Even when you win in traffic court, you lose

May 09 2011


Eric Lai

Eric Lai answers readers’ auto questions every week for Wheels.

Q: A past article stated that, in traffic court, the benefit of the doubt goes to the defendant “but it sometimes takes a trip to Appeals Court to get this.” What exactly did you mean by this?

A: In 27 years of driving, I’ve received only one ticket ever. That was 12 years ago, for speeding, 19 km/h over in a 80 km/h zone.

As anyone who’s been unfairly ticketed knows, the legal process is, in my opinion, purposely designed to be as aggravating as possible to dissuade defendants from seeking justice. Let me explain.

Trip one was to request a court date and disclosure. You must do this in person as mail-in requests were disallowed long ago.

Trip two was to pick up the disclosure (i.e. officer’s notes), which they won’t mail.

Trip three was to attend traffic court in Scarborough. There I testified I was driving at 90 km/h beside another auto, and a third vehicle passed us both just prior (I’d been behind the second auto previously). We both stopped for a red light, but the third auto – the likely target – made it through, and I got the ticket.

Independent radar verification of my speedometer prior to trial showed it indicates 4 km/h high, so I was actually going 86 km/h at the time.

Nonetheless, the Justice of the Peace enters a conviction. I then had to pay the fine and request trial transcripts (costing $65), in order to file an appeal.

Trip four is to pick up the transcripts.

Trip five is to Appeals Court in downtown Toronto. Here a real judge, rather than a political-appointee Justice of the Peace, reviews your case based on the trial transcripts. The defendant or his/her agent is required to attend, but the police officer is not.

The judge cites that the Supreme Court had held that the testimony of the defendant, unshaken under cross-examination, is to be believed. He therefore determines that the lesser court made an error in law, and sets aside the conviction.

The sympathetic judge offers two options, I could plead guilty to 1 km/h over and end this ordeal, or he could send it back to traffic court for retrial, which police are unlikely to attend knowing it’s a losing case.

I take the latter option, so trip six is to night traffic court in Scarborough. As predicted, the officer doesn’t show, but the defence must attend, otherwise, you’re deemed “not to dispute the charge.” The ticket is tossed and the fine refunded by mail.

So, it seems, even when you win in traffic court, you lose. It cost $65 in non-refundable transcript fees, six trips to court, and several days lost wages to get that ticket thrown out.