Think fast

The police officer wasn’t asking where I lived out of curiosity. He wanted to know if I was a Massachusetts resident driving on a Connecticut license so he could write a big ticket to make his quota. “No, I don’t live here” was the only correct answer.

A more risky answer is “I just moved here a few weeks ago.” I saw a driver use it successfully. She got a ticket for an offense she didn’t commit, but not for driving without a license. Which she was guilty of, but not too guilty of.

I once asked MassDOT if they had a graphic I could use to mark links to their web site. The friendly reply from an IT worker, including a request to see my web page, was a trap. She wanted to find out if I already had an agency logo on my site so she could send the state’s web cops after me. It’s illegal to use certain official state graphics on a private web site. I knew this, which is why I was asking for a legal logo to add to my legal web site. I played along and as expected got nothing. Lesson learned, don’t waste time with the web site feedback option on the MassDOT contact page.

One National Motorists Association activist has a technique for cross examination that seems like disjointed rambling, but in fact he’s remembered the answers to those apparently unrelated questions. In a few minutes he’ll ask a question similar to one that came before. If the police officer is just making stuff up, which is likely because police don’t remember details of routine traffic stops, he’ll make up a different answer next time.

Being a good liar is hard if you need to keep details consistent. Imagine you’ve borrowed somebody’s license to get into a bar underage. You memorized the facts on the license. Do you know the nearest cross street to “your” home address?

If you get one of the judges who sleeps better at night if he dispenses an occasional “not guilty” verdict, this technique might work. Or you may not be allowed to cross-examine long enough to make your point. Or the judge may believe the officer lied about some details but told the truth about the important facts.

Or the officer may admit he doesn’t remember anything except the radar reading and your definitely going 56-in-a-55 face, and the judge could accept that. Much of the time there’s no need to lie.

A study published last year said you look more guilty when your actions are played back in slow motion.

I once read a court decision that turned on that point. Asked about a theft, a man replied something like “I don’t know, ask Bill.” He was convicted of lying to police, because he did know Bill did it. In spoken English, “I don’t know, ask Bill”, spoken quickly, means “ask Bill.” In written English, and in the legal system played back a word at a time, it is a literal statement of fact.

If you remember that anything you say can be used against you, a moment’s pause to reflect can save you trouble later on.

The opinions expressed in this post belong to the author and do not necessarily represent those of the National Motorists Association or the NMA Foundation. This content is for informational purposes and is not intended as legal advice. No representations are made regarding the accuracy of this post or the included links.

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