Law Prof. Turns Traffic-Cam Ticket Into 'Trial of the Century'

By Casey C. Sullivan, Esq. on January 18, 2017 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

When Adam MacLeod got a traffic-cam ticket, he wasn't about to just cut a check and call it a day. Being an associate professor of law, MacLeod decided to fight the ticket. Or rather, as he describes it, to turn "a routine traffic ticket into the constitutional trial of the century."

Not one to toot his own horn, MacLeod says he's recounting his tale of legal terror and triumph "only to show how our ruling elites have corrupted the rule of law and to suggest why this matters for the American experiment in self-governance." Plus, he got out of the ticket.

"All the Stuff I Teach My Law Students Never to Do"

MacLeod doesn't say what his traffic-cam violation was for, but he insists that he wasn't driving the car when it happened. "In fact, at the time I was in a faculty meeting at the law school where I teach," he writes. (That's the Jones School of Law at Faulkner University, in Montgomery, Alabama.)

He schlepped to municipal court, demanded a trial, lost a summary hearing, put down an appeal bond, argued with the city attorney about whether his was a criminal or civil case (to no end, it appears), and then brought his appeal to the state circuit court.

That is, only after the judge refused to toss the case. As MacLeod writes:

Before the trial, I moved to dismiss the case. I wanted the judge to pay attention, so I tried to make the motion interesting. Okay, maybe "interesting" isn't the best word. It was over the top. I alluded to Hobbes and Locke. I quoted the Declaration of Independence. I suggested the success of the American experiment was at stake. I resorted to superlatives. You know: all the stuff I teach my law students never to do.

The judge was not swayed.

Like Clarence Darrow in the Scopes "Monkey" Trial -- but Successful

To make a long story short, MacLeod proceeded to trial, where he won. With the city calling only the officer who signed the affidavit, MacLeod was able to show that the officer wasn't present during the violation, had no evidence of who was driving, and had no witnesses.

"So, you signed an affidavit under the pains and penalties of perjury alleging probable cause to believe that Adam MacLeod committed a violation of traffic laws without any evidence that was so?" he asked the officer.

The answer was yes.

The city rested, MacLeod renewed his motion to dismiss, and this, time, though still unmoved by Hobbes and Locke and the success of the American experiment, the judge granted the motion.

But Bureaucracy Bends for No Man

Of course, that victory didn't mean total victory:

Vindication! Well, sort of. When I tried to recover my doubled appeal bond, I was told that the clerk was not authorized to give me my money. Naturally, the law contains no procedure for return of the bond and imposes on the court no duty to return it. I was advised to write a motion. Weeks later, when the court still had not ruled on my motion, I was told I could file a motion asking for a ruling on my earlier motion. Bowing to absurdity, I did so. Still nothing has happened now several months later.

But hey, he got out of the ticket.

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