Traffic Tickets

What to do after the police pull you over.

It's the rare driver who goes a lifetime without getting a traffic or parking ticket. And while it's tempting to ignore a parking ticket fluttering under your windshield wiper, or tear up that speeding ticket the officer handed you, doing so is a bad idea. There's nothing quite like getting pulled over on your way to work or on an outing with your family for making an illegal turn or running a stop sign and being handcuffed and arrested for ignoring previous tickets. And more than a few drivers have been dismayed to return to their parked cars only to find that the car has a "boot" on its wheel, a device that that prevents it from being driven away.

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If you think you've received a ticket you didn't deserve, it's useless to argue with the officer who issued it, and doing so may even work against you when it comes time for your day in court, since police officers usually have a much greater recall of uncooperative motorists than those who just take the ticket and go on their way. If you want to fight a ticket, the proper place to do so is in traffic court. The ticket will indicate the time and place where you can appear to contest it.

While it can be frustrating and time consuming to go to traffic court, and you may be tempted to simply pay the fine and be done with the matter, there are some times when fighting a traffic ticket makes sense. Speeding and traffic tickets can lead to increased insurance rates, and repeated offenses can lead to the suspension or loss of your driver's license. So if you got a parking ticket while you were legally parked, or if you can show that the police officer who issued the ticket made a mistake, you should seriously consider going to court.

In most cases, you don't need a lawyer's help to fight a traffic ticket. Although the procedures may vary a bit from court to court, generally you simply appear in court on the day scheduled. In many communities, you can meet with the prosecuting attorney before your case is called and attempt to work out a reduction or dismissal of the charges. If this proves impossible, or if it isn't the procedure in your community, you will then wait for your case to be called. The traffic court judge will ask for your plea, at which point you say "Not Guilty."

The court will then ask the prosecuting attorney to present his case, which will usually consist entirely of the testimony of the officer who wrote the ticket. The attorney will ask the officer to identify himself, give an account of the events leading up to the ticket and identify you as the driver to whom the ticket was issued. You then get a chance to cross-examine the officer, and present any evidence you may have in your defense, such as your own testimony and the testimony of other witnesses. The prosecutor gets to cross-examine you and your witnesses, and that's about it. The judge then renders his decision.

While it's not necessary to get a fresh haircut and wear your Sunday best to traffic court, being neatly dressed and treating the judge, the police officer and the prosecuting attorney with courtesy won't hurt your case. And if you spend a little time preparing your case before you get to court, rehearsing your questions and organizing your thoughts, you can present your case more clearly and more importantly, more quickly. Traffic court judges have crowded courtroom schedules, and they tend to appreciate brevity and clarity.

In some cases, simply showing up to contest the ticket may be enough to lead to a dismissal. In order to proceed with its case, the government will almost always need the testimony of the officer who wrote the ticket. Occasionally, because of a scheduling conflict, the officer won't be in court when he's supposed to be. If he's not there, you can ask the court to dismiss your case for lack of prosecution.

Finally, if the offense you've been charged with is a serious one, you may want to at least talk to an attorney beforehand, and you might even want to have one represent you if you are facing suspension or loss of your license, or if you think being found guilty will cause a big jump in your insurance rates. While there are plenty of times when a lawyer's help isn't necessary, it may be a false economy to save a few hundred dollars in legal fees only to pay that and more in increased insurance rates and added inconvenience.

Copyright 1999 ProSe Associates, Inc. All rights reserved.

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