Court experience - Scaring/threatening you to plead guilty

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PONS
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Court experience - Scaring/threatening you to plead guilty

by: PONS on
Fri Sep 05, 2014 2:46 pm

I recently was in traffic court for a charged for failure to stop red light on bicycle. I proceeded into the court room, first I spoke with the Clerk and told her I will plead not guilty. Few minutes later, the cop came to chat with me to review evidence. As I spoke with the cop, I stated that when he pulled me over for red light charge, he mentioned he had cameras. So I wanted to see the picture evidence, but then he goes "I actually didn't have a camera", so he basically lied. Then he goes on and basically says that the words on his notes are considered as "evidence" and therefore he was going to win the case if I decide to fight it. The clerk then suddenly goes "if you don't plead guilty, I will increase your fine up to $1000 if you lose the case". Needless to say, I felt threatened and scared by both the cop and the clerk, where I went on to plead guilty for lesser fine ($125 down from $325).

To be honest, it wasn't the fine that I cared about, but to ensure that the report doesn't go on my abstract/MTO since bicycles should not accumulate points and convictions do not send to MTO. So all I wanted was my driver's license removed to ensure my insurance doesn't see my offence.

Has anyone experienced something similar? Do officer's "words" or "notes" constitutes and supersede all evidence? Is it inappropriate that they will further increase the fine if you lose a case? It seems that at the end of the day, they just scare you into pleading guilty? What justice is that? I honestly just wanted a fair trial.


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highwaystar
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by: highwaystar on
Fri Sep 05, 2014 5:07 pm

That should NOT have happened. You are entitled to a fair trial, free of any intimidation from anyone, especially a police officer or court clerk. They had no business talking to you about your case. Other than letting the court clerk know that you are present for your case, the only other person you should talk to is the prosecutor (to see if a deal can be reached).

Both the court clerk and police officer should have known better than to delve in to your case or discuss its merits. The clerk must remain independent at ALL times; they are not part of the adversarial process. As for the officer, he/she should only speak to you at your request and only to review their 'notes' with you. That's it! They should never discuss the merits of your case. They are strictly there as a witness---nothing more. However, many times they unintentionally overstep that line as part of their human nature. The problem though is that because of their public role as an agent of the Crown, most people will hold their comments to a higher authority than a lay person. It is for this reason that officers must make a conscious effort not to cross that line.

Now, regarding your specific case, you certainly could try to appeal the decision, but it will likely be an up-hill battle not only to prove, but cost-wise. It simply is not worth your while given the deal you got and what you'd end up paying anyway to appeal and/or if later convicted.

As for getting a higher fine in court after trial, you are never suppose to be penalized for exercising your right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty. Therefore, theoretically, all things equal, you should suffer the same penalty as if you plead guilty as if you are found guilty. However, in traffic offences, the 'set fines' (i.e the fines that most people see on their tickets) are not what the HTA sets out for those offences. Rather, those are pre-set fines that have been set by an order of a judge for anyone not wishing to dispute their offence. That is, if you simply pay the pre-set fine out of court, then the 'set fine' always applies. However, the moment you go in to the court and either dispute or plead guilty, the 'statutory fine' is what the justice must use. In many cases, that is significantly higher than what the 'set fine' would have been. For instance, the set fine for not wearing a seat-belt is $200, but the statutory fine is a minimum of $200 to a maximum of $1,000. So, if you fight a seat belt ticket and lose, you could actually face a $1,000 fine!!! Its a bit confusing to justify how this is permitted due to the notion I mention above about not being penalized for going to trial, but this 'set-fine' regime has been accepted by the courts as being reasonable and not unconstitutional.


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by: PONS on
Fri Sep 05, 2014 5:43 pm

Thank you so much for your insightful response HWS. I knew something didn't feel right but since it was my first time in court, I had no idea how to proceed. I probably could've handled myself a lot better if I had been more knowledgeable. I had spent weeks preparing my case and I really thought I had a solid case to present and that if I didn't win, I was willing to lose the 325 fine, but once she said she'll add it to 1000 (which I had no idea it could happen), then it completely shocked me. Thanks for your info and I hope I never have to use it. I'm not going to bother to appeal/fight it. It's not worth the stress and money. But thanks for letting me know that such an option exists.

Can you comment on officer's "notes" being evidence? He had no photo evidence or anything. Do you think he would've proven me guilty simply by saying "I saw him run a red light"?


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highwaystar
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by: highwaystar on
Fri Sep 05, 2014 5:59 pm

The officer's notes themselves are NOT evidence----its his/her testimony that is evidence. The officer is only able to refer to their notes to 'refresh their memory'. So, if the officer writes something in their notes and doesn't testify to it in court, then its not part of the evidence. Likewise, they can testify to things that are NOT in their notes as well (based upon their recollection just like any other witness could).

As for whether him saying 'I saw him run a red light' is enough to convict, it all comes down to a balance of credibility. The officer's testimony is NOT held to any higher degree than anyone else; they are just a witness like everyone else. So, to put it simply---the officer's testimony is not the end of the discussion. If it were, then there would be no need for a trial. Instead, the JP needs to assess whether they believe that testimony or not (in whole or in part). Most courts will conduct a W(D) analysis to balance witness credibility; that's the legal test to be used. You can read the Supreme Court decision of R.v.W.(D) here. That's why, when an accused 'cross-examines' the officer, they want to make sure they poke holes in the officer's testimony so as to make it as less reliable and/or believe as possible. That way, the JP will hopefully be left with reasonable doubt.


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by: PONS on
Fri Sep 05, 2014 6:38 pm

Thanks so much for all the info. After hearing all this - I do feel that I was bullied into pleading guilty which isn't the best feeling but I'll leave it behind me. I wish I had known all this before and presented my case. I would propose stickying this thread so other people can learn from my experience.


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