Fighting a Traffic Ticket

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 What is a Speeding and Moving Violation?

In most cases, a legal violation which involves a traffic ticket is some type of speeding and moving violation. These types of violations typically occur when a motor vehicle is in motion, rather than when it is stationary.

Speeding and moving violations may involve issues including:

  • Speeding;
  • Driving recklessly or dangerously;
  • Driving while under the influence;
  • Exhibitions of speed;
  • Failure to follow traffic rules, for example, not stopping at a red light;
  • Racing; and
  • Various other violations.

Not all traffic court cases involve a speeding or moving violation. Common examples of non-moving traffic violations include:

  • A citation for an outdated license plate;
  • A citation for an outdated registration stickers;
  • Illegal parking; and
  • Keeping a non-operational motor vehicle parked on the street for too long of a period of time.

The majority of traffic tickets are considered citations. These citations will result in a small fine. There are, however, some violations which may result in misdemeanor traffic offenses or felony traffic offenses, especially if an individual is injured or killed.

There are numerous different types of traffic violations. The laws governing these violations may vary from state to state. A traffic misdemeanor often involves a risk to human life, safety, or property.

The following actions are typically considered criminal traffic misdemeanors:

  • Reckless driving;
  • Driving without automobile insurance;
  • Driving without a license;
  • Hit and run accidents;
  • Failing to stop after an accident occurs; and
  • Driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol, called DUI or DWI.

A felony traffic offense is more serious than a misdemeanor traffic offense and, therefore, will carry more severe penalties. The types of traffic offenses which are considered felonies will vary by state.

The following are typically considered to be felony traffic offenses:

  • Vehicular manslaughter;
  • Vehicular homicide;
  • Consecutive DUI convictions;
  • Repeat offenses including driving without a license;
  • Types of reckless driving which cause injury or property damage;
  • Hit and run;
  • Leaving the scene of an accident; and
  • Fleeing from law enforcement.

Can I Fight a Traffic Ticket?

If an individual has received a citation for a traffic violation, it may be possible for them to fight the ticket. It will largely depend on what violation the citation is for. In some cases, an individual may have a defense to the citation, such as if they were avoiding a traffic accident by making an illegal turn.

There are several strategies which may be successful is fighting a traffic ticket, including:

  • Challenging the observations of the officer;
  • Mistake of fact conduct;
  • Legally justified conduct; and
  • Conduct to avoid harm.

An individual may be able to challenge the observations of the officer who wrote the ticket. If the individual may be able to provide witness statements, photos of the area, as well as diagrams of where their vehicle was in relation to the law enforcement officer’s vehicle, their case will be stronger.

If an individual can show the court that they made an honest mistake, or a mistake of fact, the ticket or charge may be dismissed. For example, if a stop sign was obstructed or had been stolen, an individual’s failure to stop ticket may be thrown out.

Another available defense may be legally justified conduct. If an individual can show that they were justified, a ticket may be dismissed, such as if they were slowing down in the left lane in order to make a left hand turn.

A court may dismiss an individual’s traffic ticket if they can show that their actions were a direct result of attempting to avoid harm to themselves or others. For example, if an individual has to swerve across the double yellow lines in order to avoid hitting an individual riding a bicycle.

Although these are common defense strategies, it may still be difficult for an individual to have their traffic ticket dismissed. It can be very beneficial to have an attorney who is experienced in traffic court.

How Can I Decide Whether to Challenge a Ticket?

If an individual cannot decide whether or not to challenge a traffic ticket, they may wish to consult an attorney. It is important to determine what the exact charge is and refer to the law governing that charge.

Individuals may be surprised to learn that law enforcement officers may issue citations for violations which are not actually violations. In some cases, the law enforcement officer may not be up to date on the laws or simply do not realize that the citation they issued was not an application of the law.

The first step an individual should take is to check and see if the law applies to the situation. If law does not apply to the citation or ticket an individual received, it is clear that they may want to challenge the ticket.

How Can I Better Understand what I am Charged with?

Currently, the internet contains a wealth of information regarding state laws. The Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) in an individual’s jurisdiction may also have traffic laws on their website. The resources provided by the DMV often break down traffic laws into parts so that an individual can have a better understanding of where their case may stand.

In most cases, traffic tickets are only infractions but some may be misdemeanors. Ultimately, however, they have a similar basis in law.

In many cases, the basic concept is whether the ticket was given while an individual was driving or while the individual’s vehicle was parked. From there, it is relatively simple to break down the elements which make up a traffic ticket.

How Do Judges Treat Traffic Laws?

A judge will treat a traffic law as they would treat any other law. In other words, the judge will uphold the traffic statute by sticking to its interpretation as it is written.

A judge is legally obligated to listen to the arguments of both sides in court. If an individual has solid evidence for their claim, it is possible for them to prevail in court.

Although an individual does have a chance to argue their case, many traffic court judges have heard every argument possible and may not be very willing to change their view. In some cases, the only fact which may change their view is when the law did not apply to the situation.

What Other Types of Questions Should I Ask Myself About the Case?

There are some other questions which an individual may wish to consider and which are closely related to the defense strategies discussed above. These include:

  • Did the officer stop the right car? It may occur that the officer pulled an individual over in heavy traffic after mistaking them for another motorist;
  • Was there an error in the law enforcement officer’s methodology? Did the officer use laser, radar, or LIDAR to determine the driver’s speed? An individual may be able to introduce calibration records into evidence; or
  • Was the ticket someone else’s fault, or was it caused by a random act of nature? Defects in highway signs or traffic signals are also reasons a judge may look more favorably on an individual’s case.

What Happens if the Law Enforcement Officer does not Show Up?

If a law enforcement officer fails to appear in court, the individual will most likely win their case. This is because the individual who is best able to provide evidence regarding why a driver was cited is not available. If an individual contests the ticket, there is no argument against their case.

It is important to note, however, that the judge has the right to continue with the citation. Typically, it will be dismissed but it is important to still be prepared to explain to the court why the ticket should be dismissed.

Do I Need a Lawyer for Help With a Traffic Ticket?

It is beneficial to have the assistance of a traffic ticket lawyer for any traffic ticket issues you may be facing. Traffic tickets can be very expensive and may raise your insurance rates as well as add points to your driver’s license.

If you are considering challenging a traffic ticket, having an attorney is your best chance at success. Your lawyer can advise you of your rights, determine if any defenses are available to you, and represent you during the ticket contest in court.


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