If an officer tickets you for a moving violation, you’ll have to decide whether to handle the ticket yourself or hire an attorney to take care of it for you. Hiring an attorney could cost several hundred dollars—often about the same amount as the fine for the citation—but depending on your situation, it might be money well spent.
Options for Dealing with a Ticket
Generally, when you get a traffic ticket, you’ll have several options for resolving it. These typically include:
- paying the ticket without going to court (usually you can pay by mail or on the Internet)
- doing traffic school
- going to court and pleading guilty or “no contest” at your arraignment, and
- pleading not guilty and requesting a traffic court trial.
(To learn more about the options for handling a traffic citation, see Contesting a Traffic Ticket.)
Deciding Whether to Hire an Attorney
Your decision on whether to hire a traffic attorney might depend on which option you choose for resolving your ticket. But it normally doesn’t hurt to at least talk to a lawyer before deciding. Many traffic attorneys offer prospective clients a free initial consultation, and you don’t have to hire an attorney you consult with. Speaking with a lawyer can be helpful in deciding how to handle your ticket and whether to hire someone to represent you.
Not going to court. Paying a citation without going to court is generally the quickest and most convenient way of dealing with a ticket. If you plan on resolving your ticket this way, you can probably manage without hiring an attorney.
But not going to court also has its disadvantages: You’ll being paying the maximum fine and the violation will go on your record and likely cause your insurance rates to increase. Also, most states have a point system for keeping track of a driver’s traffic convictions. Each type of violation has a point value, and a driver who accumulates too many points faces license suspension. If any of these consequences are a concern, you’ll probably want to consider the alternatives.
Traffic school. For many drivers, traffic school (sometimes called “defensive driving” or “driver improvement”) is good way of dealing with a traffic ticket. Motorists who choose this route might not need to hire an attorney. To do traffic school, usually all you have to do is tell the judge or court clerk that you want to take care of your ticket this way. An attorney can come to court and request traffic school for you, but the result will likely be the same as if you do it yourself.
By completing traffic school, you can typically keep points off your record and your insurance rates from increasing. But traffic school can be expensive. In many states, you’ll not only have to pay the cost of your traffic school course, but also court fees and the fine for your citation. And most states have traffic school eligibility requirements; if you have certain offenses or have done traffic school recently, you might not qualify.
Pleading guilty or no contest in court. In many states, judges can and often will reduce the fine for motorists who come to court and plead guilty at arraignment. Handling your ticket this way is usually fairly simple without an attorney, but it does require you to come to court. Plus, the violation will go on your record.
If you can’t go to court—many people can’t take off from work or school—you can hire an attorney to go for you. But if you don’t want a conviction on your record, this probably isn’t the best alternative for you.
Requesting a trial. Generally, there are two reasons for requesting a trial:
- you’re hoping the officer who cited you doesn’t show up in court, or
- you actually want to fight the ticket at trial.
If the officer doesn’t come to court on the trial date, the court will typically dismiss your ticket. However, if the officer does come, your trial will go forward.
The first scenario is easy enough for most people to handle on their own. Traffic trials, on the other hand, can be tricky without the assistance of an attorney. Doing a trial on your own will likely require a significant investment of time, and in the end, you might not be satisfied with the result.
Hiring a traffic attorney to represent you at trial could be well worth it. Good traffic attorneys know the law well and have lots of experience challenging government evidence in court. And an attorney who regularly represents clients in a certain area will likely have personal relationships with prosecutors, police officers, and judges and know their tendencies. This knowledge and skill will often increase your chances of winning your case.