Every day, Americans are issued tickets every day for traffic related offenses, such as speeding or running a stop sign. Sometimes, you will need to go to traffic court for your ticket. However, if you have never appeared in traffic court you probably will not be familiar with how it works.

Below is some helpful information about traffic tickets and traffic court that should help prepare you for what to expect if you have received a traffic ticket.

What Happens After I Receive a Traffic Ticket?

Many times after you receive a traffic ticket, you just have to pay a fine to comply with the law. If the ticket also puts points on your driving record, some jurisdictions also provide the option to go to traffic school to get points removed from your record.

However, sometimes you will have to attend traffic court for a hearing regarding your violation. You could find yourself in traffic court in the following situations:

  • You failed to pay the fine associated with your ticket;
  • You received a ticket for a more serious traffic offense, such as reckless driving; and
  • If you dispute the ticket that you received, you could request a hearing before a traffic court judge to argue your case.

What Happens at a Traffic Court Hearing?

Traffic court varies from place to place, but this is what is typically relevant in each proceeding:

  1. Prosecution Evidence
    • If you have a hearing in traffic court, you will appear before a traffic court judge who will decide if you are guilty of the traffic offense. The prosecutor assigned to your case will have to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that you are guilty.
    • A preponderance of the evidence burden of proof means a prosecutor must only prove that the driver is more likely guilty than not of committing the crime. Because this is a lower burden of proof, it can be more challenging to fight traffic tickets.
  2. Defense Evidence
    • As the defendant, you will also be allowed to present witnesses and evidence. If you wish to use evidence that is in the possession of the police office or prosecutor (such as the police report or any video footage that was taken by the police), you will have to file a written request in traffic court prior to the hearing.
    • You will also be able to cross-examine any witnesses that the prosecutor presents. The prosecutor will almost always call the police officer who pulled you over as a witness. If the officer does not appear for your hearing, a lot of times the case will be dismissed.
  3. Judge’s Ruling
    • After the case is heard, the traffic court judge will decide whether you are guilty of the traffic offense. If you are found guilty, you will most likely be ordered to pay the fine associated with the ticket, along with any additional punishment the traffic court imposes.

Are There Arguments That I Should Avoid Using in Traffic Court?

There are several arguments that people use to try to get out of tickets. You should avoid using the following, as they will not be viewed as defenses to your ticket under the law:

  • You violated the law, but did not harm anyone;
  • You were not aware of the traffic law that you violated; and
  • Telling a sympathetic story instead of providing a defense.

Instead, a common defense that will hold merit in traffic court is that you did not actually violate a traffic law. Keep in mind that this will still be hard to prove since the burden of proof for the prosecution is low.

Should I Hire an Attorney?

If you received a traffic ticket and only have to pay a fee, you will not need to contact an attorney. Many courts will also provide payment plans to pay off the balance of your traffic ticket.

However, if you have to appear for a traffic court hearing, you may want to consider hiring a local criminal defense attorney. An attorney can help prepare your case and come up with a strategy to attempt to get your ticket dismissed.