If you want a Trial by Declaration, or are going to make a written Motion or Petition to a small claims or traffic court, you need to understand the purpose of a very common legal document called a “Declaration”. Here, we tell you how to use Declarations to support your own Motion, Petition, or Defense at Trial.
What Is a Legal “Declaration” as used in court?
A Declaration is offered to the court as evidence on paper. Because they are signed by the “Declarant” with the penalty of perjury attached, the statements offered in Declarations can be competent evidence in a court case in nearly all states.
Anyone can use a Declaration in a court case if they want to. You just have to write it up and get it filed with the court in your case. You can just bring a Declaration with you to court and hand it to the judge. Here is a Template for you. Want more details?
|A good example of a classic Declaration for this discussion is that famous one signed by Lance Armstrong’s cycling teammate George Hincapie in the doping case that revealed the Fraudstrong.
By looking at the Hincapie Declaration, or any other Declaration, you will notice a standard format. (and a super crazy doping story!) If your declaration looks like Hincapie’s when you’re done, you are probably on the right track.
There are numbered paragraphs, and a couple of classic “boiler plate” paragraphs declaring that the statements within are true, and that the Hincapie understands the penalty of perjury attaches to the statements. These boiler plate statements are the foundation of a Declaration.
As Statements Made Under Penalty of Perjury, Declarations Are Competent Evidence.
Declarations are written statements signed with a statement that says “I declare Under Penalty of Perjury the statements in this Declaration are true and correct to the best of my knowledge and ability.”
With this statement, a “penalty of perjury” under state law attaches, and gives the government the power to charge the Declarant with a felony crime if there is false information presented in the Declaration.
Declarations Are Used to Establish Facts, or Lay a Foundation for Documents or Photos.
Declarations are most often used to establish facts, or verify documents. Maybe both. When attached to a motion or petition, a declaration becomes the evidence cited in the Motion or Petition.
For example, if a Motion says: “I reported Identity Theft to the police on 2/11 (See Declaration Paragraph 3)” – the separate Declaration is used to establish that fact by stating in more detail:
“I declare under penalty of perjury that I did report identity theft to the New Port Police Department on 2/11. Attached hereto as “Exhibit A” is a true and correct copy of the police report from that incident.”
In this manner, a Declaration is used as detailed support for a claimed fact in the Motion or Petition, which is offered with the penalty of perjury attached – just like live court testimony. It’s real evidence. But way more organized and easy to review for the judge than testimony.
Declarations may also be offered as witness statements in a traffic court or small claims court trial if a witness cannot be present in court. For example, a Plaintiff in a small claims court case might use a Declaration written and signed by the auto body repair shop about the cost of repair on some car accident damage. The Declaration may include a statement such as ” attached hereto is a true and correct copy of my best estimate of the cost of repair for this damage.”
In such a case, a signed Declaration with attachments would be way more powerful evidence at the trial than a simple written estimate from the same.
Often, a Declaration will be titled: “Declaration in Support of ……”, and attached to the back of a Motion, petition or just given to the judge in court.
Tips for Effective Declarations in Traffic Court and Small Claims Court:
1. Use Court Pleading Paper with Numbered Lines if possible (Recommended Template);
2. List the county the document was signed in at the signature line;
3. Attach supporting documents and refer to them in the declaration and their source;
4. Serve all parties in your case with a copy of the declaration (officer, defendant, court, etc – you can do this live in court);
5. Use short, to the point statements. Each new fact should have its own paragraph;
6. Include only the information that is truly relevant and within your own personal knowledge.
Things That Do Not Belong in a Declaration.
Opinions are not facts. And in general, opinions are not admissible evidence (unless offered by a court qualified expert witness). Because of this, they usually have no place in the declaration.
2. Statements by People Other than the Declarant.
Out of court statements by other people are generally hearsay that is not admissible in court. For example a statement such as “Judy told me the blue dog dug that hole in my driveway” – is hearsay that is not admissible in court because the person who said it is not making the declaration.
3. Legal Arguments.
Legal arguments generally are not made in the declaration. Rather, the legal arguments are usually made in the separate Motion – under a section titled “Argument” or “Points and Authorities” The Declaration is to establish facts, the Motion or Petition is used to make arguments based upon the facts.
Exception: For a Traffic Ticket Trial By Declaration, you probably do want to include your legal arguments in the body of the declaration because there is no separate Motion document in a TBD.
Things That Declarations Work Really Well For:
1. Verifying Documents.
In any small claims or traffic court trial, a defendant can use a declaration to establish the validity of a document you wish the judge to consider. For example, in a small claims court case, a declaration may be used to establish: “Attached hereto as Exhibit A is a true and correct copy of the cancelled check I use to pay defendant for the invisible plane.” Or “Attached hereto is a true and correct copy of my prof of insurance covering the date of the alleged violation.”
2. Establishing a Time Line.
In a small claims case, a defendant may want to establish a time line for a rental disagreement. In a Declaration, this information may be more effective than if the Plaintiff just tries to speak the time line out during testimony.
3. Organizing a Case.
You can use one or more Declarations to organize your evidence and to have your case ready to present on your trial day.
For example, a Declaration may be used to state:
1. On 1/2/12 I moved into apartment #3 on main st.
2. On 1/3/12 I was bitten for the first time by a bat in the bathroom
3. On 1/5/12 I gave a box to the landlord full of bats I captured along with a letter demanding that he take care of this pest problem before I paid rent again.
4. Attached hereto as Exhibit A is a true and correct copy of the letter I wrote and delivered to the landlord.
In this manner, the declaration can lay out the entire case in advance, in a way that is easy to understand for the judge. And it’s obviously way better than try to testify in open court “Uhm.. Your honor. I did not pay because my house was full of bats . . . ”
Tips for Effective Declarations:
1. Make short, clear statements. The shorter and simpler your facts are, the easier they are to read, understand and remember;
2. Paragraphs should be 1-3 sentences long;
3. Paragraphs should be numbered;
4. Have the declarations prepared in advance. For a live court date, bring at least 3 copies to court with you (one for you, one for the judge, one for those jerks opposing you). When your case is called, tell the judge you have a declaration(s) you want entered into evidence.
5. For Traffic Ticket Trials by Declaration, make sure you get the declaration filed with the court in advance. Get proof it was filed or delivered to the court on a specific date.
6. Only include statements that are within your personal knowledge. Things you see, saw, or felt yourself are great in a Declaration. For example, a statement of “I felt a strong impact from behind and then I saw the defendant in my rear view mirror” is a clear statement.
Do not include things that you did not perceive, see, hear, feel, smell yourself. For example, dont include statements like “I think this police officer is having marriage problems and took them out on me.” Nor, “this officer was probably pulling over every Latino he saw that day.”
Related Free Self Help Articles:
How to Request a Trial By Declaration
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