I'm the defendant in a Maryland traffic case. It's an automated traffic enforcement ticket (red-light camera). I'm pleading not-guilty and have requested a trial. I'm not a lawyer but I have spent a lot of time in court successfully fighting traffic tickets and I have some legal background.

In my observation these red-light camera trials are usually perfunctory open-and-shut affairs where the defendant stands little chance of winning. Most of the time, they don't even have a good legal argument. There is little formality and the defendants hardly ever insist on asserting their full legal rights. Sometimes when they do, the prosecution and judge are caught unprepared. I hope to exploit this unpreparedness to win my case.

In a normal trial, the prosecution gives it opening statements, then the defendant gives their opening statement, then they cross examine each others' witnesses then they give closing statements. If one side fails to ask a question during the cross-examination, they cannot return to the cross-examination after the closing statements have started. Right?

But I have frequently seen traffic judges asking important questions about facts right before issuing their verdict. "How fast were you going?", "Did you have your turn signal on"? These seem to be questions that should have been asked by cross-examiners -- not the judge. If the prosecution failed to make their case when they had the chance, the judge should not help them by asking questions they failed to ask, right?

If -- after my closing statement -- the judge asks me factual questions that the prosecution forgot to ask, is it legitimate for me to raise an objection about it? Do you think its likely to be upheld? Would a good objection be something like "Your honor the prosecution has to make its case without this court cross-examining on its behalf"?

  • 2
    "Your honor, I rest my case" seems like a more appropriate response. Nov 21, 2018 at 21:10
  • @DavidSchwartz irrelevant though, as the judge can interpret that as they wish, and just make up their own mind as to what your answer would have been. Your refusal to answer may well turn the judge against you.
    – jwenting
    Jun 16, 2023 at 7:33

2 Answers 2


While you have correctly stated the usual order of events in a trial, the judge has wide discretion to modify the order if it seems that justice will be served. Even in a serious criminal case, the judge can reopen testimony after closing arguments have started if the judge finds that there is good reason to do so. Traffic cases are generally less formal, and the judge will more freely modify procedure to bring out the facts of the case. I have often seen judges at traffic court ask significant relevant questions, and if they are in fact relevant, i don't think you will get far objecting to their begin asked. I am not a lawyewr, but I also have observed several traffic cases in Maryland and in NJ.

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    I don't know the specifics of Maryland traffic court, but I would imagine that if the Prosecution has already rested its case, you can simply rest your case. Alternatively, if you haven't already done so, you can make a motion to dismiss immediately after the Prosecution rests. If that motion wasn't granted and you didn't put on significant evidence of your own, you'll almost certainly lose if you don't answer. (If the Prosecution didn't make its case, your motion to dismiss would have been granted.) Nov 21, 2018 at 21:09

In a bench trial, a judge is generally allowed to ask questions of witnesses. The concern about those questions being necessary for the prosecution to meet its burden of proof are legitimate ones that also come up in states where juries are allowed to question witnesses, but have not be held to violate the legal rights of criminal defendants in any case of which I am aware.

Also, unless there is a possibility that you could be incarcerated if found guilty and sentenced for the offense (which is not the case for traffic offenses in many cases), the constitutional due process protections applicable to criminal cases usually do not apply.

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