Speeding

Should you get a lawyer for a speeding ticket in Minnesota?  Maybe.  If you’ve had no traffic violations for three to five years and the allegations are moderate, you may be able to go to court, talk to the prosecutor, and get an outcome that can prevent the ticket from going on your Minnesota drivers license record.  Or, perhaps you received a “Dimler Amendment” speeding ticket.  More on that below.

What is at stake?
First, what is at stake in a Minnesota speeding ticket case?  Most speeding tickets are petty misdemeanor charges, but a few can be charged as a misdemeanor.  A misdemeanor is a crime with a theoretical maximum of 90 days jail or up to one-year probation.  A petty misdemeanor in Minnesota is not a crime, but if found guilty is a “conviction.”  Both become part of the person’s public court record.  In today’s world, most people are mainly concerned about speeding tickets appearing on their drivers license record.  Why?  Three big reasons.  First, too many within certain time periods can result in license revocation or suspension.  Second, insurance rates can go up.  Third, and perhaps most important, law enforcement officers who see the violation on the drivers license record the next time they pull you over will be less likely to let you off with a warning as a result.

Over 100 mph
Radar_speed_gun_in_police_car-sm+CMPRSDA relatively recent Minnesota law makes a speeding conviction for over 100 miles per hour trigger a six month license revocation.  In these cases, a common goal is to reduce the speed to less than that, to avoid that severe penalty.  (Remember: there is no speed limit at all on an off-road track.  Track days are a fun way to improve safe driving skills.)

Before Lawyering Up
Of course, avoiding getting pulled over in the first place is the first defense.  Few vehicles today drive below posted limits except in congested traffic.  This is a clear sign that speed limits in Minnesota today are artificially low and have little to do with safety.  Most drivers are driving over the posted.  As a result, it makes sense to be thoughtful about it.  Vehicles can be made more or less easy to read with RADAR and laser speed measuring devices.  Defensive driving skills today include awareness of law enforcement officer locations and behaviors, to help avoid contacts.   Once pulled over, the police officer will seek an admission, like: “Do you know why I pulled you over?”  A respectful apology need not include an admission.  Rudeness to the police officer will not help you; and it will cause the LEO to write more notes for use against you later in court.  And do not tell the officer that you will fight the ticket in court, even nicely.  That will also inspire more officer notes for use in court. If you don’t get a warning, take your ticket with a smile and begin planning your next move.

Should I pay or fight a speeding ticket?
For most people, the goal is to keep it off the Minnesota drivers license record.  To achieve that goal, you must challenge with the courts unless it is a Minnesota “Dimler Amendment” speeding ticket.

Minnesota Dimler Amendment speeding ticket
Once upon a time, in the 1970s there was a new media frenzy over “the energy crisis.”  Politicians reacted with a Un-American national “energy conservation” speed limit of 55 mph.  Prior to that speed limits were based upon safety and engineering studies.  Since then, they have not been but have become politicized.  In the 1970s there was significant political push-back against the slow “national speed limit,” especially in rural areas and Western states where people have to drive to get to basic amenities.  These states passed the 55 mph limit and avoided losing federal highway rebates of tax dollars sent to Washington, D.C., but created exceptions so that some speeding tickets would not go on that state’s drivers license records.  In Minnesota, a rural legislator named Dimler sponsored an Amendment to the speeding laws that prevent a speeding conviction for 65 or less in a 55 mph zone from going on the drivers license record.  This law has proved extremely popular with the voters of Minnesota, and was later expanded to include 60 mph zones.  So now, a speeding ticket for 65 mph or less will not go on a Minnesota drivers license record if within a 55 mph or 60 mph zone.  Note that Minnesota does not have a 10 mph over exception.  The Dimler law only applies in 55 mph and 60 mph zones.   The best solution would be to increase speed limits so that 85% of traffic would be driving within them.  A half-measure would be to pass a “10 over” doesn’t go on the drivers license record law, similar to the Dimler law.  But for now, it only applies in a 55 mph or 60 mph zone.  Note that this law will not work for speeding ticket in a commercial motor vehicle or a driver with a commercial drivers license.

Going to court
If you are going to court, you can retain a speeding ticket attorney or go without one.  It’s a good idea to fight every speeding ticket, one way or another.  Of course, you’ll almost certainly do better with a lawyer.  But by fighting every speeding ticket you will either win, or learn a lot that will be valuable to you in the future.  Be sure to dress well and be polite to all you meet at the courthouse.  If you have a lawyer, your lawyer will do the talking for you — a great advantage.  If not, you can speak to the prosecuting attorney yourself.  Avoid debating the merits of your case.  Stress your desired outcome and your willingness to pay money as an alternative consequence.

Evidence of Speeding
There are two main types of prosecution evidence of speeding, both from the police officer.  The first is speed measuring devices such as RADAR and laser.  The other is police officer estimated speed.  Both can vary widely in accuracy and reliability.  There are many books and manuals available about RADAR and laser speed measuring devices.  It’s too big of a topic, technical in nature, to develop here.  Suffice it to say that every speed measuring device can be useful to the prosecution but can also often be flawed, inaccurate and unreliable for various reasons in any given case.   If the defense succeeds in showing the judge (most speeding trials are to a judge, not a jury) that the RADAR or laser evidence is unreliable, then the judge may rely upon the police officer’s visual estimate of speed.  Whether the police officer’s visual estimate is viewed as reliable will depend upon several factors, including how much the claimed speed is over the posted, point-of-view, environmental factors, among others.

Public Policy Problem?
Many view speeding laws and enforcement of them as an example of harmful public policy.  It is tempting for some to blame injury accidents on speed when really that is not a causative factor.  Law enforcement is easier with a bright line rule, like a speed limit combined with a speed measuring device with moderate accuracy like RADAR.  After all, with almost all drivers routinely exceeding the posted “speed limit” can anyone argue with a straight face that driving over the posted is more dangerous than tailgating or following too closely?   One is a safety hazard but the other is east to enforce.  Police and prosecutors are given strong incentives to enforce laws that are easy to enforce, to get their numbers up, and almost completely ignore traffic violations that actually do endanger safety on the roads, such as failure to signal lane changes or tailgating.  This is widely known and well understood by the public and contributes to cynicism about traffic law enforcement.

Question about your speeding ticket?  You can call Minneapolis Defense Attorney Thomas Gallagher at (612) 333-1500.