Questions and Answers about Defenses in Municipal Court Traffic Cases
This document provides general information and is not intended to be legal advice. If you have any questions about what the city must prove in order to obtain a conviction or about what defenses may be available to you, please address those questions to the judge in open court.
Q. I committed a traffic violation, but I did not intend to do it. Can I still be found guilty?
A. In most cases, yes. Most municipal traffic violations are “strict liability” offenses. This means the city does not have to prove you intended to commit the violation or that you had any “culpable mental state.” That is, the city need not prove you acted intentionally, knowingly, recklessly or negligently; the city must only prove that you committed a prohibited act (or failed to perform a required act).
For example, failing to stop at a stop sign is a strict liability offense. If you did not see the stop sign and therefore failed to stop, you did not intend to run the stop sign. Nevertheless, you failed to stop as required and are therefore guilty of the violation. (This assumes the stop sign was posted as required by law).
Speeding is another strict liability offense. You may not realize how fast you are going and you may not intend to exceed the speed limit, but you are nevertheless guilty of speeding if you exceed the posted limit.
Q. What if I was speeding because my speedometer was not working properly?
A. It does not matter because the city is not required to prove you knew you were speeding. Moreover, Section 7-2-7 of the Boulder Revised Code (B.R.C.) provides that mechanical failure of any kind is not a defense to a strict liability traffic violation.
Q. What if I caused an accident because my vehicle’s brakes failed?
A. Again, mechanical failure is not a defense to a strict liability traffic offense. The law requires drivers to keep their vehicles in proper condition at all times. (Mechanical failure could be relevant in traffic cases that require the city to prove the defendant acted intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly, because mechanical failure would tend to show the defendant lacked the required culpable mental state).
Q. Are all traffic violations strict liability offenses?
A. No. While most municipal traffic violations are strict liability offenses, there are several offenses that require the city to prove the driver possessed a culpable mental state to obtain a conviction. For example, to prove a charge of inattentive driving the city must prove that the defendant drove in a careless, inattentive, negligent or imprudent manner. Similarly, to prove a charge of reckless driving, the city must prove that the defendant demonstrated a willful or wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property, or violated one of the other provisions of the reckless driving ordinance.
Q. What if I committed a traffic violation in order to avoid an accident?
A. Necessity is a defense if and only if:
Note that necessity is not a defense if you were partly responsible of creating the hazard in the first place.
Q. My vehicle collided with the car in front of me, but I feel the driver of that vehicle caused the accident by failing to obey the law. Is that a defense?
A. In some cases, it could be. If you are charged with failing to avoid interfering with the vehicle ahead of you in violation of Section 7-4-55 of the B.R.C., it is an affirmative defense to the charge that the driver of the other vehicle violated any ordinance governing right-of-way, turning, lane use, passing, or parking, and the other driver’s violation was the proximate cause of the collision or interference.
Note: There may be other defenses applicable to specific charges. The defense of malfunctioning traffic signal is governed by Section 7-4-8 of the B.R.C., which differs somewhat from the state statute. See also, sections 7-4-22(c), 7-4-30, and 7-4-53(b).
Last Updated on Friday, 29 June 2012 10:17