Why Written Statements by Witnesses Do Not Work in a Traffic Court Trial.

Want to use a witness statement in your traffic court trial? A written statement from the witness will not work. You need to bring the witness to court.

A classic mistake made by people in their traffic court trials is that they bring in a written witness statement to support their case, only to find out that the judge will not consider it.

Commonly, the judge will simply tell the unsuspecting defendant: “the statement is hearsay and is not admissible”. This problem can be very frustating to the defendant, especially if it causes them to lose the trial and the judge offers no explanation about why the statement cannot be used.

You can avoid this mistake by understanding the basic idea of hearsay evidence, why it is not admissible in court and how to get around it.

Ever watched a TV court show? Then you probably know that “hearsay evidence” is not admissible. But you may not know what “hearsay evidence” actually is.

Hearsay is defined in the California Evidence Code as: 1) an out of court statement; 2) that is offered for the truth of the statement offered there in.

What does that mean to the typical traffic court defendant?

It means that if a witness statement is made outside of court (in a writing or recording made outside of court), and is offered to prove something at issue in the trial, it is “inadmissible hearsay” and cannot be used.

The classic example is a written statement from a passenger offered by a defendant to prove something, such as the driver did not run a red light.

Such a witness statement meets the definition of hearsay. It is an out of court statement, because the writing was not made in court. It was written somewhere outside of court. And because it states the driver did not run a red light, it is offered as proof of that fact.

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The logic behind the law prohibiting this kind of out of court statement is simple, and makes sense if you think about it. Because the statement was not made in court, under an oath to tell the truth administered by the court, then the law considers the statement unreliable.

To explain in more detail: if the person who made the statement is not in court to testify, the judge cannot ask the witness questions about how and when the statement was made, and cannot question the witness’ observations as to what happened.

For example, the judge cannot ask the witness “is this truly your statement?”, “where were you sitting?”, “were you paying attention to the lights?”, “was the driver using a cell phone?”, etc. Because the witness cannot be asked these questions when they are not in court, the law considers the out of court statement to be unreliable and therefore not admissible as evidence.

It is only the unpprepared defendant who runs into this problem and you can avoid it. A defendant who does their homework before going to a traffic court trial can easily avoid this hearsay problem and support their case wwith a witness statement by simply making sure the witness goes to court with them to testify.

Once in court, whatever the witness says can be used as evidence. The judge can ask the questions needed to make sure the statement is reliable (credible), and the witness’ observations can be used in your favor.

The moral of this free self help article is: if you want to use a witness statement in your traffic court trial, you need to bring the person in with you. Good Luck.

This free legal self help article was written by a licensed trial attorney and brought to you by Google Adsense:

About Attorney Christopher Dort

Public Interest Attorney. CA State Bar #196832. Licensed to practice law in California 1998, and then the US Federal District Court in 2000. Civil Litigation Trial Attorney (Insurance Defense Firms) 2000-2003. Private practice 2003 - present. First Solo Criminal Jury Trial 1998 (Santa Cruz County). First Civil Jury Trial 2002 (Orange County). Santa Cruz County Public Defenders Office 1996-1999 (law clerk). BA in Politics from UC Santa Cruz, 1995. JD, University of California, Hastings, 1998.
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