A legal violation involving a traffic ticket is a speeding and moving violation in most circumstances. These violations typically happen when a motor vehicle is in motion rather than stationary.
Speeding and moving violations may involve matters including:
- Driving recklessly or dangerously;
- Driving while under the influence;
- Displays of speed;
- Failure to obey traffic rules, for instance, not stopping at a red light;
- Racing; and
- Miscellaneous other violations.
Not all traffic court cases involve speeding or moving violations.
Typical examples of non-moving traffic violations include:
- A citation for an outdated license plate;
- A citation for outdated registration stickers;
- Illegal parking; and
- Keeping a non-operational motor vehicle parked on the street for too long of a time.
The majority of traffic tickets are deemed citations. These citations will result in a small fine. There are, however, some offenses that may result in misdemeanor traffic offenses or felony traffic offenses, especially if an individual is hurt or killed.
There are multiple different types of traffic transgressions. The regulations governing these violations may differ from state to state. A traffic misdemeanor often involves danger to human life, safety, or property.
The following acts are normally deemed criminal traffic misdemeanors:
- Reckless driving;
- Driving without car insurance;
- Driving without a license;
- Hit and run accidents;
- Failing to stop after an accident happens; and
- Driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol (called DUI or DWI).
A felony traffic violation is more severe than a misdemeanor traffic offense and, thus, will carry more strict penalties. The kinds of traffic violations that are deemed felonies will vary by state.
The following are generally 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;
- Fleeing the scene of an accident; and
- Fleeing from law enforcement.
Can I Fight a Traffic Ticket?
If an individual has obtained a citation for a traffic violation, it may be possible for them to oppose the ticket. It will largely hinge on what violation the citation is for. In some circumstances, an individual may have a defense to the citation, such as if they were avoiding a traffic accident by making an illegal turn.
Several strategies may be successful in fighting a traffic ticket, including:
- Questioning the observations of the officer;
- Mistake of fact conduct;
- Legally justified behavior; and
- Conduct to avoid harm.
An individual may be able to challenge the officer’s observations who wrote the ticket. If the person can provide witness statements, photos of the area, and diagrams of where their car was concerning the law enforcement officer’s vehicle, their case will be more assertive.
If an individual can demonstrate to the court that they made a genuine mistake or a mistake of fact, the ticket or charge may be dismissed. For instance, if a stop sign was obstructed or stolen, an individual’s “failure to stop” ticket may be thrown out.
Another available defense may be legally justified behavior. If an individual can demonstrate that they were justified, a ticket may be disregarded, such as slowing down in the left lane to make a left-hand turn.
A court may dismiss an individual’s traffic ticket if they can demonstrate that their actions directly resulted from attempting to avoid harm to themselves or others. For instance, if an individual has to swerve across the double yellow lines to avoid hitting an individual riding a bicycle.
Although these are common defense strategies, it may still be hard for an individual to have their traffic ticket dismissed. It can be very useful to have an experienced attorney in traffic court.
How Can I Decide Whether to Challenge a Ticket?
If an individual cannot decide whether or not to contest a traffic ticket, they may wish to consult an attorney. It is essential to determine the exact charge and refer to the law governing that charge.
People may be surprised to learn that law enforcement officers may give citations for violations that are not actually violations. In some circumstances, the law enforcement officer may not be up to date on the laws or do not recognize that the citation they gave 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 case. If the law does not apply to the citation or ticket an individual received, it is clear that they may want to contest the ticket.
What Is Traffic Court Like?
When a driver decides to contest a ticket, the first question that usually pops into their head is, “What is traffic court like?”
The following is a simple step-by-step guide to a hearing in traffic court:
The Clerk Calls the Parties in the Case
The court calls all parties to the courtroom. A prosecutor represents the state. The defendant can either represent themselves or hire a lawyer for representation. All witnesses are called.
The Judge Listens to Any Motions
Motions are requests made on some aspect of the case.
- Request to dismiss the case
- Request for a continuance
- Request for the prosecution to give the defendant any officer’s notes
What Happens Once the Hearing Begins?
Before any testimony, the prosecutor and the defendant make opening statements. Either party may waive their right to make an opening statement.
- After all opening statements are made, the following happens:
- Prosecution presents witnesses
- Defense presents witnesses
- The prosecution makes closing statements
- Defense makes closing statements
Will I Have the Chance to Question Prosecution Witnesses?
Yes. The defense has the right to question each prosecution witness once the prosecution is done questioning that witness. This secondary questioning by the defense is known as cross-examination. All of the questions asked by the defense during cross-examination must relate to the traffic ticket. After cross-examination, the prosecution may ask the witness more questions or dismiss the witness from the stand.
The Sixth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution ensures the right of someone accused of a crime to be confronted with witnesses against them. This right is usually termed the confrontation clause.
The purpose of this right is closely tied with the concept of being innocent until proven guilty. By holding the right to be confronted by one’s witnesses, the accused secures the opportunity to cross-examine witnesses. This enables the accused to challenge the accusations of the witness but permits the trier of fact (either the judge or jury) to weigh the witness’s demeanor before deciding on guilt.
What Type of Testimony Is Subject to Cross-Examination?
According to the Supreme Court, testimonial statements must be subject to cross-examination. Testimonial statements are statements made under circumstances where an objective witness could reasonably think that the statement would be used at trial.
Will the Judge Give a Verdict?
A judge gives a verdict at the end of a trial. A judge will decide to take the matter under submission or advisement in some traffic cases. The terms “submission” or “advisement” mean the judge wants to wait to make a decision instead of immediately after each side has delivered their closing argument. They may wish to review more evidence or testimony before giving a verdict.
What Is the Most Likely Sentence in a Traffic Hearing?
The sentence depends on how well the defense makes its case. The judge may find that the defendant is not guilty.
If the defense sways the judge but not enough to give a “not guilty” verdict, they may:
- Suspend the fine, or
- Decrease the fine.
Should I Contact a Lawyer About Traffic Court?
A traffic violation attorney will help you answer the question of what traffic court is like. An attorney will also prepare you for each step in the traffic court process. The legal assistance will eradicate the mystery of the traffic court process.