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Basic Speed Law Defense

Back when the maximum speed limit was 55 mph, I was stopped by a CHP on the Harbor Freeway (I 110) at PCH. He told me that he had paced me at 75, and wrote me a ticket for 70. This was not the highlight of my day. I put the ticket in my wallet and tried to forget about it for a couple of weeks, knowing that I had a bit longer than that before I had to appear on it.

A few days before I had to go to court, I took the ticket out and looked at it... closely. If I decided to opt for traffic school, I first wanted to know for absolutely certain that I could not win if the officer showed up. I surprised my buddy, Stance, sitting across the table from me, by laughing when I read the ticket. When I showed him the ticket, and the section of the Vehicle Code I was charged with, 22350, he laughed, too (I had taught him enough to appreciate the humor). Needless to say, I entered a plea of, "Not guilty."

On the day of the trial, the officer and I both showed up in the San Pedro courtroom of Judge Benz, a true "hanging judge"; he was known as "The Law West of the Channel". Judge Benz called my case second, in front of a courtroom still full of people.

The officer gave his testimony by the book on how he had paced me and issued the citation. Then Judge Benz asked if I had any questions. I said that I did.

I started by asking the officer, "What was the weather?" He answered, "Clear and dry."

I then asked, "And what was the visibility?" The officer glanced down at his copy of the ticket, got a grin on his face and said, "Almost unlimited."

Next I asked, "And what was the traffic like?" He responded, "Light and moving well."

I followed with, "Officer, In your professional opinion, was I endangering anyone's person or property?" With an even larger grin, he testified, "Oh, no. The only reason that I stopped you was that were exceeding the 55 mph maximum speed limit."

I thanked the officer and said that I had no further questions. Judge Benz then asked if I had anthing to say? When I indicated that I did, he instructed me to take the witness stand.

I testified that had I been charged with (CVC)22349(a), exceeding the maximum, I might have to plead guilty, but that was irrelevant beacuse, according to the ticket, I had been charged with 22350, violating the basic speed law. I then pointed out that the officer had testified that the weather was clear and dry, and the visibility was almost unlimited. I noted that, concerning the surface and width of the road, it is an Interstate Highway and had once been posted at 70 mph. I went on to recount the officers testimony that traffic was, "light and moving well," and that, in his professional opinion, I had not endangered any person or property. I concluded by saying, "Given what I am charged with, and the facts of the case, and since I am under oath, I have no choice but to plead not guilty as charged."

I could tell from the various shades of red he turned that I had not made Judge Benz's day by presenting this defense in front of a coutroom full of people. He instructed me to step down, which I did. After a minute or so of deliberating, he said, "I am going to take this case under advisement. If there is any way I can amend this citation to a 22349, I am going to find you guilty. You can call in this afternoon for the verdict."

The officer shocked Judge Benz, and just about everyone else in the court when he responded by saying, "He's right, your Honor. He's not guilty as charged. It's my fault; I wrote him for the wrong section." Fortunately, he was not cited for contempt.

When I called that afternoon, the clerk informed me that the Judge had dismissed the case.


22350. No person shall drive a vehicle upon a highway at a speed greater than is reasonable or prudent having due regard for weather, visibility, the traffic on, and the surface and width of, the highway, and in no event at a speed which endangers the safety of persons or property.

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