Ask LH: Can Cops Fine Me For A Traffic Offence Without Any Proof?

Ask LH: Can Cops Fine Me For A Traffic Offence Without Any Proof?

Dear Lifehacker, I was recently disqualified from driving for six months and haven’t driven my car since. The other day, the police rocked up to my house out of the blue, handed me a fine for unlicensed driving and confiscated my plates for seven days. I stood in front of my plates and demanded they show me proof, but they just threatened to lock me up if I didn’t stand aside. Is this allowed?

I plan to plead “not guilty” in court and will ask for evidence like: If you saw me driving, why didn’t you pull me over at the time? They just knocked on my door and handed me a fine and took my plates when it wasn’t me at all. What are my rights here, as I’m already suspended and don’t want the judge to say I’m guilty and then lose my license for a year. Thanks, Bilbs

Image: vagawi

Dear Bilbs,

The viability of your case comes down to one simple question — did you drive your car or not?

Just because the police officer didn’t show you any proof doesn’t mean none exists. Think about it: when was the last time a cop showed you physical proof while booking you for speeding? With the exception of speed cameras, evidence is usually only shown if you decide to contest the fine in court.

If you were identified behind the wheel, it’s a pretty safe bet that the police have evidence to back up their claims. This could be in the form of a surveillance video or a first-hand police report that identifies you as the driver, based on appearance.

If the police are relying on their own eyewitness testimony, it’s basically your word against theirs. You’d need to convince the magistrate of one of two things: either it was a case of mistaken identity or the police have a personal vendetta against you and fabricated evidence. The latter is extremely fanciful and unlikely to meet with much success.

As you weren’t actually pulled over in the act, your best bet is to claim a buddy was driving — which he was, right? You’ll need your friend to front up at court and corroborate your claims. Just be aware that lying in court is a very risky game. If your mate crumbles under cross-questioning you could both end up in serious legal strife.

In short, if you’re innocent, it’s worth taking the matter to court as the evidence against you will be flimsy at best. If you’re guilty, accept personal responsibility and follow the law next time.

Cheers Lifehacker

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  • At what point can you be done for using a mobile in a car? If I pull over, put the handbrake on and the gear in neutral (but leave the car engine running), can I be nicked for using a mobile phone?

    • Your engine can still be running but you have to be parked (Pull over and put car in park with the handbrake on)

      • I should also note that there are some exceptions. If your phone is in a mounted cradle then you can use it to make a call including dialling numbers and for listening to music including selecting tracks, skipping tracks, etc, while driving but only while it’s in the cradle. If you remove it from the cradle then you’re touching the phone illegally (unless you are passing it to another person)

        • No – it’s different in every state.

          With your reference of the cradle, in some states that is allowed WHEN THE CAR IS STATIONERY but across the whole of Australia, you will get fined for touching a mobile phone device no matter what it is in if you are driving along at the time.

          The rules and differences are for when you are stopped, if the engine is running, whether its in park or not etc…

          Nowhere can you drive along and play with a phone even in a cradle. When i skip tracks on my samsung gear s2 that is technically against the law as im using a mobile device while driving but you would have to be a royal asshat to book me for pressing the skip button WITHOUT the need to look down at the centre console and take my eyes off the road!!!

          • A quick summary of the road rules for Victoria relating to mobile phone use is in

            Please know it contradicts your statement of “across the whole of Australia, you will get fined for touching a mobile phone device no matter what it is in if you are driving along at the time.”

            To quote the section under Fully licensed car drivers:

            “Using a mobile phone while driving is prohibited, except to make or receive a phone call or to use its audio/music functions provided the phone:

            – is secured in a commercially designed holder fixed to the vehicle, or

            – can be operated by the driver without touching any part of the phone, and the phone is not resting on any part of the driver’s body.

            Using a phone as a navigational device/GPS while driving is prohibited unless it is secured in a commercially designed holder fixed to the vehicle. All other functions (including video calls, texting and emailing) are prohibited.”

          • Sorry, forgot there’s states outside NSW.

            But as @lhmike said, the rules allow for phone use while driving for phone calls and music in certain states including Victoria and NSW.

            Not sure about Victoria but in NSW these rules are for Fully Licensed and P2 drivers, not L platers or P1 drivers.

          • Sorry, forgot there’s states outside NSW.

            HA!! Typical New South Welshmen 😛

          • That’s already been proven incorrect. See above.

            Basically you can’t touch it unless it is fixed in the cradle and then you can only touch it to make calls, listen to music and for navigation purposes.

            The only exception where you can touch your phone when it’s outside of a cradle is when you pass it to a passenger.

          • I would bet if you pass a cop and they see you touching your cradle mounted phone, you’ll be done anyway for not paying attention to the road, or some other related offence.

          • Probably. They’d probably claim it was negligent driving or something like that. You could beat it in court but hardly worth the trouble.

          • And good on them. It’s about time people started focusing on the number 1 task at hand instead of putting other people’s safety at risk for the sake of flicking through their music collection or whatever.

            (separate from the obvious texters/handheld idiots who should suffer an instant 12 mth cancellation. first offence. we are too bloody soft in this country.)

  • Basically you are screwed. The words of the police are always the truth in court, no matter what lies they spout.

      • Nope, just know how it works. If there are two conflicting reports and no witnesses, the cop’s version is considered truth.

        • It’s not always considered the truth or else cops wouldn’t need to go to court in the first place. They get cross-examined and grilled by the defence lawyers just as much as the defendant does. In fact it’s worse for cops as the defence lawyer tries to trick them into saying things that may conflict with their original report. Don’t let the truth prevail, just let the coppers be tricked by the smart arse lawyer and then have that cast some doubt into the magistrates mind. Subsequently the guilty defendant gets off sometimes.

        • I have contested 2 speeding fines where I was not guilty. Both times the cops lied under oath. Both times it was my word against theirs. Both times the judge accepted their version of events. Both times the judges stated that because they were cops their word carried more weight than mine.

  • Its revenue gaining, Ask for evidence. If they cant prove it then counter sue for harassment.

    • Please let me know when you attend court. I just want to see the judges expression.

  • back up their clams

    It’s always a good idea to back up your clams – they can slither off any time. They are sneaky.

  • As you weren’t actually pulled over in the act, your best bet is to claim a buddy was driving — which he was, right?

    I find this statement the equivalent of telling a drunk driver where the booze bus is located.

    • No its like stating someone else was driving when you were…

      Nothing to do with evading the consequences of what you are about to do!

  • If they’ve turned up at your door, then it’s a pretty safe bet that they have some form of proof.
    NSW Police (and possibly other states now) have the ability to park a patrol vehicle on the side of the road and harvest information from the licenses plates of passing cars.
    When it was first rolled out, the biggest problem for them was how to process the amount of data they collected- it was certainly more than they could action immediately.

    Sounds like they have picked your car up being driven, even if it was not by you.
    Of course, if they have a speed camera photo of you behind the wheel, then it’s going to be pretty conclusive, but if you haven’t been driving, then you should be able to contest it in court.
    If you can find out the time of the alleged incident, and there should be no reason why they won’t tell you ( the courts should, even if the police are difficult), then you can put together evidence of where you actually were, along with witnesses.
    You have a legal right to be able to defend yourself. and that will go a long way to proving your innocence.

  • I’d have thought there was some obligation to provide evidence in a situation like that (though again it may vary state to state). In QLD the speed camera photos and red light photos are sent to you in the mail as part of your fine (low quality versions but still). I’ve never heard of anyone getting a visit from the police like you’re describing.

    Not sure how you’d go in court if there was literally no one driving the car and it’s been sitting in your garage the whole time. That becomes your word v theirs. If someone else was driving then the situation is pretty simple, get that person to front court with you and you’ll have a very good chance of getting off.

    If however, you were driving and are just trying to get away with it – suck it up. You did it, you got busted.

    • Not necessarily your word against theirs. If you have surveillance cameras which show when your car leaves/enters your property, it could probably be used as evidence to prove the car never left your property at the alleged time.

  • I thought this was a really clearly written question that has been largely ignored.
    “I was recently disqualified from driving for six months and haven’t driven my car since.”
    finally, “They just knocked on my door and handed me a fine and took my plates when it wasn’t me at all
    Even if he was the one driving – he’s presented a clear view that he was not the driver. We have no reason to assume otherwise.

    So, my layperson’s response to your enquiries:
    1 – Are they allowed to take my plates without evidence? Clearly, yes. They must feel that they have sufficient evidence to allow them to do so. In this case, the power of the police to stop disqualified drivers is stronger than that of the driver to preserve their rights.
    2 – what are my rights here? you can definitely state your case in court, but I’m guessing that won’t help you for the next seven days where your friends and family can’t use your car. You would certainly be allowed to lodge a complaint as well.

    in all these cases, your car will still be undriveable for the week – a real inconvenience if it was how your friends and family were driving you around. Hopefully the police get rather serious decisions like this right more often then wrong, and for every innocent car owner like you, there are multiple dangerous unlicenced drivers being kept off the road with these types of actions.

    • Except it doesn’t really keep dangerous unlicensed drivers off the road. The only thing that does that is locking them up. Just watch any of the numerous traffic cop TV shows and you’ll see them pulling up driver after driver who is unlicensed, drunk, suspended from driving, using plates from someone else’s car etc.

      Sadly, the people who actually are most affected are going to be the less criminally minded.

  • Burden of Proof always falls on the prosecution. So they would have enough proof to issue a fine incase it was taken to court.

  • Come on everyone. The basic rules of procedural fairness provide that you are entitled to see the evidence that they have against you. At the very least they will have a statement and documentation detailing who alleges this man was driving the car, with information about when and where they allege it happened.

    If you weren’t really driving the car this will give you the opportunity to provide an alibi. The court system doesn’t just assume police are telling the truth, however neither does it assume the opposite. The police have audit trails and a system of transparency that exists to ensure that if it does come down to one person’s word against another, they have some backup. The DPP who would be actually prosecuting you will not waste their time with anything less.

    So I would firstly see a lawyer or get advice from legal aid. I would be writing asking for detailed copies of all the evidence upon which their charges rely. Then you can start building the case for your defense.

    ** Not a lawyer

    • This is honestly the most sound advice I’ve read. The article does have some good points above, but I feel this comment really explains it very well and honestly doesn’t have the whole I bet poster is lying feel to it.

    • Agree with jcleeland. The outcomes of court hearings are essentially about who is believed. Obtain copies of the police evidence about the time, date and place of the offence they allege, and then provide evidence (including witnesses if possible) refuting it. ie that you were elsewhere at that time. Do not lie – perjury is a whole next level of incarcerated pain.

    • Absolutely agree, if you’re not guilty then provide an alibi, can be in the form of a work contract, shop receipts, credit card statements etc to explain you were not there at the time of the incident.

  • Police must provide several pieces of information when commencing proceedings for an offence whether by an infringement notice or an arrest and a visit to the watchhouse. This includes officers details, time/date/place of the alleged offence. This is legislated (at least in QLD).

    Officers are under no such obligation to present any evidence they are relying upon to alleged offenders until the matter is heard in a court and they are requested to by defence. On a side note jcleeland has erred telling you the DPP would be prosecuting you. The DPP doesn’t handle simple traffic offences. Unless this charge is one of many other offences (indictable) you have been accused of it will be a police prosecutor handling it.

    Finally, I am sure Police have more to do than fabricate evidence to take your plates for seven days. If it quacks like a duck is all I’m saying.

    • I know we did discovery of documents before going to court in personal injury claims. I’d imagine there’d be something similar in relation to this. ie: you need a certain minimum amount of information to be able to prepare a defense *before* going to court and there is an obligation upon them to provide it. At a minimum they’d have to identify when and where.

      At which point (as someone else pointed out) you could plan a better defense – like “I was at work, my boss verifies it” or “no that was my friend/family driving”.

  • Basically, your innocent until proved guilty. Just plead your case in court. If you really are innocent. But, if they’ve got proof, you’re an idiot for wasting people’s time with this mail and should be nailed to a cross or some such for your flagrant illegal behaviour, as well as your slimy underhanded way of trying to weasel out looking for free advice. Just saying. 😉

    • If Bilbs is guilty, the act of 1. driving without a licence and 2. lying, makes me quite angry. We share the roads as a community, the road is not his/her entitlement (as that entitlement was taken away for 6 months). Endangering everyone for your own selfishness is something we don’t need.

      Bilbs has claimed he/she has not driven the car since being disqualified. Could be a friend or family member.

  • they will but it is not legal if you can take it too court with out a problem

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