Tuesday, September 15, 2009

How to Fight your Traffic Ticket

So you got caught speeding, or making some illegal maneuver (what the state calls a moving violation), and now you've got this yellow (or white) piece of paper that you wish would just disappear. Well I'm here to show you how to do just that.

As the officer politely explained to you, you have two options: pay the ticket, or take it to court. It turns out, you've got a few more options than that:

1. Pay the fine and the points will be assessed (your least favorite option)
2. Hire a traffic attorney and hope for the best (this is probably what most people end up doing, and if you don't have time, it's not a bad idea)
3. Ask for a court date, and litigate the ticket yourself (this is where the fun is)
4. Don't do anything and get your license suspended (ok, they don't really give you this option, but that's what will happen if you don't act).

The clock is ticking

You've got 30 or 60 days to take option 1 or 2 depending on the county you got your citation in. You'll probably get a little pamphlet that will tell you how long you have, but the point is, act quickly. It might take some old fashion courthouses a few days (even weeks) to get the hand-written citation entered into the computer system, so sometimes you'll have to wait several days before you can do anything about your citation. If unsure, simply call the courthouse and find out.

Option 1 - Plead guilty, pay the fine, take the points

I would even go so far as to say that you should never just pay the ticket and take the points. Regardless of your driving record, what kind of citation this is, and weather you got a ticket in some other state or rural county, this is almost never an option. At least not until you've exhausted all your other options.

Option 2 - Get representation, make it someone else's problem

If you're in a major city or metropolitan area, within a week or so, your mailbox should be flooded by traffic attorneys wanting to represent you. This, combined with the internet and yellow pages, will serve as your starting point to hire an attorney to represent you. Most attorneys will offer you a full refund if they are not successful in keeping the points off of your license. Remember, that's not to say that you won't have to pay court costs, or a reduced fine, or both. What they actually do is try to get the case dismissed, which you could do yourself, but more on that later.

Grab your phone and call at several attorneys and get the following information:
  1. How much they charge (reasonable rates for Florida are about $60 - $100 if you're near the big cities). Rural locations have fewer lawyers who like to charge more.
  2. How long they have been in the business.
  3. If they will represent you themselves, or if they will have someone else do the legwork. Why do yo care? Because if the hire someone else, you're not getting the most bang for you buck. I don't like middle men, neither should you.
  4. If they offer a full refund in the event they are unable to keep the points off your license. Remember, you might still have to pay a fine and possible court costs.
Here's an attorney that I have used many times with success for violations in Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties:
James H Babkes, Attorney
300 South Pine Island Road Suite 249
Plantation, Florida, 33324
Phone: (954)452-8630
Option 3 - innocent until proven guilty

This isn't criminal court, it's traffic court, which is a whole different ball game. It's all about technicalities. I'm going to show you how you can do exactly what any good attorney would do, all by yourself.

Let's break it down:

Ask for a court date. Sometimes this is as easy as calling the courthouse that is listed either on the lower portion on the front of your ticket, or somewhere on the back. Other times the courthouse requests that you mail (or fax) them a written plea of "Not Guilty" in order to request a court date. If you are unsure, look to see what county is listed on your citation and then do a search for that county's courthouse on google. For example: "Alachua county courthouse" (which happens to be in gainesville). You may have to send in either a copy of your citation or the original. In either case, make sure you scan in, or make a photocopy of your citation for yourself in case the ink fades on the original.

Wait for the notice. Depending on how backed up the courts are, it may take several months for you to receive a blue piece of paper in the mail that tells you when and where to appear in court. If you hire an attorney, this paper will be sent to both you and the attorney representing you, and both of your names and addresses will appear on the notice. The first notice you should get will likely be for a "Pre-Trial conference". This is not the one with the actual trial with the judge. Moreover, the officer who pulled you over will not have to appear.

Examine your ticket for errors. Look at your citation carefully. Specifically, look in three places for mistakes, either of which will result in an immediate dismissal of your ticket.
  • Location #1: Make sure the direction that you were traveling at the time you were pulled over is checked off. If nothing is checked here, when you go to court, all you have to say is "Move to dismiss, no direction of travel listed. The case will be dismissed, and you will pay absolutely nothing.
  • Location #2: Check to see that the type of radar or equipment that was used to determine your speed is shown. If this section is blank, at your pre-trial conference, just say "Move to dismiss, no equipment listed", and you're off the hook.
  • Location #3: Look for the Florida statute that you allegedly violated. If there is none listed, show up to court, and say "Move to dismiss, no statute shown". If there is a statute, then look it up and make sure that the infraction you are being charged for is consistent with the statute. For example, if you allegedly ran a red light, make sure the statute says something about how you shouldn't run traffic lights. Often, the officer will forget the statute or write the wrong one in. This has even happened to me on a computer printed ticket! In my example photo, the statue listed is 316.189(1), which happens to be correct.
If they got it all right and the ticket is free of errors, and you have a relatively unblemished driving record (no tickets in the past year or more), your best bet is to change your plea from "Not Guilty" to "No Contest" or "Nolo contendere" (same thing). This, while not an admission of guilt, is basically telling the judge (or magistrate), that you are asking for the mercy of the court. The judge will look at your driving record and will most likely withhold adjudication, which means no points on your license, and he or she may reduce the fine.

Show up to Court. By this time, you should already have a strategy of what you're going to do when you go to court. Remember to come early (I'll tell you why in a bit). If you're late, or you don't show - the court will immediately suspend your license.

When you arrive, sit up front. Look for the lawyer(s) seated or standing up near the front of the courtroom. These well dressed people get to go first. Sit near them so that you can hear what goes on and learn the tricks of the trade. You've got nowhere to go, so you might as well use your time wisely.

At the pre-trial conference. The first notice you receive in the mail will be for a pre-trial conference where there will be a magistrate (no judge), and the officer will not be present. Here you can bring about any motions for dismissal, or enter a change of plea. That's it, two options.

My advice is to first bring about any motions to dismiss if you have them. If that fails, or if you don't have any reasons to dismiss, then do the following: Ask the magistrate if you could "hear the offer for a change of plea to no-contest" (it's important to be polite here). This basically tells him or her that you don't want to change your plea just yet, but that you'd like to hear what the magistrate would do if you did. If he or she is nice, then they'll usually give you this information. If the magistrate says something like "I'll withhold adjudication and reduce your fine to X dollars", then my recommendation is for you to go ahead and enter a change of plea by proclaiming "Change of plea, your honor". If the magistrate is not in a good mood, and doesn't want to tell you what you would get ahead of time, or says that they will assess points and/or charge court costs, you should then ask for a trial by saying "request Trial, your honor".

The Trial. If you've gotten this far, that means you weren't too successful in getting your ticket dismissed and/or you didn't like the plea for "no contest". Long after your pre-trial, you will get another notice in the mail notifying you of your trial date. The officer who pulled you over, any witnesses, and any other plaintiff's (if any) must show. If the officer (or plaintiff in the case of an accident) does not show, your case will be immediately dismissed.

If the officer appears in court, you should do the following: Try to bring any motions to dismiss if you have any. You may try to bring the same motion that was previously denied for whatever reason. You never know, it may get accepted this time around.

If you have no grounds for dismissal, and the officer appears, first look towards the officer and say "Are you prepared to proceed?". It's amazing, but sometimes officers will show up to court without proper documentation, or forget their logbook and say "no". At this point, you simply "move to dismiss" and you're done. If the officer comes prepared to proceed, you should "change of plea to no contest" and take what the court gives you. It is almost never a good idea to actually try to litigate the citation if the officer is present and has all their paperwork. Your chances of success are minuscule, and you risk aggravating the judge and being charged court costs.

Best of luck!

* Although my example is for Florida, these tips are valid for any state, your citation might look a little different. Check with your courthouse for any changes in exact courthouse procedure.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

The leaking windshield washer bottle (BMW 3 Series, E46 models)

If you're in your BMW 3 series, and your windshield washer fluid light comes on, what do you do? Refill the bottle of course. Then, a day goes by and the light comes back and you know haven't squirted anything on your front glass. Take a peek on your garage floor and you might see a puddle of the very same washer fluid you carefully poured into your bottle. You've got a leak!

The windshield water container, canister, bottle, whatever you wanna call it is relatively easy to take out. One bolt and and out she comes. Attached to the side is the pump, and right under the pump is a tiny strainer with a rubber o ring forming the seal.

This has actually happened to me a couple of times (living in an exceptionally hot climate might have something to do with it), and both times it has turned out to be the windshield water pump. If it's not the pump, think strainer, and lastly, suspect the bottle. Unfortunately, I haven't found any tell tale sign on how to tell which of the three it is, but I would recommend replacing the strainer and the pump at once and you'll most likely nail it.

No.DescriptionSupplementQty From Up To Part NumberPriceNotes
01Windshield cleaning container5L1



05Strainer f wash pump


Tuesday, September 8, 2009

The faulty adjuster unit causing a vacuum leak (E46 BMW)

The Problem:
Engine runs rough, to the point where it can cause the engine to stall out when idling idle or running at low RPM. The whole car shakes or shudders as the engine misfires every once in a while.

Characterized by the following codes (you might have a slightly different variety):
P0171 - System Too Lean (Bank 1)
P0174 - System Too Lean (Bank 2)
P0303 - Cylinder Misfire (Cylinder 3)
P0304 - Cylinder Misfire (Cylinder 4)
P0305 - Cylinder Misfire (Cylinder 3)

The culprit is a part that commonly goes bad on E46 machines, a little black box on the intake side of the engine called the adjuster unit. Mine went bad after 170k miles... yours may fail sooner. If you suspect it -- just change it out. Some people on e46fanatics.com re-glue the old part to fix the vacuum leak - but since the flapper inside the unit goes bad anyway (see video), I would highly recommend changing out the whole unit. The part should cost you just under $200 from the stealer (dealer).

Tools you'll need:
  • Torx T40 screwdriver.
  • 10mm socket and ratchet (an extension is useful here)
  • Pliers to pull pop out the plastic rivets used to hold down the air box
  • A T40 torx bit attached to a ratchet at a 90 degree angle for removing the bottom screw (see picture)

Time it'll take: 30 minutes if you don't drop any screws or tools/sockets into the engine compartment (Key here: TAKE YOUR TIME).

Diagram (Part #7 is what we're after)

M54 ENGINES (325 & 330)
07 ADJUSTER UNIT -- 11 61 7 544 805

Here's a video of the failed part and where it came from:

Monday, September 7, 2009

Xmarks - Bookmark synchronization that just works

So you've got bookmarks on your computer at work, some on your desktop at home, maybe some on a laptop somewhere, and you can never seem to find where you saved what. Sound familiar? This got me so fed up that I ended up creating my own html page on the web somewhere that I used to store important web sites. Come on now, it's 2009 already!

I have finally found a plug-in that properly synchronizes (yes, synchronizes, not just copy over) your bookmarks. It works flawlessly with firefox, but I do plan on trying it on some other browsers. Don't want for me to do it - try it out yourself!