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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Follow one of the two theories
regarding how you question the officer.
- Adopt the 'low-profile' technique.
Ask the officer if you can handle the ticket by mail. The officer will
immediately see you as a low probability to go to court and may take
fewer notes. When you do challenge the ticket, the officer's sparse
notes will make him want to skip the hearing. Even if he does come to
the hearing, his sparse notes and memory will help the judge decide in
your favor. Questioning the officer on the other hand will cause him to
write voluminous notes on the traffic stop.
- Alternatively, question the
officer more directly, as you are handed the ticket, about how the
offense was detected and verified. In the case of a speeding ticket,
find out where they were positioned when they clocked you and what type
of speed measurement device, was used and if it was radar, laser or
Accutrac. Gather as many specifics as possible, including the serial
number of the device. If, however the officer estimated your speed by
following you, then find out what the location was when he began to
follow you. Make sure you write down the patrol car's license plate
number and his badge number. If you were cited for an offense other than
speeding, make sure you understand exactly why you were pulled over,
especially if you were cited for something that could not have been
easily seen. Do note that the officer does not have to actually give
this information releated to the device used at the time of stop. You
can request this information by filing a motion of Discovery, and then
you will get that information.
- Check your ticket for accuracy by
reviewing it immediately upon receipt. There are two considerations here:
- If there are inaccuracies that may
hurt your case (i.e. if the officer notes on the ticket that you crossed
two lanes of traffic when you only crossed one, or if he says traffic
was heavy when in fact it was light), ask him immediately to correct
them. Be very polite when requesting changes to your ticket. However if
you find that the officer is not accommodating, do not argue but record
the actual circumstances in your mind, and after he leaves, jot it down.
- On the other hand,if there are
inaccuracies that may help your case or get the ticket dismissed, such
as the wrong license plate number, the wrong street, etc., you do not
want to call attention to them.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
out exactly what offense you are charged with by looking at the code
number on the ticket.
- Find out what the cost of
conviction will be, including the fine, jail or community service,
mandatory diversion programs, and increased insurance rates.
- Calculate the cost of fighting the
ticket and weigh it against the chances of getting it dismissed or reduced
to a lower charge.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
- 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.
- 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
- 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.
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
- In Broward County, Florida, and
perhaps in other places, if the officer does show up, change your
plea to “no contest”; in most cases you will only pay court costs, with
no points on your license and no traffic school necessary.
There are many law firms in the area that will handle this for you for a
reasonable fee, saving you the time and lost wages of going to court.
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- The easiest way to beat a ticket is to
avoid a traffiic ticket in the first place.
- Help the officer relax. Traffic stops
are the most unpredictable and dangerous part of normal polic work, and
officers are trained to approach vehicles with extreme caution. Always keep
your hands in sight, preferably on top of the steering wheel. If you're
stopped at night, immediately turn on your interior lights. Have your
license, registration and proof of insurance handy before the officer comes
up, or wait until he comes up and then tell hm you need to open your glove
compartment or purse. Use respectful language, like "Yes, sir" and "No,
- Consider recording the conversation
during the traffic stop. An audio recording of your interaction with the
officer can help you avoid a “he said/she said” situation in court—an
argument you will almost certainly lose. Some states require that all
parties be notified that they are being recorded, while others do not. Check
the external links for more detailed, state-by-state information, and make
sure you know the law in your jurisdiction before you record anyone without
- If the officer relies on radar, ask to
see the display of your speed on his radar unit. Often the officer has
either cleared the result from is display or is fudging. This won’t lead to
a dismissal by itself, and in some jurisdictions the officer isn’t required
to show you the display, but discrepancies or lack of evidence may help as
part of your defense.
- Start preparing your defense
immediately. It can take time to get necessary information from police
departments and prosecutors, so make sure you request this information well
in advance of your hearing date. You’ll also need to be proactive throughout
the process to keep on top of court deadlines and to ensure you have the
most complete defense possible.
- Often simply showing up in court to
fight the ticket is enough because many times, especially in big cities,
there is a high probability that the officer won't show up. If the officer
won't show up, then the case is usually dismissed.
- In big cities or counties where the
turn out for court is usually large, the judge may offer to reduce the
charge to a lesser offense (reducing points on your driving record) or to a
county ordinance (no points on your record).
- Remember the sixth amendment
guarantees you a speedy and public trial. For example, in California, a
speedy trial is defined as 45 days from the time of the infraction. In many
jurisdictions you must go to the courthouse in person to get a court date.
During this process you will have to fill out several documents. If your
local court system is a backed up, then among those legal documents your are
asked to sign, will be one in which you waive your right to a speedy trial.
Do not sign that document. You cannot be legally forced to waive this right.
What this means is that if the court system cannot fit you in, within those
45 days, (times for your state may vary) then your case must be dismissed.
- In some states (including California)
you are entitled to a trial by mail. This is the best option for beating
your ticket. You submit your claim as to why you are innocent in a letter,
and the officer must do the same. While officers will often show up for
court because it is an overtime opportunity, trial by mail is pure
paperwork, and they will often not bother to submit their side of the story.
When this happens, you win by default. Should you lose by mail, you have
lost nothing: you can still request an in-person trial (as if your mail
verdict never happened), request traffic school, or pay your fine.
- Your entire case can rest on your
attitude, be on your best behavior inside and outside of the courthouse.
Always show respect for the court and the proceedings. Win or loose, it is
always best to thank the judge, you never know if you will appear in front
of them again.
- Most Radar guns need to be
recalibrated every 30-60 days, and due to ignorance, lack of funding, or
laziness, they are rarely. One solid arguement for your case is to prove
that the measurment device is faulty.
- In some states the officer must check
the calibration after issuing the ticket, usually by using two tuning forks
held in front of the radar, which vibrate at the frequencies for 35 mph and
55 mph. Verify whether this was done and documented.
- The advice in this article is mostly
for Americans in America. For example in many places in the world it is
acceptable to offer cash to the police! Different countries (and states in
the USA) have very different ways of dealing with things and, of course,
different legal systems.
- This article is not legal advice and
is not intended to substitute for the advice of a lawyer or your own
research. Laws and legal processes differ from jurisdiction to jurisdiction,
and you must familiarize yourself with those in your jurisdiction.
- Don’t ignore a ticket. You must show
up for court if your ticket instructs you to. If your ticket gives you the
option to go to court or pay the fine, you must do one or the other. If you
wish to pay the fine, be sure to do so by the due date
- Don’t be belligerent either to the
police officer or in court. Belligerence can never help your case, and can
frequently hurt your chances of a good deal or a dismissal.
- Always make sure you know the
implications of proving your defense. Sometimes a defense that seems
effective does nothing more than prove your guilt. For example, if you say
you were simply traveling at the speed of other traffic, you may prove that
you were breaking the speed limit.
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