Home > criminal law > Fighting a Traffic Ticket–Is it really worth it?

Fighting a Traffic Ticket–Is it really worth it?


I had a hearing today in a city justice court for a client who was cited for reckless driving and improper display of a vehicle license.  These are two pretty basic traffic citations.  In this jurisdiction, the fines for the two offenses came to just about $750.00.  Reckless driving, however, has a mandatory court appearance attached to it, and goes on your insurance at just a notch below drunk driving.  One can appear in court unrepresented, and hope for the best.  In my case, with this client, she felt that she would be better off to hire me to represent her, and possibly pay me what the citations would cost her, rather than end up paying the fines.

In this case, the client didn’t actually violate the law.  The officer who stopped her improperly cited her in the license plate instance (she hadn’t violated any part of the statute he noted on her citation).  Further, he didn’t actually observe her driving in a way that would rise to reckless driving.  A “witness” had called in the alleged behavior to the police station, and the cop found my client’s car and pulled her over.  When she asked the cop what she’d done, he told her he hadn’t seen anything wrong, but the witness was adamant.  The officer cited her but did not sign the ticket himself–apparently, the witness hung around somewhere long enough to sign it, then left the jurisdiction.  The officer made no report beyond filing the citation.  He took no statement from the witness, and made no notations concerning the incident himself.

We went to court today.  I got Rock Star treatment, at least, as much Rock Star treatment as one can expect from traffic court (sometimes it can be fun to be a lawyer ;)).  Instead of sitting in the gallery with all those poor souls waiting to have their appearances before the court, the bailiff had me sit at counsel table until the prosecutor was ready to discuss my client’s case.  The prosecutor came and got me before my client was called, and we went into a conference room to discuss the client’s case.  When I explained the circumstances and the situation, it became clear that there was no way he would be able to prove my client had done anything wrong if were we to go to trial.  The prosecutor dismissed all charges.

I went back into the courtroom, to counsel table.  The judge called our case next.  I informed him that the charges had been dropped, and he asked that I provide some basis for this.  I explained the circumstances briefly to the judge, who accepted that as being good enough, and we left the courtroom.

We won this case because my client was willing to stick by her guns and not roll over in the face of a couple of traffic citations.  If one has actually done something wrong, showing up might get a reduced fine in a traffic case.  But I think there are too many of us who just don’t want to be bothered with dealing with the court appearance, and just pay the fine even if we believe we are guiltless.

Go through a little cost/benefit analysis next time you’re put in that position.  What is it going to cost you to pay the fine, for a crime you didn’t commit, just to not be bothered?  If you’re looking at any kind of a moving violation, that will be a mark against you for insurance purposes.  What are your increased premiums going to be?  How much will you actually end up spending in the long run to avoid the inconvenience now?

Also consider that some offenses “stack.”  Subsequent offenses of the same type will count against you, and could lead to increased penalties in the future.  Unless you plan on being perfect for the rest of your natural life, don’t admit to guilt if you’re NOT GUILTY.

You don’t need a lawyer to go to traffic court.  But I’m sure my client will tell you it was worth it to her to pay me my fee once rather than having to worry about figuring out the court, talking to the prosecutor, and possibly end up getting railroaded into pleading guilty.  Prosecutors do that.  They don’t really care about the consequences in your life.  That’s not their job.  Remember that:  The prosecutor is not your lawyer.  If you want one, hire one.  Look at it as an investment in Peace in the future.

Categories: criminal law
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