I write about traffic tickets from time to time and every time I do, I hear an old folk remedy: “Adjourn the hearing and the cop won’t show. Guaranteed!” No, that will probably not help you; all it will do is annoy the court clerks. And yes, they know why you are asking.
I’m being kind calling it a folk remedy. It’s actually an urban legend. The thinking goes like this: You get a court date. The police officer gets all fired up to go in and testify against you. You - at the last minute! - ask for an adjournment or a rescheduling. The court grants it. If you are really crafty, you repeat the process until the police officer tires of getting all dressed up for nothing. You win.
Except that’s not how it works. I have gotten so tired of arguing about this one point that I called a friend of mine who is the court administrator for one of the larger courts in the metro Detroit area. I told her why I was calling and I could hear her roll her eyes over the phone. You see: Police officers go to court all the time. It’s part of their job. And yours is not the only ticket the officer has to deal with.
The court I am referencing is typical of the courts in Michigan (yes, YMMV in another state). This court sets two days aside per week for “ordinance” cases. If your ticket is written under a local ordinance (say a local police officer wrote you for doing ten over on the street that runs past the court) you will be summoned to court on one of those two days a few weeks hence.
When you call the court with your fancy-pants adjournment trick, the clerk will simply bump your date to one of those two days a few more weeks hence. The only difference between date one and date two (besides the temporal one) is the hypothetical possibility that the officer’s memory of the event has now aged by a couple of weeks. How much does that strengthen your case? How convoluted are the facts of your speeding infraction?
But what if the officer can’t make it on Date 2? The same thing as if he could not make it on Date 1 - which does happen. And that outcome depends on the court and the judge. Many courts will adjourn the hearing to allow the officer to attend. Hey, they gave you an adjournment once - why can’t the officer have one? More than likely, he or she can just as easily make it to date 2 as to date 1. After all, if they write a lot of tickets they spend a lot of time in that court on at least one of those two days.
Have I seen a ticket thrown out because an officer didn’t show? Yes, I have seen that too. But it usually happens in the one or two courts that have that as a hard rule (and they are the exception) OR when an officer failed to show more than once. Interestingly enough, I have seen more of them tossed when the defendant had an attorney - and the attorney asked. But that is a slightly different scenario because the client paid the attorney to be there and went to more expense than the typical do-it-yourselfer. I have seen a defendant without an attorney ask a court to dismiss the ticket and the judge said, “We will adjourn for the officer.” After the defendant had sat there all morning, waiting to see if the officer would show.
Every time I write about this, someone will invariably say that I am wrong because they did it once and it worked. “My single experience disproves your general rule based on a larger data set.” I have always been curious about this phenomenon so I consulted Thomas B. Spademan, PhD, JD, a professor of philosophy at Mott College. What is this argument known as? It is a fallacy of induction known as a Hasty Generalization - a conclusion drawn from an inadequate sample. The fact that you tried something once and it worked means that your suggestion is possible. To believe that something you tried once with success makes something probable is a fallacy.
Can you ask for an adjournment? Sure. Should you? Depends on whether you need it (do it) or think it is going to help you escape a ticket (don’t). In the long run, all it really does is annoy the court staff who have to answer the phone, listen to your bad excuse, and send out new notices. And if you did it once and it worked, that’s nice. Nice, but not a rule. To say otherwise is a fallacy.
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Steve Lehto has been practicing law for 23 years, almost exclusively in consumer protection and Michigan lemon law. He wrote The Lemon Law Bible and Chrysler’s Turbine Car: The Rise and Fall of Detroit’s Coolest Creation.
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