Whether it’s a lawyer trying to get their client out of trouble, or someone trying to find their own round-about way of clearing their name, loopholes and weird laws make their way into courtrooms more often than you’d think. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t, but it’s always entertaining either way.
1. A Crack In The Defense
I won a case in NYC where my client tried to exploit a really stupid law, which I was able to use to win the case. This was a slip and fall case where my client had tripped on a piece of broken sidewalk outside of the Natural History Museum and shattered her arm and wrist. The law is that a property owner is responsible for the sidewalk directly outside of their property.
Even if they can’t fix it, they have a duty to warn people about hazards and mark the area off. The museum was owned by the city. There’s another concept called sovereign immunity, which is that governments can’t be sued without their consent. It seems that the city has won, but unfortunately, they had also passed a very stupid law.
The law stated that the city would be exempt from sovereign immunity if it can be proven that the city was aware of the hazard that caused the accident. Meaning, you would have to show that you informed the Secretary of State/Governor/Mayor etc. of the exact specific crack in the sidewalk before the injury occurs, and you had to do so in writing with ample time for the city to remedy it (180 days in advance IIRC).
Under normal circumstances, this is impossible because no one anticipates tripping on the sidewalk 180 days in advance. And they almost never have the foresight to write a letter to the mayor about that specific crack. Luckily, someone came up with an ingenious plan. There was a non-profit which would go around the city and record with insane specificity each and every crack, pothole, protrusion, and other hazard.
They then publish these maps while serving copies to the government, with the express purpose of combatting sovereign immunity defenses in slip and fall cases against the government. I got a hold of one of these maps and visited the site. I was able to take pictures of the section of the sidewalk where my client fell.
You could see newly placed concrete over the area in the exact position indicated on the map, showing that the sidewalk had been repaired after my client slipped. Unaware of my research, the government’s attorney brought up the sovereign immunity defense and outlined all of the stupid steps I would have needed to go through to overcome their motion to dismiss.
My response was, “Oh you mean this?” and gave them the map. Immediate settlement.
2. It Never Hurts To Ask
My brother is a lawyer. He got a charge dropped for a client. Guy gets pulled over and the cop asks him to step out to perform the sobriety test after he admits to having consumed some number of beverages. He complies but after stepping out of his car asks the officer if it’s ok for him to reposition his vehicle to move it further away from the road.
He claimed it was because he felt uncomfortable with it being that close to the road. The cop obliges. Apparently, the charge got dropped because the officer willingly let an intoxicated individual operate a motor vehicle.
3. Words Matter
I had a case where a guy was charged for running a red light. The thing is, he had been sitting at the light for over 5 minutes and it hadn’t changed. The wording of the specific section under which he was charged with running the red related to stop signs and traffic lights and referred to them as “traffic regulation devices.”
I successfully argued that as the traffic light wasn’t changing, it wasn’t regulating traffic but completely stopping it. The judge actually dismissed the ticket. I couldn’t believe it when the judge ruled in my favor, neither could the prosecutor!
4. But Why Sue The Dentists?
I was doing some research for a case when I was a law student and found something wild. What happened was this: A man sued the College of Dental Surgeons (among others) for “persecuting him” and interfering in his ability to live as a “genetic Martian.” The plaintiff claimed that he had been cloned from space debris NASA found in the 1960s.
He claimed he had a genetic test to prove this, but it had been doctored by the CIA as part of the conspiracy against him. Well, naturally, this claim raises the concern that the plaintiff was bonkers, but there was no evidence (aside from his bizarre claims). In court, the case was handled in two ways. First, they decided that the case was patently frivolous and vexatious because it was absurd. But the second part was so crazy, my jaw dropped.
The judge held that only a “person” could commence an action in Ontario. The Rules of Civil Procedure define a “person” to be either a human being or a corporation. The plaintiff’s whole case was based on him being a Martian. If he was not a Martian, his case had no merit. If he was a Martian, he lacked standing to commence a lawsuit in Ontario!
In short, we now have precedent that Martians cannot sue in Ontario.
5. We’re All Forgetful Sometimes
Over 10 years ago, I had been at fault for rear-ending someone. I had no insurance and my license had expired. I don’t think I need to mention that I was in a very destitute, low place in life, struggling with almost every conceivable aspect of living. The cop was very kind as we talked, but wrote me a ticket for everything.
One was kind of a fix-it ticket about my suspended license. I sorted that out in the days after and nothing came of it. The cop had mentioned that he HAD to write the insurance ticket, but I could take it into court and get it lowered. I was desperate to try and get my $800 insurance ticket lowered because I couldn’t afford something like that.
So I took the cop’s advice. I went into traffic court weeks later and when it was my time to chat with the judge, he looked at the ticket and said, “I would like to use Mr. Southseattle’s case as an example to the gallery.” I almost lost my mind. He went on, “This is a court of law, but it is also a court of fairness. It seems the officer didn’t write the date of the incident in the ticket.”
“I can’t hold Mr. Southseattle accountable to this.” My jaw dropped. I stood there. The judge had to tell me I was free to go twice before it registered. I’m pretty sure that cop deliberately didn’t write the date on that ticket. Thanks, officer.
6. Buckle ‘Em If You’ve Got ‘Em
I had a case here in Hawaii that got thrown out. My client got pulled over because the officer saw that she had way too many passengers in the car. Then they noticed that she was inebriated. Open and shut case. Well, in Hawaii, there’s no law defining the maximum number of passengers you can have in a private vehicle.
So, the issue then became that all the extra passengers weren’t wearing seatbelts. This failed also, because the law only says that every available seatbelt needs to be in use. If you have six passengers and only five seatbelts, there’s nothing at all wrong about the sixth being unrestrained. There was nothing the judge could do about the extra passengers.
Since there was no probable cause to pull her over in the first place, even though she was indefensibly intoxicated, the whole thing got thrown out. Hawaii has some very counterintuitive laws. If your truck has seats installed in the bed, your passengers must be buckled up. If not, they can just party back there. People regularly ride down the freeway in truck beds while sitting in lawn chairs.
7. Always Do Your Research
A client had been drinking and decided to ride his horse through town. This was a small town in North Carolina. He would stop at each intersection and fire his pistol in the air like some Wild West cowboy. Anyway, the guy was charged with disorderly driving and discharging a firearm within city limits. Which could end up being a serious charge.
But as I soon found out, it is mandatory that you must fire your firearm into the air at an intersection when coming through town on your horse. An old blue law that never got erased. He still got the disorderly driving charge and his horse got impounded but the dumbfounded judge dropped the other charges.
8. The Burden Of Proof Is Heavy
Had a client who was a truck driver. He got various penal infractions for issues with his truck. Several thousand dollars in fines basically. Anyway, the evidence is pretty damning. Lots of pictures showing defects, a detailed description by the traffic control officer, and so on. However, to find him guilty the prosecutor has to prove that the vehicle he was driving a heavy vehicle.
The law says that a “heavy vehicle” has a gross vehicle weight rating of 4,500 kg or more. The traffic control officer had not listed the weight of the vehicle in his report. There were pictures of it (it was clearly an 18-wheel truck) in the report, but no weight was written anywhere. The prosecution hadn’t proven the weight of the vehicle per the definition of “heavy vehicle.”
The pictures don’t prove the numerical weight, just the shape of the vehicle. It could have been a very small 18-wheeler. The judge had no choice but to acquit him because all of the infractions he had received were for a “heavy vehicle” operator, so he can’t be guilty if they can’t prove he was operating a heavy vehicle.
9. A Cherished Heirloom
I once had a client who woke up in the middle of the night to the sound of someone in his home. He retrieved a Colt 1911 from a bedside drawer, walked into his living room and confronted a figure in the dark. The person didn’t identify himself but moved towards my client who fired a single shot that went through the person’s shoulder.
Turned out that it was my client’s stepson who had snuck out, was drinking underage, and then stumbled home. The biggest problem with the situation was that my client was a convicted felon. Several times over. That meant that while the shooting itself was technically self-defense, his possession of the Colt was not allowed.
We looked into the history of the Colt itself as our client had indicated it had belonged to his grandfather who had served in the US Army in the early 20th century. Ultimately, we were able to bring multiple experts in and establish that the Colt had been among the very first batch of items distributed from Colt to the US Army at the Augusta Armory.
In Florida, felons are not allowed to possess such things—except if the Colt in question was an antique (meaning it was manufactured prior to 1918). Since we had established the history of the Colt and it had been manufactured before 1918, our client couldn’t be prosecuted for the offense and got out from underneath a potential mandatory prison sentence.
10. Sometimes, Urine Need Of A Lawyer
I once won a case about the possession and transport of human urine in order to fool a urine screen. I had a client who was caught with a little container of alleged urine that he may or may not have been about to use to mess up a drug screen. Since he hadn’t messed with a drug screen or actually tried to mess with one yet, he couldn’t be charged with that.
So instead, he was charged with trying to transport human urine with the intent to fool a urine screening test. This led to the most bizarre moment of my entire career. I got to argue that 1) the prosecution hadn’t proven it was human urine (they hadn’t tested it) and 2) they deprived us of the opportunity to test it because the officer poured it out before giving the container back to the client.
My client could literally testify it wasn’t human urine and his testimony was the closest anyone had to the truth. Since it wasn’t proven to be human urine, and he wasn’t actually caught doing anything with it, they had to let him go. This trial was a golden moment in my career.
11. Like Daughter, Like Mother
I had a client with a serious medical problem that cost her her job, and she was preparing to file bankruptcy on the medical bills and credit card debts. Thing was, she had like $15,000 socked away and didn’t tell me. It was all that was left of her life savings. Before we filed her case, she gave it to her mom for safekeeping.
What she didn’t know is that she could have kept the money through the bankruptcy…but giving it away beforehand is a no-no. I had to tell the court when I found out, and when this happens the court gets the right to sue the mom for the $15,000. The thing is, the mom’s debt to her daughter’s bankruptcy court was also dischargeable in bankruptcy.
So, after the mom was sued, she filed bankruptcy too, and they got to keep the money after all.
12. An Expensive View
Early in my career, I had a case in which my client’s neighbor cut down a bunch of shrubs and small trees bordering their properties because they blocked his view. This irritated my client as he wanted his privacy. Now, the monetary damages were actually not that much and this was looking like a case that really couldn’t be litigated for what the client could afford.
However, in researching the issue I found a rather obscure law that provides for attorneys’ fees to a winning Plaintiff when a Defendant has willfully damaged the “border” foliage of a “ranch” or “farm.” I realized that my client’s property qualified for the statute, as he used his land for growing a variety of produce. The other side quickly caved and wrote a big check to cover the damages.
13. The Value Of Family
Here in Texas if you get in an accident on a public road with someone that you are related to, you can’t sue the driver unless the crash was intentional or reckless. It’s a decades-old statute that doesn’t get trotted out often, but I stumbled on it and it managed to be the saving grace for a client who was being sued by his in-laws for a crash while taking them to the airport.
14. Try To Do Your Business In The Daytime
In Belgium, a break-in during the night is punished more severely than a break-in during the day. The question then is: When does the night start? The night officially starts at sundown and ends when the sun comes up. This case happened before the internet was widely available, and basically every household had the same calendar (‘de druivelaar’).
This calendar was known by everyone as THE standard calendar for checking the times of sunrise and sunset. In court, the prosecutor used the calendar to state that the sun went down on the day (or night, as it were) of the break-in at 9:36 p.m. Since my client was caught by the authorities at 9:38, the more severe punishment was in order. Basically, he was screwed—until we came up with a plan.
My office found it unfair that the guy had a more severe punishment for breaking in only two minutes after sunset. So, they started looking into it and came upon the Belgium Royal Stargazing Observatory which is the authorized association that records weather and things like that. So, we wrote them a letter (before emails, remember).
We asked what time the sun actually went down that day. Lo and behold, the certificate from the royal observatory stated that the sun went down at 9:39 that day! Client got the lighter punishment for a daytime break-in, not for a break-in at night.
15. All You Have To Do Is Ask
A statute disallowed people from building structures in the park (ie. homeless tents). My guy gets picked up as he had been living in the park. I didn’t have much time to prepare as it was considered a quick and easy case. I looked quickly at the statute, and saw that there was an exception if whoever erected the structure had permission.
They can get permission from governors, mayors, or the parks dept permission. I asked why the ticket didn’t say they checked for permission before it was issued. The court wasn’t able to prove whether or not permission was granted. So, it was dismissed for lack of probable cause.
16. What’s Yours Is Mine
Where I live, gifts given in contemplation of marriage are conditional on the marriage taking place. If I were to give you an engagement ring and you break off the wedding, you have to return the ring. You might get to keep it only if I’m the one to break it off. This is one of those things they teach in law school as a silly law that will never actually come up in real life.
It came up. Someone was charged with robbing his ex-fiancée because he demanded the return of a ring at knife-point. Well, thievery requires at least an attempt at theft, and it turns out it was his ring so he couldn’t be charged. He didn’t get off completely though as he had still been brandishing a knife.
17. Not As Cruel Intentions
My father was hired by a guy who had intentionally run over a possum mom and about 8 babies that had been eating his crops. He was charged with nine counts of animal cruelty. Each charge had something like a minimum of a year behind bars and a significant fine. My dad filed a motion to completely dismiss the charges.
Per state law at the time, possums are not technically animals, but vermin. The State’s organization responsible for vermin (I think Natural Resources) produces pamphlets on how to kill possums by drowning. He argues that the client in fact did less harm to the possums than the state itself directs people to do. The case was dismissed.
18. Six Of One And Half A Dozen Of Another
We once won a case, but it didn’t quite go as planned. I had a client a while ago who was incarcerated at a state prison farm. Inmates had to spend 40-60 hours a week preparing slop for the hogs from expired restaurant food and cleaning the hog barns. He reeked every time I met with him, even after showering—he said it was miserable, and I believed him.
Well, he found out that some Muslim inmates, who couldn’t work with pigs, were offered to be able to work a horse stable instead, five minutes down the road. He wanted to sue, saying that stable work is MUCH less revolting than hog work, and that this amounted to unequal punishment on the basis of religion.
I thought he had a point. Well, the case didn’t get thrown out and actually got some traction, but then the prison changed their policies in response. Inmates who couldn’t work around pigs, or didn’t want to, would instead be transported to a factory chicken barn the next county over for work each day.
19. Things Aren’t Always What They Seem
I won a case when I was pretty new. The facts were that the client had allegedly shoved a BB gun down his sock and was messing around at a local fast-food restaurant. They found the item on his person when they restrained him and charged him with carrying a concealed weapon. Notably, it was the kind of thing that used a CO2 cartridge.
Anybody who knows anything about BB guns knows that you can do some proper damage with them, so it kind of makes sense that you shouldn’t really be allowed to shove whatever you want down your sock and act the fool in a crowded public setting. The problem was the law about this sort of thing was pretty specific.
Under the law, a concealed weapon has to be, amongst other things, a firearm or similar weapon that issues a projectile by means of the explosion of a combustible substance. I read that, and couldn’t help but start grinning. I won the case because a CO2 cartridge is definitionally neither combustible nor does it explode. While the BB gun was a weapon that was concealed, it wasn’t technically a concealed weapon.
20. It’s Not A Problem If It Doesn’t Exist
A law principle states that you can’t be charged with something when there is no law prohibiting the act. In the 2000s, the ILOVEYOU computer bug caused billions of dollars in damage all over the world. At that time, there was no law prohibiting the creation of computer viruses. The creator could not be held liable, so he went free. Despite billions of dollars in damages, he was not prosecuted.
21. Delaying The Inevitable
Unfortunately, I used to workcases. The plaintiff was listed as a beneficiary on his father’s life insurance policy. His father had been missing for around a year, and he had anecdotal evidence to suggest that his father was no more. And so, the plaintiff tried to have him declared dead. Sound simple right? Just wait.
The law requires there to be more than 3 years since last contact unless there was solid evidence that proved the person was no longer living (evidence like a body or excessive amounts of blood). It hadn’t been 3 years yet, and the plaintiff’s evidence wasn’t solid. So, my client (the insurance company) was off the hook for the next two years.
22. A Born Lawyer
Prior to becoming an attorney, I worked retail for a few months. The way my assistant manager scheduled me, I had to work 10 days straight (including a couple of 12-hour shifts) with no days off and minimal overtime. The way they got around the overtime was by scheduling me the last 5 days of one week and the first five days of the second week.
So I only worked 40 hours in the workweek plus the 4 hours of overtime for the 12-hour shift. That did not seem right to me so I looked up the law in Virginia. While they could technically do that, there was an archaic law at the time in Virginia that stated if a non-essential or non-managerial worker wanted Sundays off, the job HAD to give the Sundays off without penalty.
This was true even if the worker agreed upon accepting the job to work on Sundays. The worker, under the law, could change his or her mind and ask for all Sundays off. As long as the worker was not essential or a manager, then the employer had to accommodate. I took the law to my manager and said that I was not going to work Sundays anymore.
He said that they wouldn’t schedule me that many days in a row anymore, but I still had to work Sundays. I told him that I did not and gave him the statute. It caused a big stink and I ultimately found a better job not long after—but I never worked a Sunday there again. Ironically, a few years later the Virginia General Assembly accidentally created a law that nullified the essential worker and manager bit of the Sunday law.
That made the news and suddenly people were aware of this archaic law that they could ask for Sundays off. I remember the news saying that no one knew about this law, but I thought to myself – I did!
23. Language Is A Beautiful Thing
I work as a lawyer and this is one of the most commonly used defenses. Usually, you try to argue that the officer did not have probable cause to pull you over, destroying the case. But if you can’t, many times you should either attack the character and trustworthiness of the officer during cross-examination, or point out inconsistencies in their story.
Sometimes you can use their own language against them, as many times they are not specific enough in their reports. I recently had to use this exact tactic in a case: “So officer; is it true that the smell of burnt marijuana smells much different than that of fresh unburnt marijuana?” “Yes” “And when you say you approached the defendant’s car you say that you smelled marijuana?”
“Surely, as an officer who understands how important it would be to distinguish between ‘marijuana’ and ‘burnt marijuana’ in a report, you would clarify if you smelled burnt marijuana correct?” “Yes” (If he had said no, he would essentially be admitting to being incompetent). Since the cop had stated he smelled marijuana, and not “burnt” marijuana, there was no charge.
The charges were decreased from driving while intoxicated to driving with possession as marijuana and burnt marijuana have two vastly different implications.
24. Two Wrongs Don’t Make A Right
Went to a friend’s house after dinner and drinks one night. I had a few, not inebriated or anything, and was in far better shape than the people I had driven there with. Anyway, I kind of half-blocked my friend’s neighbor’s driveway because of limited parking spaces and because the neighbor didn’t even own a car.
The neighbor cared way more than I expected and called the authorities. So being the most sober and since I parked the car, I had to go deal with it. I’m thinking to myself we’ve been here long enough that I’ve had three or four shots which means I’m definitely going to qualify as over the limit at this point if the cop turns out to be cranky.
He’s really nice and asks me to move the car, I’m half an inch from putting the keys in and said, “Sir, what are the chances I start this car and you give me a ticket because I’ve been forthcoming and honest with you about how much I’ve had to drink?” He paused for a second and said, “That’s a good point, because if something bad happens we’ll both be in trouble.” I felt like I’d dodged a bullet.
He then continued, “Put it in neutral and I’ll push you.” So that’s the story of a very nice officer who pushed a car like six feet to appease a cranky neighbor and kept my impatient self from getting a ticket for abiding by the law.
25. Arrest Me, I’m Irish
I had a roommate who got picked up for public intoxication one St Patrick’s Day. He was detained for a couple days, which seemed odd for public intoxication. Turned out he had a warrant from another city for escaping custody. The year before, he got picked up for public intoxication on St Patrick’s Day, of all days.
He had a hazy memory of being shuffled down a hallway with a bunch of other drunkards at the station before walking through a door and suddenly being alone outside. From there he just walked home. No one ever came looking for him, so he wasn’t even sure it happened. Anyhow, it turns out they never even properly booked him.
So, while there was a warrant for him escaping custody, there was no record of him ever being picked up. When the case went to court, it was dismissed. Turns out you can’t technically escape from custody if you were never properly placed into custody in the first place.
26. And They Told Me “Pizza Scientist” Wasn’t A Real Job
I served on a jury once where a part of it involved the age of some pizza found on the scene. Watching an old, grizzled detective having to lay a foundation of how he was knowledgeable enough about pizza to be able to testify as to the age of a pizza based on appearance was a sight to behold.
27. Should Have Just Answered The Question
I was working on a trial in Texas. A man had been taken in for assaulting his sister-in-law. She called him something that apparently is a horrible slur if you’re from Azerbaijan, he then smacked her and authorities were called. The man was charged. But in Texas, one of the things the prosecution is supposed to prove is that the alleged act actually happened in that County.
Usually, they do this with a throwaway question by asking the officer for the address they reported to and then specifying the county it’s in. In this case, the officers just kept saying “the defendant’s residence” and the defense attorney was smart enough not to correct them until after the closing of evidence. He moved for a directed verdict as literally no evidence was on the record about a county.
28. Who Are You Going To Believe?
One of my clients got charged while in his car. He was sleeping in a parked car on the shoulder of a road rural road across from a restaurant. Witnesses called in that he was inebriated and had pulled over, stumbled out of his car, urinated on the roadway, and then fell asleep in the car. When officers arrive the body camera shows him absolutely hammered and stumbling.
The officer asked him when he started drinking and he slurs out that he had started drinking at 9 am (it was about 5 pm). He takes it to jury trial. His version of events in court was that he was driving sober, had pulled over, and then began drinking only once he was parked on the side of the road and therefore never actually operated the vehicle while intoxicated.
Prosecution played the body camera of him hammered and stating he had been drinking since 9 am. The prosecution focused the jury’s attention on the video statement and my client’s in-court statements saying that it was obvious that both weren’t true. That’s when I realized what I had to do. As his attorney, I stated that since he was clearly intoxicated in the body cam video, it was unreasonable to believe that he was telling the truth.
He was incredibly intoxicated when he said that he had been drinking since 9 am, his in-court statement was more credible. I essentially argued that you couldn’t convict him of being too intoxicated to drive based on the evidence against him, because he was too intoxicated to make the evidence against him credible when he made the statement against himself. The wildest part is that he was acquitted.
29. So Many Terrible Options
I worked as a lawyer on a case where a city had made a bylaw stating that if you were caught not picking up your dog’s poop, then you would be forced to pick it up with your own hands. A citizen’s advocacy group got the law changed as they felt that was “cruel and unnecessary.” But it wasn’t changed by much.
The city simply added the option to pay a large fine. Now the options were, pick it up with bare hands or pay a hefty fine. Most people will choose to voluntarily use the bag in the first place.
30. Location, Location, Location
I won my case by exploiting a technicality in my jurisdiction. My case needed to be tried at a certain court, but they tried me in another court. And by trying me in the “wrong” court, they basically broke the law. I made them aware of this, and had my case dismissed.
31. Sometimes, Being Vague Is The Best Option
When I was in high school my friends and I used to drop flour on cars. This is stupid, and you should not do this. Pour a half-cup of flour onto a damp paper towel, twist into a little sack, and tie it off with a rubber band. Throw it at someone/something. I was caught by the authorities and given a fine of $360, the maximum allowed for what I was being charged with.
I contested it because I was broke and figured the officer wouldn’t show up to traffic court. The language of this law was oddly specific. I was charged with “throwing or placing a dangerous or injurious object in a roadway.” If the language had been left at this, it would have been pretty easy for them to enforce this and I would have had no choice but to pay.
But the law went on to define, with strange specificity, what constituted “dangerous or injurious” objects. It included things like rocks, pine cones, plates, tires, and on and on and on…but nowhere did it say anything about flour, or food, or paper towels, or rubber bands. I had no idea what I was doing, but when it was my turn, I got up in front of the court and pulled out a law book.
I presented a flour packet I made nervously explained why I didn’t think this met their definition. The DA and the officer who gave me the ticket had an exchange, and then spoke with the judge for a minute. They did not look all that pleased, but after a minute or so the judge just said I was free to go and that the fine was dismissed. I can’t believe it worked.
A few people started laughing and a bunch of people clapped, which I must admit felt kind of awesome. But I want to be clear, this was a dumb thing to do and not exactly in the spirit of the law. I was a bad kid and got away with it.
32. Want To Take My Couch? I’ll Take All Your Time Instead
I received a letter from SDRO (State Debt Recovery Organisation) stating that I had unpaid debts. They gave me 30 days to pay them, otherwise they would be arriving at my home to repossess everything I owned—this included furniture. This really upset me. I’ve never had unpaid debts. In addition, I lived in an apt with my brothers and shared my belongings with them.
Who were these people to threaten they would take all my furniture and belongings…with 30 days’ notice? When I checked the details of the notice, it was for unpaid traffic fines…from more than a decade ago. The most recent notice was from 13 years ago, the oldest was from 15 years ago. With interest and other penalties, they wanted a couple of thousand dollars—big money to me at the time.
Now when I was in my early 20s I did have a motorbike, and I did rack up a few speeding fines…but I paid them! Back then you had to pay them, because if you didn’t, your license got canceled. My license had never been canceled. I paid the fines by money order. And a few years later these notices arrived. I called SDRO to say these charges were invalid, they had been paid years ago.
They said no problem, we just need a letter from the issuing authority to say so. I checked…the issuing authority no longer existed. It had been closed down years ago and a new government authority, the RTA, now existed. I called the SDRO back and they said, “Sorry but unless the relevant authority says the debt has been paid, we cannot cancel.”
But the relevant authority no longer existed. This seemed Kafkaesque to me. I then called the Sydney central court. One of the clerks there took pity on me and gave me a huge tip: When they shut down the old government authority and started up the new one, they had of course had to transfer records from the old one to the new one.
She thought my payments might have been made at the time of the transfer, and somehow not been recorded on the old system OR the new one. My first clue. This is where things started getting messy. I contacted the SDRO again and told them I believed these debts HAD been paid, and been accidentally resurrected in the course of switching systems.
This time one of their lawyers wrote to me and said I had not proved this was the case and that the debt still stood. I told him the debts WERE paid, and because seven years had passed, I no longer had to provide proof that I had done it. In the next letter he told me that, because the debts were for traffic offenses, they became a court matter and did not expire after 7 years, and still stood.
My next letter: I told him it only became a court matter IF they were unpaid. However, I said they HAD been paid, therefore they were no longer a court matter, therefore I no longer had to supply proof they had been paid. As you are claiming a debt against me; I don’t have to prove they are unpaid. Instead, it’s up to you to prove they were.
The debts were canceled or assumed to be paid off. I’m glad I won in the end, but…can you imagine receiving claims for debts more than a decade old? To this day, I’m not sure if my debts were canceled because I had proved my case or made myself so annoying that they didn’t want to bother with me anymore.
33. Keep Up With Your Correspondence
My mom was getting sued by a debt collection company that was well known for suing people as a means of threatening them. I had some time and I looked up the laws on debt collection. Where we lived at the time, you had the right to demand in writing that they provide evidence that they actually hold the debt.
They had a certain amount of time to respond under the law or they forfeit any right they had to collect said debt. I sent them a certified letter. We never heard back from them. When we went to court, I submitted the receipt for the certified letter and said they had failed to provide the proof within the appropriate time frame and cited the law. Case dismissed.
34. Who Knew The DMV Could Be Helpful?
We purchased a motorcycle at the beginning of the year. DMVs are horribly backed up and we got an appointment as soon as we possibly could to get plates and registration. Day of the appointment we are very excited to finally have everything properly registered. We go get a VIN verification, which didn’t take as long as we thought so we went for lunch.
We parked and then came back to a ticket for no plates on the vehicle. The officer wrote the ticket for a city ordinance that states it is an offense to drive or park “any vehicle that has been assigned a license plate or plates” without having a plate attached to said vehicle. Great news. I haven’t been assigned a license plate.
35. Keep Your Eyes On The Prize
I actually got out of a ticket because of a super-hot girlfriend. My lawyer decided to try the improper procedures route. I refused to do the breathalyzer test on-site, requesting to blow at the station. They had to do three consecutive tests, and I was allowed a witness to attend the tests. I called my girlfriend.
One of the rules is that the officer performing the test must keep his eyes on the accused throughout all three tests, to ensure nothing fishy happened. My lawyer called my smoke show girlfriend to the stand, and argued that the officer performing the test HAD to have taken his eyes off of me to look at her. I won.
36. It May Not Be Wise, But It’s Still Allowed
I had to go to court as the lawyer for one of my clients who got a traffic ticket. He was up for driving on a suspended license following a driving conviction. Facts of the case were that he was stopped at a stop sign riding a motorcycle without a helmet. Cop pulls up behind him, turns on lights then goes through the process of running his info.
The license comes back suspended, queue a couple days behind bars before a court date. I get up and start asking the cop questions, “What street was he on? What is the speed limit on that street?” Cop answers and states that the speed limit on that street was 35 mph. I pull out a state law that says helmets are not required when on streets with a speed limit of 35 mph or less.
Since he wasn’t breaking the law by not having a helmet on, then there was no reason for the stop. Judge looks at sheet, looks at cop, looks at defendant, then tells defendant that he got his money’s worth and dismissed the case.
37. This Truth Can’t Be Buried
Represented a sweet little old lady in the Seattle area after her husband passed on. In the limo heading to the burial at the (large, old) cemetery, the lady is horrified and becomes emotional as they drive by their previously paid-for burial plots to a whole other area of the cemetery. Family tells her she is distraught and not thinking straight.
She remembers otherwise. My boss sends me to go meet her at her home, and she tells me her husband had bought both of them plots in the Masonic section. Turns out they had buried him not in the Masonic section, but a whole other area. She hands me pristine cemetery deeds in perfect condition, still in their original envelopes.
I could have kissed her. This being the early days of color copiers, I make copies of said deeds, draft a complaint against the cemetery, and have it served to the cemetery president. He goes berserk and tries to deny everything, but once I have him on the phone, I have the courier deliver the color copies of the deeds.
Those sneaky people had re-sold Masonic section plots who-knows-how-many times over. My lady’s husband was one of the earliest remaining purchasers, but by the time he needed the plot that section was full up, and they just put him somewhere else. I didn’t find a loophole so much as I caught someone trying to create their own.
38. Think Before You Speak
In both Washington and Oregon, an officer has reasonable suspicion to make a stop if he hears about someone committing a felony from another officer. But, in Oregon only, he can only develop reasonable suspicion for a misdemeanor if he witnesses the alleged actions personally. Officers are trained to always say “based on my personal expertise and training” in court.
It doesn’t even mean anything anymore, it’s just a code phrase officers use instinctively. So, an Oregon officer busts our client as he was crossing the Washington-Oregon border in response to a call from the Washington authorities that the client had been caught doing something wrong. Officer says on the stand that he developed reasonable suspicion based on his personal expertise and training.
We confirmed that he was trained to be an Oregon officer, based on Oregon law. Then we pointed out that while the alleged action is a felony in Washington, it is a misdemeanor in Oregon, where the client was charged. So, if it was an Oregon-trained officer, then he would have had to have witnessed it personally.
The stop was ruled improper and our client was released. Would-be delinquents: Do not rely on this as judicial advice. It might not work a second time.
39. Don’t Think About Pink Elephants
The scenario is this: Two men on an armed forces base got into an argument and were struggling over a rifle. It went off and one of the two didn’t survive. The “shooter” said that he hadn’t pulled the trigger, it had just gone off. The family of the deceased disagreed. For reasons that have never been clear to me, this case was being handled in a civilian court on the condition that two corporals were part of the jury.
After everything had been presented, we the jury were about to head back to chambers to deliberate when the prosecution chimed in with one last request. They wanted the judge to prohibit us from re-enacting the event. There was some back and forth over this, but eventually, the judge agreed. It seemed weird—but it was all a part of a devious plan.
The judge asked us each to verbally confirm that we understood that we were prohibited from re-enacting the scene, which everyone including the corporals, agreed to. The moment the chamber doors were closed, the corporals walked over and took the rifle, and proceeded to tug back and forth with no fingers anywhere near the trigger.
CLICK. They looked at the rest of us and asked, “Do we need to bother with further discussion?” And an hour later we judged “Not Guilty.” The lawyer in question found out about it sometime later when he ran into one of the corporals in a bar. He laughed and said, “Yeah, when you all went back there, we knew that despite the declaration not to, that was OBVIOUSLY what was going to happen.”
40. The Rules Are The Rules
There was just a murder case in real life where they didn’t read someone their rights before *not* arresting him and grilling him in the station from 9:00 to 1:00 pm. I said *not* arresting him because they put him in the back of a locked patrol car, drove him to the station, and then put him in the interrogation room.
The officer’s defense was that they never charged him and he was free to go had he just asked to. After his incriminating and bizarre (mental health issues) interview the officers then read him his rights and charged him. Anyway, the judge made the entire interview inadmissible and then released the suspect because of a lack of probable cause.
41. Children Are Expensive
I work in the court system. One case that came in was a couple divorcing on mutual terms, the husband had one child with her and the wife had a child from the previous marriage. He agreed to pay child support for both children, I guess he really cared about this other kid enough to support her even though it isn’t his obligation.
Judge signs the order, they go to set up the child support account and it gets kicked back saying you can’t have two accounts for one child. Turns out she’s been collecting child support from the biological father the entire time and never told him. She basically tried to milk two fathers for one child…and the other attorney knew about it.
42. A Company Is Not The Same Thing As A Person
Sued a former employer for $3,500 in unpaid wages. It was a slam dunk (had a letter stating what my salary should be vs. paystubs that were less). I didn’t bother getting a lawyer to save on fees. Turns out the company thought they could do it without a lawyer as well. I show up to court and the manager of the local office is there with an affidavit from the CEO saying he’s allowed to represent the company in court.
The judge asks him if he’s an attorney, but no, just an employee. A company can’t have pro se representation. Judge immediately ruled in my favor. It felt fantastic.
43. A Nice Weekend Vacation
There has been a bit of controversy lately in Northern Ireland, and it is being amended as we speak. What has been happening is, people have been racking up huge sums of debt, in one instance a man owed £10,000 but refused to pay it back. He was sent to prison for a whole three days, and when he emerged, his debt was canceled.
In a news cover, he stated that it was great and he really enjoyed prison, he got three meals a day, a warm bed, and could play Xbox with his cellmate. Sure, you now have a record, but having thousands of £’s of debt canceled overnight could nearly be worth it.
44. Happy Birthday To You
When I was 17, I was really into doing thievery runs with friends (thievery is bad!) and finally, after more than a year of shenanigans at various grocery stores and gas stations, someone follows me out and calls in my license plate number. Hilarity ensues because I’m driving my dad’s car and they show up at my house.
They get directed to the friend’s house I’m at, and the authorities crash our party, giving out lots of tickets for underage drinking. I was severely grounded until my Juvenile Court case which took place one month later. Between the incident and the court date, I had turned 18. I showed up to the building on time and saw all of the kids involved and their parents. I was actually the first called in.
They very quickly told me that I’d be seeing a parole officer around a hallway, which was scary. My parents and I sat down and she flat-out said that because I was an adult, they couldn’t try me in juvenile court. I was asked to pay $60 and that was that. I couldn’t believe it. None of the kids involved talk to me to this day.
While I only had to pay a tiny fine, they had to do drinking awareness classes and ~150 hours of community service and it created a huge rift which, to be fair, is for the best, as they were mega hooligans and I don’t need that.
45. Jesus Preached Love And Kindness
In Arkansas, the prosecutor filed involuntary commitment against my neighbor who had come to believe he was Jesus Christ. Judge ruled against the commitment. The prosecutor asked how he could rule against committing someone clearly insane. The judge replied, “The law requires you to prove he’s a danger to himself or others and you didn’t do that…besides this Friday is Good Friday and he’s going to be locked away anyhow.”
46. Had He Only Known
My city has a rule requiring advance notice to the government for any hazards before the city is responsible for it. I learned about this when my roommate hit a bunch of concrete bags that had fallen off a DOT truck. On the freeway at night, he hit them at full speed. His car was totaled, but the city said, “Sorry, we are only liable if someone had given us advanced warning 30 days ago. We aren’t responsible for driving hazards that fall off our trucks until then.”
48. It’s All In The Wording
I did an internship with a family law judge in law school that involved me sitting in on a lot of stuff. One divorced couple came in because the ex-husband wanted to lower his spousal support payments, due to his lowered income, great financial responsibilities, and the fact that his ex-wife was declining to seek paid employment, all of which sounds reasonable on the face. Then the truth came out.
It turned out that while his income had been lowered due to “cuts,” his new wife, who technically worked as his “assistant” (and had done so prior to the divorce) was now making quadruple her salary, more than he ever had. He claimed that his ex-wife had “unpaid renters” living with her and could have money to survive if she charged them rent.
It turned out they were the couple’s shared 18-year-old twins who were living at home having just graduated high school. He claimed that his ex-wife worked as a nanny for free by choice and should be getting paid for work elsewhere. The kids she watched for free were their three joint grandchildren from their eldest child, two of which were severely disabled.
He claimed that when he married his new wife, he gained over 15 new dependants, which was technically true, but those defendants were all in Mexico and included his new wife’s grown siblings and their families, none of whom he had ever met. This dude was shocked when spousal support wasn’t decreased even though he tried so hard to find himself a loophole.
48. It’s Easier To Ask For Forgiveness, Rather Than Permission
I was mediating a divorce in Virginia that got a little ugly and complicated. The female spouse was cheating on her well-off male spouse. The man found out and started the divorce proceedings. Because the woman had been caught cheating, she would get no spousal support. She did however find out about her own little loophole.
There’s a concept called condonation, which means if you sleep with someone after knowing they committed adultery, you have forgiven them and can get spousal support. Well, one night of text messages and a few photos later, forgiveness was achieved. The wife received a lucrative spousal settlement based on the new information.
49. Not Everyone Knows About Cars
A friend is an attorney in NY and got a case dismissed because the trooper perjured himself on the stand. Long story short, it came down to the trooper testifying in open court, under oath (obviously), that he’d witnessed that the key to the defendant’s car was in the ignition when the trooper approached him.
My buddy asked the trooper two or three times if he was absolutely certain that he had seen the keys in the ignition and then asked the trooper what make and model the car was. It was a Toyota Prius. And this was the model that didn’t have an ignition slot for the key, just a button.
50. Be Careful What You Wish For
My client was a super-wealthy guy who was a top exec at a Fortune 500 company who was getting a divorce and it was rather nasty. This guy was pretty much set for life, he had a bunch of stock, houses, and assets in so many places. The ex-wife wanted everything she could possibly get. The husband came up with an idea that if she let him keep everything, he would give her half of his paycheck for the rest of his life.
She quickly agreed because his checks were huge and this also included any bonuses, which were in the millions. As soon as the paperwork was finalized, he quit his job and started to work part-time at a sporting goods store (I can’t remember which one). He still had all of his assets so he would drive to work in a super expensive car.
The guy was set for life and didn’t even need to work at all, but every Friday when he got his paycheck it made everything so worth it knowing his ex-wife would only be getting about $150 per week.