Are you one of the 35 million people who receive a traffic ticket each year? Would you like to know how ot fight a traffic ticket? Read on.
Of the 35 million drivers issued tickets each year only 5% are actually contested. About half are dismissed and half see reduced fines or deferred findings or reduced charges that don’t get reported to DOL or insurance companies. Because you’re reading this, you probably got a ticket, and you’re wondering what to do.
My advice is to always demand a court hearing to either fight your ticket/infraction, or at least mitigate it. Your worst case is that you end up paying the same fine indicated on your ticket. Best case is you get your ticket kicked out. Either way you’ll only be out your time. The important thing is that if you win, your insurance will not increase. If you simply pay your ticket, there’s no telling what will happen to your insurance rates.
Any experienced Puget Sound Traffic Attorney will get good results in about 98% of their cases. Most of the time that means keeping an infraction off your record. The rest of the time it means that you pay less money for your ticket. As you can see, just by going to court and contesting your ticket, the odds are swinging in your favor.
Here’s how to do things from the beginning…
When the officer approaches your vehicle he will likely ask you one of two standard questions:
- Do you know why I stopped you?— Your response should be a polite, “No officer, I do not.”
- Do you know how fast you were going?– The safest response is simply “I’m not really sure.” As you probably have not had your speedometer calibrated, this is a true and honest answer.
The key element here is to admit anything. Do not minimize your speed while admitting breaking the speed limit. For example, if the cop says that you were doing 60 in a 35, don’t tell him that you were going faster than 35. This is called an admission. The judge will use it against you later.
Have your license, registration and proof of insurance ready when the cop comes up to your window. This way the officer isn’t worried about you reaching in a glove box for an illegal weapon while he is writing your citation.
At this point, some officers will ask to search your car. You can, and should, simply say no. If he threatens to get a search warrant, politely tell him to get one. If he really has a legitimate reason to search your car, then he will do it without asking. Don’t let him bully you with threats of impounding your car, taking your kids, cavity searches, etc. Cops only ask permission when they can’t act without it.
It is also important to remember that you’re not going to talk your way out of a ticket. Cops issue tickets for a living. It’s their job. As soon as a cop’s pen hits the ticket book he is committed to issuing a ticket. There’s no going back.
While the cop is writing your citation, you should start making notes about what happened and where. Try to record the following:
- Make, model, license plate number and unit number of the cop’s car.
- Note your location and try to determine the distance between the alleged violation and where you stopped.
- Even though your citation will list the basic weather conditions, make note of all the weather conditions such as temperature, wind, cloud cover, etc.
- Who were your passengers? Make sure that they remain totally silent during the entire stop unless they are asked a specific question.
- Record shirt or jacket color.
- Record distinctive characteristics about your car such as dents, paint color(s), wheels, etc.
- Make notes about everything the cop said during the stop. Sometimes the cop who stops you will not be the officer who clocked you with the Speed Measuring Device (SMD).
- Make notes about the traffic conditions when you were pulled over.
The cop is probably going to give you your ticket to sign. Your signature is not an admission that you broke the law, but simply notice of the infraction and instructions on either paying the ticket, or arranging your day in court. Refusing to sign will not benefit you in any way, so go ahead and sign if asked to.
Some traffic lawyers advise that you ask to see the radar read out. You can if you want, but these cases are won on technicalities and not on the display on a radar after a stop. My sense is that asking to see the display will suggest to the cop that you plan on fighting the ticket, so he might actually do what he’s supposed to, which makes the ticket harder to fight.
Pull away from the scene calmly and safely and use your signal before merging back into traffic. Do not accelerate quickly enough to shoot gravel/debris onto the hood of the cop’s car. That makes them very, very unhappy.
Fight or Pay
Now that you have your traffic citation it’s time to decide whether to Fight or Pay. Remember, even if you go to court to fight and you end up losing, your fine is not going to increase, so there’s no real downside other than your time. You also need to consider the fact that you might be paying the fine plus the added insurance premiums if you don’t beat that ticket. Here are some of the more common reasons for Contesting a Ticket/Infraction:
- I can’t afford the fine, or I or don’t want to pay it.
- I don’t want an infraction on my record.
- I didn’t do it.
- OK, I did do it but everyone else was too.
- The cop/trooper was mean to me.
If you fit into one of the above categories, you want your day in court.
Contested Hearing or Mitigation Hearing?
You can either simply pay the ticket, or there are two types of court hearings for a traffic citation:
Pay The Ticket – I’m a law breaker and here’s my money. Please raise my insurance.
Guilty with an explanation – I’m naughty, but let me tell the court why before I pay my money and you raise my insurance.
Contest the Ticket – This is how you get your day in court to challenge the ticket, avoid a fine, and protect your insurance rate.
It is important to remember that Contesting the Ticket, by law, does not necessarily mean you didn’t commit the alleged offense. What it means is that the prosecutor or State now has to prove more probably than not that you did commit the offense. The burden of proof is now on the State and not you. There are a lot of defenses someone can use to beat a traffic infraction.
Should you hire a lawyer?
Yes, you probably should. I’ve watched pretty experienced attorneys in court who don’t understand the case law, judicial personalities and issues unique to traffic infraction defense, and they really botch things up. Different courts interpret case law different, so what works in one court won’t work in some others. It’s important to know what works where. Unfortunately, that knowledge is really only gained by appearing in traffic court every day.
Setting the Court Date
Regardless of how you choose to proceed, you need to return your infraction to the issuing court within 15 days, or the court can find that you have failed to respond. They can then send your case to collections, which makes things a lot more expensive.
If you want to challenge your ticket, you need check the “Contested Hearing” box on your infraction, make a photocopy of the infraction, and envelope with appropriate postage and address. Put the original infraction in the envelope, seal it, and drop it in the mail within 15 days of receiving the ticket. The court will send you a court date.
If you are planning on representing yourself, then you need to also request “Discovery” from both the Court where your hearing will occur, and also from the prosecutor for that Court. This request has to be made at least two weeks before your hearing. Discovery has to be provided to you at least one week before the hearing.
You should hire an experienced traffic attorney who will always do a more thorough job than a non-professional, but if you can’t afford the $200 to hire our firm, do your homework, and you’ll have a better chance at prevailing than just about any other person without an attorney.
You can trust the attorneys at Durflinger Oliver & Associates PS& Associates to protect you, your wallet and your insurance rates. Call us today to for your free consultation so that we can discuss all of your options and how best to fight a traffic ticket.