Recently I have spoken with a number of people that have received citation after they have been in a collision. The odd part is that the vast majority of these collisions did not happen in the presence of the Officer. Common citations for these circumstances are: Following Too Closely, Speed Too Fast for Conditions, and Following Too Closely. So how does the Officer cite someone for a traffic violation when they did not witness any violation occur?
RCW 46.63.030 allows the officer investigating the scene of a collision to issue an infraction if they have reason to believe the driver committed a traffic infraction. This is typically done by the Officer filling out a collision report that utilizes techniques of accident reconstruction. Based on what the Officer determines, they issue an infraction to one of the drivers involved in the collision. There seems to be a policy in place in most departments that require the Officer to cite someone with an infraction. The citations listed above (Following Too Closely, Speed Too Fast for Conditions, and Following Too Closely) are the ones typically cited by the Officers because they way the statute is written, they are pretty easy for the prosecutor to win.
So how do you fight a ticket when the Officer is alleging a violation that they did not witness? As a Snohomish Count Traffic Attorney, my first line of attack is to exclude as much of the evidence as possible. There are rules to infraction law that, if not followed, allow me to exclude certain evidence from be considered by the Judge. Officer have to be very specific with their reports when they are listing conclusions based on an incident that they did not witness. In Snohomish County Traffic Court there is typically a prosecutor present and ready to argue for the admissibility of the evidence. Being prepared and knowing the law and the case law is how you fight these tickets.
Arguing the facts of the ticket can be a loosing battle in most circumstances. For example, imagine a circumstance where vehicle one rear-ended vehicle two and vehicle one was cited for following too closely (Officer did not witness the accident). A fact based defense may be telling the judge that you were not following too closely, but rather the person merged right in front of you, then slammed on their brakes, and you ran into them. The Judge could find that you just admitted to the infraction because you did not immediately break when the other vehicle merged and immediately allow enough room between your vehicles. I have actually heard a judge rule that if you rear ended another vehicle, it is obvious that at some point your were following too close or you would not have collided with the other vehicle. Fact based defenses are difficult to win and rarely do. The key to winning is excluding evidence so the Judge has little to consider and not admitting a violation by testifying. This is another area where having an attorney represent you can help; you will likely not testify (or even need to be present) and accidentally admit to the violation.
If you have already been in a collision, the last thing you need is a traffic ticket on top of that. You need an experience Snohomish County Traffic Attorney on your side. Contact the Law Firm of Lucas D. McWethy to discuss your ticket and options for getting it dismissed.