I recently got stuck in a traffic court department during a traffic ticket trial session. I didn’t want to be there, but I could not help it. I needed the judge to sign off on a warrant recall. The judge knew what I wanted, and I knew what he wanted. He wanted me to wait until the infraction trials were done.
|Wait I did. I waited through 5 horribly discombobulated traffic court trials where everyday people tried to ask police officers questions, but really got nowhere at all. In fact, they got “housed” by the cops – which in my world means “Sent Home Crying”.|
Yes, you can ask a police officer questions in a Traffic Ticket Trial. It is your right to cross examine witnesses against you, and a cop is a witness against you. (5th & 14th Amendment to the US Constitution)
I thought to myself “these people have no idea what they are doing”. And I fondly remembered one of my first days working at the Public Defender’s Office when my boss, the brilliantly talented Defense Attorney, Ed Chun, called me into his office and taught me how to “Cross Examine” a cop on the witness stand. Then later that day in 1997, I went to court and did it for the first time.
Hello! It dawned on me. Maybe this sitting in traffic court is not a waste of time! Maybe I can write a blog article on How to Ask Police Officers Questions in court – and maybe make some $$$ on the Google Ads??? Yes. A Blog Article.
So here it is: Criminal Defense Attorney Tips on How to Ask Cops Questions. From a real trial attorney who has done it before the right way. And yes, it is free.
1) Know the Incident Scene Better than the Officer.
Attorneys call it a “Site Inspection”. You must go to the scene of the incident prior to the hearing and look at everything. Is there a cross walk? What kind of bushes are there? What do the lights look like? What kind of lines are painted around the area? How is the lighting? What are the traffic patterns? What do the signs say?
If you know the scene better than the officer, you can lead with one or two questions about details that he may not remember, and put him/her on edge to start with. Catch them unprepared to start.
2) Never Ask a Police Officer “WHY” He/She Did Something.
If you ask a cop the dreaded “Why” question, you are giving the officer a free shot to explain anything they want to. And they have been to court more than you. They know what the judge wants to hear. If you let a cop start talking in court on his/her own, you are going to lose.
3) Ask Short, Closed Ended Questions.
Every single question you ask should be a “Yes” or “No” only question. And they should be as short as possible. Do not let the police officer talk on his/her own. Do not allow the officer to say anything other than “Yes” or “No” in response to your question. Use the “yes” or “No” answers to justify your argument about what happened. That is all you want. Yes, or No.
If a police officer refuses to give you a “Yes” or “No” to a Y/N question, you can use my trick: Immediately after the officer starts saying anything other than Yes or No, ask the exact same question over again. Over and over until you get a responsive answer.
You can also make an objection: “Your honor that was a non responsive answer to a yes or no question. I ask the court to strike that answer, and instruct the witness to provide a yes or no in response to my y/n question.
And if it gets really bad, strap on a set of balls, cut the officer off mid sentence and say: “Your honor, this officer is making things up, refusing to answer my question in a responsive manner, concealing information that favors my defense, and interfering with my right to cross examine the primary witness against me. I object and ask for a corrective instruction to the witness.”
An easy way to make sure that you are asking a Y/N question is to start with “Is it true that . . . .” or even “True or False, . . . .” works.
For example, “Isn’t it true that you did not document the reason you stopped me on the citation?” is a great closed ended question. So is: “Did you use any tools to measure the distance between your car and mine?” and “True or False, the citation says nothing about a seat belt violation?”
An example of a Horrible Question: “Why did you pull me over?” If you ask this question, you are going to lose.
4) Figure Out What You Need The Cop To Say To Win the Case.
In advance of the court trial, it is imperative that you sit down and think about how the case will go. Figure out what information you need the cop to provide to win the case. If you cannot figure out what you need, do not ask any questions.
5) Plan Your Questions in Advance.
Once you figure out what you need, sit down and design a few, short, simple questions to get what you want. Write them down if you want to – it is OK. Do not just show and start invention question on the fly. It will not work, and the judge is likely to cut you off before you even get to anything important.
6) Have a Plan for How to Use The Answers You Want If You Get Them.
Imagine the police officer gives you exactly the answers you think will help you win your case. Then, in advance, think about how you are going to EXPLAIN TO THE JUDGE WHY THAT INFO HELPS YOU.
If you cannot explain to the judge why the cop’s answers helped you, you are going to lose.
OK. There it is. Free Legal Advice on How to Ask Police Officer Questions. Follow these tips in your traffic court trial, and you can have a useful, effective cross examination. Do not be afraid to be bold. When that judge calls your case, it’s your courtroom. You paid for it – use it.
And finally, (for those of you still here), and because I feel bad about using too many key words here – here is a final free tip:
7) Do Not Ever Ask a Cop a Question You Do Not Already Know the Answer To.
The object of cross examination (which is really an art) is to present favorable facts to the court as evidence. Cross examination is not for finding out why something happened.
That’s it. Game Over. Insert new quarter Click. I could write a hundred more, but I have to work people.
Questions? Leave a comment.