting attorney and try to keep the citation from going to court.
All my notes and photos were made available to my attorney. His job is to represent you, and to do so effectively he must know the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so don't miss a detail.
This is where being polite and respectful to the officer came in. Chances are, the officer recorded and filmed the entire stop. Now your attorney can ask for a copy, to show how cooperative, polite and respectful you were. Many times this had a great bearing on whether the citation was dismissed or not (whether the officer was cordial or not).
The rules have changed regarding CDL holders who are given citations. Used to, you could 'plea down' a citation to a non-moving violation; it still had a fine but wouldn't show up on your DMV report. No longer. Under new Federal guidelines, courts cannot 'plea down' a trucker's citation; it either stands or it's dismissed. Nor can a trucker go to traffic school to have a citation removed from his/her record. You must depend on the mercy of the court. So it's even more important your attorney presents proof you're truly a quality, safety-conscious trucker caught making a minor mistake; or, the officer made a mistake, not you.
Image via Flickr by Richard Bauer