My Day In Court: A Lesson In Traffic Tickets
Police lights flashing in my rear view mirror was not really a welcome sign in the 4th hour of a 6 hour drive. No, this was not a fun road trip where I could laugh about it with friends later. I was by myself and just pushing the speed limit in the middle of nowhere (or so I thought) on my way to visit my parents for the weekend. Of course I was being pulled over for speeding (in cruise control no less) and the tears were flowing. Even though I know all about my legal rights when it comes to confrontations with police, I couldn’t help but feel embarrassed, scared, and really overwhelmed by the situation. So much so that I did not have the chance to explain my case or ask any questions. I just took the $400 ticket and kept driving, slowly.
Fast forward to a week later when I gained my composure and did a little (ok a lot) of “how to get out of a ticket or at least make it better” research. By “make it better” I mean somehow reduce the fine and avoid the increase in insurance rates that were sure to result from my lead foot. It turned out that I didn’t have to wait to contest my ticket until a court date and initially I decided to contact the ticketing officer directly to plead my case. I wrote a letter in the same fashion I would write a professional cover letter—I was basically trying to sell myself, my squeaky clean driving record (because parking tickets don’t count), and why my fine was way too high for a few mph over the speed limit. Although this method does not usually work, it gave me piece of mind and a chance to learn more about the system.
The options an individual has for a basic civil infraction ticket (a ticket that carries only a fine or possibility of points on your driving record) are numerous.
2.)Post bail and schedule a court date to argue your case.
3.)Set a court date to accept one of the “lesser punishment options” which usually includes the judge reducing the fine and giving the option of traffic school.
When deciding which option to pursue the best place is taking time to know exactly what you were charged with, what your chances are of winning, and how much time you are willing to devote to the process. In the case of actually getting a lawyer (or doing it yourself) and pleading your case before the judge, the process gets much more complicated and expensive. I was surprised to read that as little as 3% of traffic tickets are contested. Especially when it comes to the last option (and the one I chose) courts will often grant a reduced fine and traffic school just for showing up. To me, that seems like a no brainier. Not surprisingly, the difficult economic times have resulted in an increased number of traffic tickets, which serve as a quick and simple source of revenue for states and local governments.
Ultimately, all my pleading and proofreading got me a stock response in which the officer informed me of my right to contest in person before a judge and that is exactly what I did. I got my ticket reduced in half and have a day of traffic school that I keep pushing back. Even better, my insurance rates will not go up which will save me much more money than the ticket itself!
On a side note, I think it is important to remember that this is still a court process and you are going in front of a judge…so look like it! I cringed when I saw some of the people in the room showing up in their sweaty gym clothes, ratty jeans, and other attire totally inappropriate for a court of law. Oddly enough, I really enjoyed learning about the process and the options available to a citizen wishing to contest a ticket. There is always a story behind a ticket and the law is not as black and white as first meets the eye for those willing to spend the time and go through the process.