FAQ: Traffic Court

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 What Are Some Frequently Asked Questions About Traffic Court?

In the United States, there are over 249 million licensed drivers. Studies indicate that, on average, there are over 100,000 traffic citations that are issued by police per day. This means that every day, Americans interact with police officers and are given traffic-related infractions, such as speeding tickets or tickets for running stop signs.

When you receive a traffic ticket, it comes with a variety of different obligations on the individual that was cited. One obvious obligation is that there is a hearing that is set for the individual to go to traffic court in relation to their ticket. However, not every individual is familiar with the process of traffic court.

In general, the majority of speeding and moving violations are not considered to be crimes but instead are considered infractions. As such, the penalties and punishments for traffic violations, such as speeding and moving violations, do not generally include jail time.

Generally, traffic violations only result in a small fine, as well as other penalties, such as an increased car insurance rate. Additionally, traffic infractions will appear on a person’s driving record but not on their criminal record.

The laws that are associated with traffic violations vary by state, county, and even city. The following is a list of examples of traffic violations in all states, regardless of differing traffic laws:

  • Speeding;
  • Failure to yield or failing to give the right of way to another vehicle that has the legal right to proceed first;
  • Failing to stop, which includes not stopping at a stop sign as well as making a rolling stop (slowing but not fully stopping the vehicle);
  • Failing to signal a turn or lane change;
  • Dangerous left turn, such as turning left when oncoming traffic is too close;
  • Failure to obey traffic lights, such as running through a red light rather than stopping at it;
  • Invalid registration sticker, meaning that a person’s vehicle registration has expired; and/or
  • Reckless driving, or driving, which displays indifference to the safety and property of others.

There are some specific instances in which a traffic offense could also result in a person being charged with a misdemeanor offense. A misdemeanor offense is a criminal offense punishable by up to one year in jail and/or a fine. A traffic violation could result in a misdemeanor criminal charge if the violation results in injury to people or property. Further, if a person is going a certain number of miles per hour over the speed limit, some states have determined that this is a misdemeanor criminal charge.

As can be seen, there is a wide range of traffic violations and legal consequences that an individual may receive for a traffic violation. As such, if you have been stopped by the police and given a ticket, and you are unsure about the next steps that you should take, such as whether you should challenge the ticket, pay the ticket, or ask for traffic school as an option, a traffic violation lawyer can help answer your questions. Examples of common questions related to traffic court are discussed below.

What Happens After I Get a Traffic Ticket?

After you receive a traffic ticket, the citation will provide you with a list of your options. A ticket will generally include a court date and time, as well as the amount of the fine. It is imperative to note that accepting a ticket is not the same as accepting responsibility.

In general, it is common for a traffic court to offer the option of attending a driving program or traffic school. Once the driver has completed the program, the speeding ticket or moving violation is removed from their driving record.

In terms of your options, after you have received a violation, options most commonly include:

  1. Admit Responsibility: Admitting responsibility for the speeding or moving violation is generally accomplished by entering a plea of no contest. In legal terms, this is not admitting or denying responsibility but simply paying a fine associated with the plea of no contest;
  2. Contest The Ticket: Contesting the ticket consists of challenging the officer’s observations by contesting the facts that they have presented. If you have witness statements, photos of the area, and/or diagrams of where your car was in relation to the officer’s, your case will be stronger when contesting the ticket;
  3. Hire a Traffic Ticket Lawyer: If you believe that you did not commit the violation you are being accused of, you should hire a traffic lawyer in order to get the ticket dismissed; and
  4. Attend Traffic School: As previously mentioned, you may be able to pay the traffic ticket and attend traffic school. If you are eligible to do so, attending traffic school ensures that you will not have any traffic penalty points added to your driving record. As a result, this will help you keep a “clean” driving record, as well as lower insurance premiums.

What Are the Distinctions Between Traffic Tickets and Additional Offenses?

As mentioned above, traffic tickets are typically minor infractions that result in minor legal consequences. An infraction is the least serious offense that a person can commit in the United States.

Additionally, in many jurisdictions, infraction laws are considered to be civil violations and not crimes. However, if the infraction is not resolved, a traffic offense may become serious. For example, parking tickets are generally punishable by fines, but multiple parking tickets may result in additional fines as well as jail time if they remain unpaid.

A speeding or moving violation will generally:

What Are the Differences Between Infractions, Misdemeanors, and Felonies?

As mentioned above, infractions only result in minor legal consequences and are often considered to be civil violations. However, an individual’s actions may have resulted in a more serious offense, such as causing harm to another individual or causing significant property damage. In this case, they may be charged with either a misdemeanor or a criminal felony.

For example, consider that the individual that was cited for a traffic violation was driving recklessly, such as by going over 25 mph over the speed limit, and their reckless driving resulted in harm to another person. In that case, they may receive a misdemeanor or felony charge depending on the circumstances of the case and the laws of the state.

What Happens at a Traffic Court Hearing?

If an individual decides to plead not guilty and contest the traffic citation, then a traffic court hearing will commence. At the hearing, the prosecution will present all of their evidence that tends to prove that the individual that was cited did, in fact, do what they were cited for. This means that they will attempt to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that you are guilty.

Next, the defendant will be given an opportunity to provide any evidence that tends to disprove that they did the actions they were cited for, as well as raise any traffic ticket defenses. Defendants will also be able to cross-examine any witnesses that the prosecutor offers, such as the police officer who issued the citation.

Then, after both parties have had an opportunity to present their case, the fact finder, in most cases a judge, will determine whether or not the defendant is guilty of the traffic violation. If the defendant is guilty, then they will be instructed to pay the fine associated with the ticket, along with any other legal penalties that the judge finds appropriate.

Is There a Downside to Owning Up and Paying a Ticket?

Once again, owning up and paying a ticket is equivalent to pleading guilty in a criminal or civil case, depending on the laws of the jurisdiction. This means that the conviction for the traffic citation may remain on the individual driving record for a certain period of time. This also means that points may be added to the individual’s driving license, which will result in their insurance premiums rising.

Can I Pay an Officer to Get Out of a Traffic Stop?

In short, no. The attempt to pay an officer to get out of a traffic stop is typically considered to be the crime of bribery, which can result in much more severe results than a traffic ticket. As such, it is important not to panic or overreact during a police stop and attempt to bribe a law enforcement official. Instead, if you want to oppose your ticket, you will have another opportunity to do so at traffic court.

What if I Cannot Afford My Traffic Ticket?

As mentioned above, failing to properly handle traffic tickets, such as paying the fines associated with the ticket, may result in additional legal penalties. In some cases, a judge may administer a warrant for the arrest of an individual who has many outstanding traffic violations.

As such, if you cannot afford your ticket, it is important to make the court aware of your financial situation. In some cases, if you are qualified for traffic school, you can use this prospect as an alternative to paying the fine. You may also ask the judge if you can get a fine deduction, set up a payment plan, or perform community service as an alternative to paying the full fine.

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

There are many arguments that an individual may utilize in building a solid defense for traffic court. However, the following arguments should be avoided, as they will not be considered solid arguments for defending oneself from a traffic citation:

  • A person should never admit that they broke the law but did not hurt anyone as an argument. This is because they have essentially just admitted guilt on the record;
  • An individual should also not argue that they were not aware of the law that they broke. This is because being unaware of a law does not excuse an individual from breaking it;
  • An individual should also not seek to tell the court a story unrelated to the traffic citation, as such arguments are irrelevant to the case at hand.

It is important to note that a standard defense in traffic court is that you did not break a traffic law. This means that you should provide testimony and evidence that tends to disprove that you broke the traffic law and that the prosecution has failed to meet its burden.

Should I Hire an Attorney?

If you are being accused of violating a traffic law, in many cases, it is in your best interests to consult with an experienced traffic ticket attorney. This is especially true if the charges involve property damage or harm to another person.

An attorney will be best suited to helping you understand your legal rights and options under your state’s specific traffic and moving violation laws. Additionally, an attorney will also be able to represent you in court as needed.

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