We can all relate to the feeling of being in a hurry and unwittingly rolling through the stop sign at the corner of our street or traveling down the interstate with what we perceive to be the normal rate of speed- when out of nowhere blue lights appear in our rear view. For most of us the first response is a mild curse word as we anticipate the cost of our ticket and the frustration of having been pulled over. It can happen to anyone and most people end up paying the fine and moving on with their life.
When you consider that traffic violations are not only expensive tickets – but they can also lead to an increase in your insurance rates, disqualify you from safe driving programs, count points against your states drivers license or even result in a suspension or revocation of your license; it begins to make sense to contemplate fighting the traffic ticket. Whereas some offenses are cut and dry; others are completely subject to the hyper technical language of the written law that you broke and the officer’s interpretation of the event leading to your ticket. In many cases by choosing to simply show up for court rather than pay the fine you can reduce your fine considerably, be given a lesser offense which doesn’t reflect on your driving record or be relinquished of responsibility for your ticket altogether due to a technicality. It might be worth a shot, but you have to know how to prepare yourself.
So how do you when to fight your traffic ticket or when to pay? This can be a bit tricky, however if you feel that you were given your ticket wrongfully then court is probably where you should contest. There are many laws revolving around traffic violations and just as many loopholes. For instance in Georgia the seatbelt law was passed, but years earlier a law was passed stating that seatbelts do not have to be worn in pickup trucks by any persons over 10 years of age. So if you are aware of this law and received a seatbelt violation while riding in a pickup truck; showing up in court would null and void the ticket.
Judges are expected to make decisions based on the letter of the law in question and are adept at reading various interpretations far beyond that of a police officer. Oftentimes police officers are not able to interpret the law and many are not familiar with all the laws regarding traffic offenses. This doesn’t make them negligent just misinformed. It would take some research and know how but if you are equipped with a clear description of the law you are accused of violating and are willing to read a traffic law book from your state (Your state patrol should have a free copy), you could probably find a cause for fighting a traffic ticket. Once you pay for a ticket you are admitting your guilt and cannot question the state statutes or your position thereof.
If you were caught speeding on the interstate then you have two scenarios. One is to pay the ticket and curse your luck for being caught and the other is to attempt to explain to the judge why you were speeding. Most states post speed limits as means and there are laws that exist which allow a driver to supersede these limits. For instance, it is lawful to speed up to avoid emergencies, to avoid other speeding cars, and to prevent an accident. If you feel you could prove you were doing this in court, then fight the ticket. Speed limits in all 50 states are either presumed, absolute or basic, meaning that the defense you could use to get off is different depending on where you were caught speeding. You need to find out the legality of the posted speed limit in the exact location that you were caught. Speeding tickets are given out of the interest of safety. If you are able to prove to a judge that the speed you were driving was safe for the conditions, many will reduce fines or lessen the severity of the ticket. In some cases you could sensibly argue that slowing your speed down would have actually put you in danger because the pace of traffic was so increased during the time you were traveling. Be prepared with proof. Take pictures, request public access information about the location and speeding rates, find an eyewitness.
Another common loophole that many people may be unaware of is if an officer was staging improperly. Many states have laws which define exactly how well an officer can conceal himself while running traffic enforcement. They also have laws which clearly define entrapment. If you check you state law book you may find that the officer was trying to make stops in an unlawful manner, which will inadvertently make you a victim and not have to pay the fines associated with your ticket.
Additionally the method that the officer used to detect your speed can be means for fighting a ticket. On roadways where there are numerous cars mistaken identity is possible and can be a factor in getting out of a ticket. If your speed was registered using radar or laser guns they too can malfunction. Some states require that the officer calibrate and be able to prove to the driver that the radar gun was calibrated prior to the speeding ticket. If they failed to do this the ticket violates your rights and is thrown out.
Similarly if you can show the judge that an officer was not in a position to clearly see what you did wrong, can prove that speed limit signs were not posted within the certain amount of miles required by your state, can prove that road hazards or hindrances to your view existed which perpetuated your offense (limb obscuring a stop sign), can prove that signs are newly posted or can invoke any of area of doubt to the competence of the ticket than there is a good chance that fighting the ticket will help. No judge will take your word for it, so pictures, eye witness accounts, diagrams and facts will need to be gathered from the ‘scene of the crime’ and brought to court illustrated concisely.
Traffic court dates are normally (depending on the state) appointed by badge number. For instance the officer that you wrote you the ticket will spend 2 – 4 days a month scheduled for court. Statute reads that if the officer is not present every ticket being contested is null and void. Therefore, depending on your state just showing up gives a real shot that the officer may not, – and you will therefore be relinquished of any responsibility. Traffic court is definitely a hassle no matter where you live. One thing you have to remember is that if you are choosing on fighting a traffic ticket in court – you must show up! Many people have forgotten a court date, missed court and then ended up with bench warrants and a suspended driver’s licenses for not paying the fine. If you end up in this mess, you may even need to hire a lawyer to help you straighten it out and the process can take many months.
Other points to keep in mind when being pulled over are that no officer has the right to search unless warranted. As a citizen you do not have to give consent for a police officer to search your car and if there is no evidence that warrants the search chances are the officer is being nosey and fishing for an arrest. This happens often with teen drivers. In addition to that an officer can only hold you for a certain period of time without making an arrest. Many people have been subject to illegal search and seizures where they waited endlessly for an officer to bring in a canine in order to warrant the search, and then they were arrested. At that point the situation requires a lawyer. Drunk driving, drug charges and other felony traffic violations are best handling consulting an attorney in your state that deals with such matters.
Fighting traffic tickets is not always the best route to take. If you know you were doing wrong then you should probably face the consequences of your actions. If you simply can’t afford the ticket then show up in court; advise and prove to the judge that you are a responsible citizen and that the fine is a financial hardship for you. This of course, will not work if you have dozens of tickets on your record. That being said, there is truth in the thinking that officers have quotas near the end of the month. Remember that traffic fines usually pay for municipal efforts and that the Brass (Chief, Sergeants etc.) at your local police department feels an officer is not doing their job if they don’t turn in enough tickets each month. So a word to the wise….when the month is nearing an end make sure you fully stop at stop signs, obey speed limits and make conscientious efforts to obey traffic laws or you might be the one contemplating how to fight your traffic tickets.