Criminal Law

A Day in Traffic Court

Talk to a Local Traffic Violations Attorney

The unpleasant feeling you get when receiving a traffic ticket is shared by many. Police officers have a duty to enforce traffic laws and promote safe driving. However, it's easy to forget about this when receiving a ticket. Most people get the feeling of "Why me?" or get angry for being chosen among other drivers that are violating the law. It can seem unfair to get a speeding ticket for going with the flow of traffic.

For most minor traffic violations, the driver may pay the fine on the ticket and never go to court. This option allows the driver to put the issue behind him. However, there are many consequences for receiving a traffic ticket. Some examples include:

  • Costly fine
  • Receiving points on the driver's record
  • Increase in auto insurance rates
  • Driver's license suspension 
  • Arrest if the fine isn't paid

In most cases, a driver is better off fighting the ticket. Taking a day off from work and contesting the ticket in traffic court may be worth it in the long run. There's a good chance the punishment may be reduced or the ticket dropped altogether. However, going to traffic court is easier said than done. Many people might not understand the court process and what to expect. Although states may differ in exactly how their traffic courts are run, there are certain similarities that are common through most states.

Date of the Trial

There are several ways in which you may be informed of your court date. Some examples include:

  • The traffic ticket you receive has the court date
  • A notice is sent by mail to you if you don't pay the fine by a certain date
  • You must contact the court listed on the ticket to set up a trial date

The ticket you receive should tell you of the manner you'll be informed of the trial. It'll also inform you of which court you need to visit to contest the ticket. If you can't make the trial date, most states will allow you to ask for a continuance to move it to a new date. One advantage to this is that the police officer who issued the ticket may be too busy to come to court on the new date. Your ticket should inform you of when and how to ask for a continuance.

Representation by an Attorney

You have the option of hiring an attorney for traffic court. If the legal consequences of your traffic violation are small, you may want to save money and attempt to contest the ticket yourself. However, if the fine is large or your license will be suspended, it may be worth paying a few hundred dollars to fight the ticket with the help of an attorney.

Preparation for Trial

The ticket will list the traffic violation you're accused of committing. You should examine the law on the internet and try to understand what it exactly means. Make sure you know your side of the story well and practice speaking it. Photographs, diagrams and other evidence should be gathered to help support your side of the story. Any witnesses should also be contacted to make sure they're available for trial.

If you have any questions about the trial process, you can contact the clerk of the traffic court. She'll provide information as to the procedures used by the court. However, the clerk is legally prohibited from giving out legal advice. She has to remain neutral throughout the entire trial process.

Arrival at Traffic Court

On the day of the trial, you should arrive at the courthouse on time. If you don't, the judge may find you guilty or issue a warrant for your arrest. In order to show respect to the judge, you should wear nice clothes and turn off your cell phone. Make sure that you're respectful to everyone.

You'll probably see other people like yourself at the courthouse that have been issued traffic tickets. The police officers that issued the tickets will also be at the courthouse to testify. Everyone takes a seat in the courtroom once the doors are open. A court bailiff or the clerk may give some preliminary instructions and be available for any questions about the process.

Trial Court Process

Everyone will rise once the judge enters the court. There should be no talking unless asked a question by the judge. The judge or bailiff will call your name when it's time for your case. When your case is called, you should look at the judge in his eyes and answer his questions clearly and precisely.

The best outcome is that the ticket is dismissed. The easiest way for this to happen is that the police officer who issued your ticket fails to show up for trial. He may have other plans or just forgets to go. If there's a prosecutor at trial who's in charge of representing the state, he'll normally ask for the case to be dismissed if the officer isn't there.

If the officer is there for trial, he'll usually testify first. You or your attorney will then be able to cross-examine him. After this examination, you'll have the opportunity to present your defense. The prosecutor will then have the opportunity to cross-examine you. Be truthful with your answers and only answer the exact questions. After all the evidence is presented, the judge will make his decision. The total time for the trial should be very short.

The prosecutor may offer a reduced punishment for pleading guilty to the case. For example, a fine of $400 will be reduced to $200. You'll have to weigh the benefits of the reduced fine with the opportunity to have the ticket dismissed.

You may also have the opportunity to ask to go to traffic school. Even though you have to pay a fee to attend, the traffic violation won't appear on your driving record. This will prevent any license suspension and an increase in your auto insurance rates.

Even though it may be intimidating to attend traffic court, you have the opportunity to reduce or completely dismiss any legal consequences from the traffic ticket. It may even be as simple as your police officer being on vacation during your court date.

Questions for Your Attorney

  • What are the benefits of having an attorney represent me at traffic court?
  • If I go to traffic court and lose, can the judge give me a larger fine than the one listed on my ticket?
  • What should I do if I get a traffic ticket in another state? Can I hire an attorney to represent me in traffic court without having to go to that state?
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