The presumption of innocence
I recently represented a client on a traffic violation in Yonkers City Court. When the client contacted me she was concerned that her case was doomed. "The ticket says I was caught on radar, how can I plead not guilty?" This is a common sense question, but there isn't a common sense answer. The fact is that it doesn't matter if you were caught on radar, laser, or video. No matter what proof the prosecution claims to have, the law is very clear. Where you are faced with a traffic violation the United States and New York States Constitutions guarantee that you are presumed innocent until proven guilty. The standard of proof is "proof beyond a reasonable doubt." Since you are presumed innocent, the burden to prove you guilty is on the prosecution.
Why is it significant that the burden of proof is on the prosecution? It means that the prosecution has the job of proving the defendant's guilt. Many times a client will ask me, "what do I say when the judge asks me why I was speeding?" My answer is that they do not have to give a reason. Why? Since the burden is on the prosecution, the defendant does not have to say anything other than "I plead not guilty".
Now, to bring it back to the original question: They got me on radar, how can I plead not guilty? A radar reading is not conclusive evidence of guilt (a topic for another post). Radar guns can't testify. Radar guns are not witnesses. This sounds silly, but its true: The prosecution's burden of proof includes properly offering, and having its radar readings "admitted" into evidence. This is just one step in in the process of proving the defendant's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
What's the take away? Next time you are pulled over and your ticket says you were caught on radar, remember your constitutional right to a presumption of innocence. Instead of feeling guilty, shift your focus to a single phrase: "prove it".