When you fight a traffic ticket, you need to be prepared for some stress and frustration. Dealing with the courts, especially traffic court, is no picnic. Contrary to what you may have heard elsewhere, there is no easy way to beat a traffic ticket. You still have to take the day off of work to show up to court (maybe more than once) or you’ll need to hire a traffic attorney which might cost more than the ticket itself. If you’re considering fighting a ticket, these are some of the things you’ll need to consider.
Is It Worth The Trouble?
As long as you have a clean driving record, you might not have to fight the ticket at all. Fighting a traffic ticket is an uphill battle and traffic court is much different than the rest of the US Justice System. Most people walk out of traffic court feeling like the judge didn’t listen to their defense or that the police officer outright lied and got away with it. Traffic court can be extremely frustrating.
Luckily, the majority of the time, you can take some sort of traffic school course and as long as you keep clean for the next 6 months or so, the ticket will never go on your record, you never have to report it, and nobody (like your auto insurance company) will ever find out about it. This is usually the way to go for people who don’t have a poor driving record. I even put a page together so you can find and read reviews of online traffic schools by state.
Before you go blazing into the courtroom with your stack of evidence and a solid defense, please understand that the chances of you winning in court, even if you’re right, are slim. I’m not here to make you think the system is fair, rather, I’m just telling you that’s the way it is.
Understanding Your Citation
There are three different types of traffic tickets you can receive:
- City Ordinance Violation
- Civil Infraction
- Traffic Misdemeanor
A City Ordinance Violation is usually issued by a photo enforcement system such as a red light camera ticket or speed camera. Many parking tickets are also city ordinance violations. Insurance companies have no access to these and it will not show up on your driving record. You can usually fight a traffic ticket even if it was a city ordinance violation, but the hearing will be through a specific city or even a private company. These are not real courts. If you don’t pay the ticket, they can forward the info to a credit reporting agency. That’s about all they can do.
A Civil Infraction is the most common type of traffic ticket and may or may not require a court hearing. Usually, court hearings are optional and you can do everything through the mail. This is normally the type of traffic ticket you’ll receive for speeding, rolling a stop sign, or other minor traffic offenses. These offenses are linked to your driving record, may cause “points” to accrue on your record, and your insurance company (or anyone else who wants to pull up your driving history) will be able to see this ticket if you are found guilty. If you have a relatively clean driving history, a civil infraction can almost always be taken care of by either plea bargaining with the judge or taking an online traffic school.
A Traffic Misdemeanor is a bit more serious. You should definitely fight a traffic ticket if it’s a misdemeanor and you should probably lawyer up, too. This is usually given for things like reckless driving, excessive speeding, driving under the influence, or other serious traffic offenses. If you’re going to fight a traffic ticket, this is the one to fight.
Being convicted of a traffic misdemeanor not only affects your driving record, but it can have an impact on your criminal record as well. Employers, insurance companies, and anyone else can access this info. A traffic misdemeanor can also lead to a suspension of your driving privileges, huge fines, community service, and even jail time in extreme situations. If you’re being charged with a traffic misdemeanor, you better lawyer up! Don’t even consider trying to do it alone. You’ve got too much to lose.
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Whether you fight a traffic ticket alone or with a lawyer, you need to be educated on the laws, rules, and regulations surrounding your charge. If you’ve been charged with speeding in a school zone, for example, you need to research the exact wording of the law itself and find out as much about it as you can. Use Google or some other search engine to research different defense strategies pertaining to your particular charge. Having a lawyer is great, but you should still educate yourself and work with your lawyer as opposed to having your lawyer work for you. After all, nobody knows your case better than you do!
Understanding Different Courts
City ordinance violations are normally held in the city hall or other non-criminal courtrooms. These are not real courts! They are privately run courts established by individual towns or cities and they have their own rules. These court hearings are usually final and there is no way to appeal the findings. Lawyers are usually not welcomed and you must represent yourself.
A civil infraction is usually held in a county traffic court which is separate from the main county courthouse. Depending on the charge, you may be able to appeal the findings, but normally you can’t appeal the court’s decision. Unlike a city ordinance violation, however, you may have representation to help you fight a traffic ticket. In many cases, the attorney can show up on your behalf. Since you don’t have to be present at the hearing, you don’t have to take the day off work (or drop whatever else you would be doing at that time).
Traffic misdemeanors may either be held in traffic court or possibly criminal court at the main county courthouse. If you’re facing criminal charges such as a DUI or reckless driving charge, the procedure can be quite drawn out. The first hearing is normally only held so you can plead guilty or not guilty. You may also have an opportunity to plea bargain with the prosecutor on the same day. After you put in your plea, you will have to show up for a hearing. You may have to visit the court a dozen times before it’s all said and done. During some court sessions, your attorney can appear for you and you don’t have to show up. For other hearings, you will need to be present. If you are facing a criminal charge, it is highly recommended that you find yourself some representation.
Finding A Defense
There are only so many ways to fight a traffic ticket. Here are some of the methods you can use for your defense:‘
- Subjective Challenge – You will argue that your actions were safe and reasonable for the given conditions, and provide evidence to the said conditions.
- Incorrect Observation – You’ll challenge the objectivity of the officer’s perspective when the violation happened.
- Mistake of Fact – Your argument will be based on technicalities but this will be very difficult to win without any evidence.
- Justifiable Action – You will need to find a legally accepted reason that will justify your actions such as in the case of an emergency situation that causes you to commit the violation.
- Harm Avoidance – Closely tied to providing a justifiable action, you may argue that you are avoiding a more harmful situation, like causing less injury when faced by a possible accident on the road.
For full details on how to use these different defense strategies, please proceed to my next page.
Defenses You Should Not Use
Meanwhile, there are also some defenses that may appear logical to you but won’t really work if you use them in court. Here are some of them.
- Claiming your ignorance of the law. This is always a bad idea as it confirms that you are not familiar with the driving laws in your state. This somehow puts you in a position where you can easily be judged as someone who does not take safe driving seriously. Remember that you are required to take exams to get your license. Some states even require driver education, so it doesn’t make sense that you did not know a certain law.
- Questioning the credibility of an officer by saying that he/she is lying. Though there’s no clear evidence that this situation won’t happen, you should never resort to defending yourself by pointing out that someone else is lying, especially if it’s the police officer. What would they get out of lying in front of a judge, anyway (unless there’s some bad blood between you and the police officer)?
- Arguing that no one is hurt. We all know that this does not apply in court. Whether you’ve hurt someone or not when you commit the violation doesn’t change the fact that you violated a traffic law. And laws are not made so that lawbreakers can find their way around it. Laws should be taken seriously.