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Seattle Municipal Court: Pre-Hearing Conference v. Contested Hearing

Posted Friday, November 11, 2016 by Andrew Charles Huff

I have represented hundreds of people cited by Seattle Police for various infractions that are naturally filed in Seattle Municipal Court.

Seattle Municipal Court has a traffic hearings procedure that includes a type of hearing you should be aware of, in part because it might be a waste of your time and not lead to the results you want. The hearing I’m referring to is the “Pre-Hearing Conference.” Seattle Municipal Court will automatically schedule your case for a “Pre-Hearing Conference” even though you requested a “Contested Hearing” by checking that option on the ticket. The purpose of the “Pre-Hearing Conference” is to request a court magistrate simply lower the fine to your ticket. The ticket would still be found “committed” and therefore appear on your record but at a lower fine. I have spoken with many people over the years who decided to handle tickets on their own. They requested the court set their matter for a “Contested Hearing,” only to find themselves waiting in a crowded room for a magistrate whose only duty is to lower the fine.

However, most people want to fight their ticket so it does not appear on their record and raise insurance rates. Let me be clear this is not an option at the “Pre-Hearing Conference” and we therefore typically waive that hearing and ask that the matter be set directly for a “Contested Hearing.” And because traffic tickets are civil matters, you do not have to appear at any hearing if you have an attorney representing you.

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Officer, how can you tell my speed?

Posted Tuesday, November 8, 2016 by Andrew Charles Huff

As a traffic attorney, I am asked regularly by friends about how an officer can determine your vehicle speed by using that handheld device they have pointed at traffic.

A very brief explanation….A radar gun is a Doppler unit that may be hand-held or vehicle-mounted. This device measures the speed of an object it is pointed at by detecting the change in frequency of the returned radar signal caused by the Doppler effect. This means the frequency of the returned signal is increased in proportion to the object’s speed of approach if the object is approaching, and lowered if the object is receding. From that difference, the radar speed gun can calculate the speed of the object from which the waves have been bounced.

Police normally use the more modern LIDAR speed guns that use pulsed laser light instead of radar because of limitations associated with small radar systems.

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Officer, you still need that warrant...

Posted Monday, November 7, 2016 by Andrew Charles Huff

A police officer must have a warrant to search you or your property with a few limited exceptions. The extent of these “exceptions” were put before the Court of Appeals-Division Three recently against someone in the great outdoors.

A Fish and Wildlife officer was watching two men fishing and determined one of them illegally snagged a chinook. The officer confronted Mr. Eric Cruz on shore as he filled out his catch card. He was then arrested for the illegal snag and placed in handcuffs. Mr. Cruz was polite and cooperative and told the officer he had hunting rifles in his truck, although prohibited being a convicted felon. The officer then searched the truck and seized the guns without a warrant.

The Court of Appeals found that none of the exceptions to the warrant rule applied here, as the officer was not facing any emergency circumstances nor was the search incident to arrest. The Court found that because the right to bear arms is constitutionally protected, an officer needs to get that search warrant, even in the great outdoors.

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Service Dog's Rights Before U.S. Supreme Court

Posted Monday, November 7, 2016 by Andrew Charles Huff

It seems that just about everywhere I go these days, whether it be the grocery store, the mall or even restaurants and bars, I see our furry four-legged friends all around. Service dogs are with us everywhere these days as they provide assistance and comfort to people who need them.

But are their limits to where these helpful hounds can go with us, such as schools?
The U.S. Supreme Court recently heard the case of a 12-year-old Michigan girl with cerebral palsy who was barred from bringing her service dog to her school class. Elehna’s dog Wonder is trained to help her open doors, pick up items and provide her a level of independence. But school officials insisted that an adult could provide all the help she needs rather than Wonder. Eventually, the school relented but placed so many restrictions on the dog that it became nearly impractical and Ehlena eventually transferred to another school more welcoming to Wonder.

The actual issue before the High Court is actually a bit more arcane: Could Ehlena sue the school district immediately or must she first go through administrative proceedings that take much longer.

This issue is important to disability groups seeking to remove hurdles that can discourage people from pursuing their legal rights.

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Traffic Ticket Options

Posted Friday, October 28, 2016 by Andrew Charles Huff

What is Mitigating a ticket?

When you choose to mitigate a traffic ticket, you are admitting you did it and simply requesting the judge lower your fine. The ticket will then appear on your record. When deciding whether to reduce your fine, the judge will look at your traffic record and the circumstances of this incident. Some infractions such as school zone or construction zone tickets may not be mitigated and your fine cannot be reduced.

Or requesting a Deferral?

RCW 46.63.070 allows one deferral every seven years for a non-moving violation and one deferral is allowed every seven years for a moving violation. This law allows a judge to grant you a deferral but does not require it.

If you comply with the conditions of a deferral, the traffic infraction will not appear on your record. However, if you get a second infraction within the time period specified, or fail to make your payment, the first infraction will appear on your record and you will have to pay the full fine for the first infraction as well.
But remember, it’s important to use deferrals very sparingly because the majority of the time, we can keep the ticket off your record without using your deferral. A deferral should only be reserved as a last option.

Check the “Contested Hearing” box

A Contested Hearing is what you want if you wish your ticket to go away. By requesting a Contested Hearing, you are asking the prosecutor to prove their case against you.

At this hearing, I make legal motions prior to the beginning of the case on potentially a number of issues relating to your ticket. Some issues are jurisdictional, procedural or problems with the speed measuring device (radar or laser). If the judge grants my motion, the case would be dismissed. I also can negotiate that your ticket be reduced to a “non-moving” violation that will not appear on your traffic record or be reported to the Department of Licensing.Traffic infractions are decriminalized and are not criminal matters.

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