How to Fight a Traffic Ticket

One minute you’re cruising down the highway making record time on your commute, and the next you’re pulled over on the side of the road with the flashing lights of a police cruiser in your rear view mirror. Were you really guilty of the crime? Since you are innocent until proven guilty, here is how you can try to beat that ticket.

Steps
 

  1. Be polite and cooperative when you get pulled over. Being belligerent or indignant may make you feel better but it might cost you more. By being polite and cooperative, the officer may just write your ticket for a less costly offense instead of what was actually committed and with luck, you might just get a warning! On the other hand, if you are nasty or curt, the officer may note this and the prosecutors will be less likely to cut you a deal if this went to court.
  2. Avoid admissions of guilt and never make excuses or create outlandish stories. When you are asked if you know why you were pulled over, just respond with a simple and polite, "No officer, I do not,". Keep in mind that honesty is the best policy especially when you prefer to get off with merely a warning. On the otherhand, if you do get you the ticket, and decide to contest it, remember that any admissions you make now, can be used against you later.
  3. Follow one of the two theories regarding how you question the officer.
     
  4. Check your ticket for accuracy by reviewing it immediately upon receipt. There are two considerations here:
     
  5. Begin preparing your defense immediately,once the police officer has given you your ticket and left the scene. Record relevant details, such as traffic and road conditions, weather, time of day, and any extenuating circumstances. If you have a cell phone with a camera take pictures, especially if your defense depends on something like an obscured speed limit sign or a huge pothole that you had to swerve to miss. Go to the officer’s original position (whether stationary or moving) and check for any obstructions that might have caused them to have a poor view of the alleged offense or that might have caused the radar to malfunction. Make a diagram of the road showing where the officer was positioned, which direction you were traveling, where you eventually stopped, and other important details.
  6. Read the fine print on the ticket after you get home, as there is useful information on there that might help you. Make sure you understand all of it, as it will give you instructions on how to proceed to the next step.
  7. Decide whether to fight the ticket by the circumstances involved, and the information on the ticket. Weigh the costs and benefits of contesting the citation.

     

  8. Calculate the cost of fighting the ticket and weigh it against the chances of getting it dismissed or reduced to a lower charge.
  9. Decide whether you will need a lawyer. Find out whether or not the jurisdiction where you received the ticket or were involved in an accident will allow you to have a lawyer for a hearing on a traffic ticket that cannot lead to a criminal conviction for either driver (criminal convictions are for DUI, felony hit and run, etc.) This information will be on the ticket. If you plan a civil suit against the other driver in an accident, your attorney can come to court to observe the hearing on the ticket, but may not be involved in the hearing.
  10. For most minor traffic violations, it might not be cost effective to retain an attorney. Some exceptions include a ticket you received while far from home—an attorney can handle your case without you having to travel to court—or a ticket issued by photo enforcement (in many jurisdictions, if you’re not in the court room, there is no way to prove that you were the driver, and the case will be dismissed). You should, however, hire an attorney for more serious infractions, such as DUIs.
  11. Request a trial. Your ticket may include a court date, or you may need to request a trial. For most minor violations, your ticket will also give you the option to pay the fine. In almost all jurisdictions, paying the fine is an admission of guilt, so do not remit payment. Instead, follow the required steps to get your day in court.
  12. Get as much information as you can. Well before your court date, send a written request for discovery—discovery is the legal notion that you are entitled to see all the evidence against you and other relevant information that the prosecutor may have that can help or hurt your case—to the prosecutor’s office (in some jurisdictions, you may need to file a motion for discovery for the judge to consider). In addition, you may be able to file a public records request for relevant information. Some things you’ll want to specifically request (and you generally must make specific requests) include the officer’s copy of the ticket, maintenance and calibration records for any speed monitoring or breathalyzer device that was used by the officer to charge you, and the officer’s training records and certifications. The exact nature of your case and your plan of defense will dictate the exact information you need to get.
  13. Try to cut a deal. In many places, you can request a pretrial conference with the prosecutor. This is an opportunity to plead to a lower charge or get a reduction in points or fines before you go to court. Sometimes you can make an appointment for sometime before the court date, while sometimes you can only meet with the prosecutor right before your hearing. Always consider any deal thoroughly, and make sure you understand the implications on both your driving history and your insurance costs.
  14. Consider traffic school. Many jurisdictions offer an option to attend traffic school. In return, your charges will be dismissed or reduced. Explore this option by researching the law in your state. If you find that traffic school is a good option, request it from the prosecutor or judge.
  15. Request a continuation of your hearing. In most jurisdictions, the police officer who gave you the ticket must show up for the court hearing. If he or she fails to show, your case will be dismissed. Many times officers will schedule many court hearings on a certain day so that they can appear for all of them at once. If you request a continuation (a change of date) you increase the odds that the officer won’t show up. You usually need to do this in writing, and typically you will need to make your request several days in advance of the scheduled hearing.
  16. Plan your defense. Once you’ve decided to go to court, make sure you know how you will argue your case. If there is a particularly egregious error on your ticket, you may be able to rest your defense on that, but minor discrepancies (such as the color of your car) won’t help you out. If your defense is based upon extenuating circumstances, make sure they are sufficient to warrant a dismissal. The judge will not be particularly impressed by “I was running late to work,” for example. Make an outline of your points, and make sure your evidence is well-organized.
  17. Go to court and plead not guilty. Show up to your hearing looking clean and professional. If you have not yet had the opportunity to speak to the prosecutor, now is a good time to do so. Unless you are offered a satisfactory deal, plead “not guilty.” A plea of “no contest” or “guilty with explanation” will do you no good. Remember, just showing up to court may result in a dismissal if the police officer doesn’t also show up.
  18. Use facts to present your case to the judge without admitting guilt. "I was only doing 57 in a 55." is an admission of guilt. "I was traveling at safe speed for the conditions." does not admit guilt. Politely and clearly explain your defense, entering evidence as necessary. In some cases (a malfunctioning stoplight or an obscured speed limit sign, for example) you may be able to admit guilt without harming your case. Many conservative municipalities, however, maintain a master copy of all traffic laws, speed limits, and zone descriptions in a set of books at a courthouse or town hall. Sometimes these municipalities will not take your (legitimate) ignorance of the law as an excuse.
  19. Make mental or handwritten notes of the decisions of the Judge. Many courtrooms do not record conversations for traffic proceedings where criminal penalties are not reasonable. There can be ambiguity in how the Judge declares your guilt or innocence and any penalties you might face. Make sure the Clerk or Collections department has information that matched what the Judge decided.
  20. Follow through with all the court’s requirements. Many times the judge will allow you to pay a fine without incurring the points on your license, or he or she will allow you to enter a diversion program. These arrangements and others can only benefit you if you follow through and complete the requirements in a timely manner. If you don’t, you will most likely be convicted of your original offense, and other charges may follow.
  21. Request a copy of your motor vehicle record (MVR) from the state department of motor vehicles. Occasionally, clerical errors result in a dismissed ticket appearing on your MVR as a conviction. These can be difficult to clear up quickly (for example, when your insurer notices and raises your premiums), so it’s best to make sure you record is accurate. Telephone the court building and ask to speak to the Clerk's Office, or speak to somone who can verify that your case is paid, dismissed, postponed, etc.

 

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