So I was recently pulled over, accused of speeding by the officer. Being the person I am, of course, I requested a trial. Recently I began doing some research on how to possibly fight this ticket, 82 mph in a 65mph zone. I started by looking for some cross-examination questions. One of the first sites that I found that wasn’t a paid advertisement for a local lawyer wanting me to pay them to fight the ticket, was an article on nolo.com. If you are unfamiliar with nolo.com and their series of books, the concept is that through these articles and books you can essentially represent yourself. If this one article is a reflection of the body of work, they cannot be more wrong. Here is a link to the traffic cop cross-examination questions from nolo.
First of all, I’m not even a lawyer yet. Secondly, I haven’t tried 100s or 1000s of cases throughout my career. However, I do understand the fundamental principals behind cross-examination. You’re not really supposed to ask questions. I mean, you ask “questions” because you expect a response, but you don’t ask anything that warrants anything but a response. Almost every question in this cross-examination asks for an answer, not a response.
Essentially, the point of cross-examination is to ask yes/no “questions” that you already know the answer to, and if you don’t get the answer you expect that it should become clear and apparent to the judge or jury that the person who is on the stand is lying.
“Were you paying attention to the other traffic in order to drive safely?”
This seems like you know what answer you’re sure to get–but there are ways to answer this question, or break it down into a series of questions, that will ensure that you get the right answer(s). Plus, this could be objected to as either a compound question or one that lacks proper foundation, as the foundation for the question is argued within the question.
Officer, you previously testified that there was [light/moderate/heavy] traffic at the time you began pacing my vehicle?
(here you are asking the officer to repeat from his/her previous testimony- he/she will either give you a YES or obviously lie)
You’ve been a licensed driver for most of your adult life?
You’re accustomed to driving in this type of traffic?
Safety is among the most important aspects of your job, right?
In fact, your job is to guarantee safety on the roadways, and other places of the sort?
So, when driving in this much traffic, it’s important to pay attention to many of the cars that are near you?
While you were pacing my car, you were also keeping your eye on 3-4 other cars?
[Boom-this is the question that you don’t care what answer you get] Here you have set a trap, and there isn’t a right or a wrong answer. The officer is either forced to admit that he wasn’t being safe, or he wasn’t focusing entirely on pacing your vehicle.
Do not fall into the trap of asking the next question. On courtroom TV dramas the attorneys often ask the next question “so you weren’t being safe” or “so you couldn’t have been paying complete attention to my car” which would illicit a breakdown of the witness on the stand.
THIS DOES NOT HAPPEN IN REAL LIFE.
If you make the mistake of asking the “ultimate question” then you’re going to get an answer, not a response. The officer will explain the flaw in your logic, and explain in some way that his training and years of this type of work have taught him to track multiple cars at once with accuracy, or perhaps even a better answer that will really throw you for a loop.
Moral of the story, 1) hire a lawyer and 2) if you are ever cross-examining someone, don’t ask the ultimate question.
Maryland Attorney Jobeth Bowers is the founder of Bowers Law and a graduate of the University of Baltimore School of Law