By Jordan W. Charness; photo courtesy

Here’s a traffic court case with a bit of a twist. It’s one of those cases where the defendant clearly committed the infraction, the prosecuting attorney went all out for a conviction, and the defendant represented himself without a lawyer; all in all, a recipe for disaster for the defendant… well, maybe.

The case was a simple stop sign case, the type that is played out before the courts across Canada thousands of times a day. The police officer saw the accused roll through a stop sign and pulled him over and ticketed him. The driver was not going very fast but neither did he come to a complete stop and check for traffic before proceeding, the minimum that is legally required at a Stop sign.

It all got more interesting when it came to court. As in most stop sign cases, the police officer was not subpoenaed by either side nor did he attend or give evidence in court. He simply filed a written description of events in a sworn affidavit, a copy of which was given to the defendant just before the trial.

Although the defendant had legal right to read this affidavit well before the trial, in most jurisdictions he would have had to request it in writing around the time he filed his Not Guilty plea. Otherwise, as in this case, it was given to him just prior to his appearance in court.

After the prosecuting attorney read the affidavit out loud to the court he asked that the accused be convicted of failing to stop at a stop sign.

It was then the defendant’s turn to speak. The first thing he said was that he admitted rolling through the Stop sign without coming to a full stop. The judge looked perplexed as to why the defendant had come to court instead of just paying the ticket. The prosecuting attorney had the look of someone who was sure that he had won his case.

The defendant then went on to say that the reason he had failed to come to a complete stop was because his brakes had failed him. He testified that when he pushed the brake pedal it went down to the floor without bringing the car to complete stop. He had tried to explain this to the police officer, but he told him to tell it to the judge.

To support his argument the defendant provided the court with a copy of the brake repairs that were done the next day indicating that there was a leak in one of the brake lines which was subsequently repaired. The accused’s defence was that he had indeed tried to stop but could not for reasons that were beyond his control.

In cross-examination, the accused further admitted that after he got the ticket he drove himself home rolling through every Stop sign along the way. He said that it was only a few blocks and that he used his emergency brake to come to a stop and park in front of his house. The prosecutor jumped on that statement claiming that even if the accused did not know there was a leak in his brake line prior to the Stop sign in front of the police officer, all of his subsequent roll-throughs were his fault and illegal.

The judge’s ruling was that the accused was to be acquitted of failing to stop at the stop sign in front of the police officer because it was due to a mechanical failure beyond his control. As far as the other times, the judge accurately pointed out that the accused was not charged in any of those incidents and therefore could not be convicted of them.

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