Eventually it happens to the best of us--a seemingly minor traffic ticket. Whether it’s speeding, running a stop sign, or the other common infractions, such a ticket can be an expensive hassle with long-term effects. Once you have your ticket in hand, the only thing to do is to make sure you handle it properly. A mishandled ticket can lead to additional fines, heighted insurance costs and even jail. Here’s what you need to know:
Show up to Court
Most traffic tickets will have a court date stated on the paperwork. There will often be an option to resolve the matter immediately by paying the fine via mail or Internet. We strongly recommend you attend your court date. If you pay the fine without appearing, you sign a statement that you are pleading guilty, and that means there is no hope the charge will be reduced or the fine lessened. If you do make the effort to show up, the judge may reward you by mitigating the damage to your driving record or pocketbook. Also, if the officer that ticketed you is not present, your case may even be dismissed. Bear in mind, you may have to pay court fees if you appear, but this charge may be worth the long term goal of keeping your insurance payments down.
If you don’t appear, it’s imperative you pay your fine by the required date, or send an attorney to represent you in court. If fines are not paid and there is a no-show at the hearing, the judge may very well issue a bench warrant for your arrest or, at the very least, your fine will increase. Depending on the jurisdiction, the next time you are pulled over, you could be taken into custody or worse, an officer could find you and arrest you without waiting for another infraction.
Look and Act the Part
When you go to court, wear a suit or other business attire. And in this instance, less is more. The rule of thumb is to wear an outfit that you would wear to your grandmother’s funeral. Court is not the place for flash or glamour.
Additionally, it’s important to remember that in a courtroom, there are rules that need to be respected and followed. Don’t bring a cell phone, because if it rings, it could be confiscated. Some courts may not allow you to carry a cell phone past security, you will either lock it up or have to leave it in you car. Don’t sleep or talk loudly. Stand up when being addressed by the court and, if you can remember, refer to the judge as “Your Honor”. Simple, respectful practices will go a long way with most judges and your attention to detail will work in your favor when it’s your time to appear before the bench.
Have Your Evidence Ready
If you have a valid reason for speeding or committing another traffic offense bring your justification to court. For example, if you have a faulty odometer, bring proof from your mechanic. If your wife was in labor, bring proof such as a birth certificate or hospital discharge sheet. If trees obscured the sign that posted the speed limit, bring proof in the form of pictures.
Bear in mind a “reason” for speeding is different than an “excuse”. Being late for meeting or a date isn’t going to persuade the court. Remember, presiding over traffic court is the judge’s job and most of them have heard every excuse imaginable. If you don’t have a compelling reason, don’t make one up. Also, while in most criminal cases, its important not to admit fault, in traffic court, it may be prudent to admit fault and apologize. That bit of sincerity may work in your favor. An attorney can help you determine the best approach.
Keep in mind that the officer who ticketed you will also be present. If you were polite to him, he may say so, and that may help your case.
Of course, because procedure varies from court to court, knowing what to say and what not to say can be dicey. One judge may appreciate your sincerity and another may throw the book at you. To be certain, consider hiring an attorney to help you navigate through the process.
Mitigate the Damages
If this is your second, third or fourth ticket in a short period of time, or even if it’s your first and if you want to be ahead of the game, there are ways to soften the blow of a ticket.
Before court, you can take a live or online driving safety course that should reduce the points on your record. The court might require you to complete such a course anyway, so it may be smart to do it ahead of time. If you do so, bring your certificate of completion to your court date. Your willingness to make the extra effort will only have a positive effect on the judgment. Both your state DMV and your insurance company can recommend accredited classes.
When you Need an Attorney
An experienced attorney familiar with the court system can almost always get you a better result than if you go it alone. In addition to helping you prepare your best case, they can also save you time and hassle by appearing in your place in most instances. This is especially true if you received your ticket when you were far from home and it would be expensive and inconvenient to return for just the day.
An attorney is a necessity if the driving offense is serious, like extreme reckless driving, or if you have multiple offenses on your record, or if there is a chance you could lose your license. While attorney fees can be an expense on the front end, if you face a serious charge that could leave a long-term mark, it’s better to be safe than sorry. Loss of your driving privileges or an increase in insurance rates can easily exceed the cost or hiring an attorney to mitigate such losses.
Bergstrom Attorneys represent clients in the courts of District of Columbia and throughout Northern Virginia, including Alexandria, Arlington, Fairfax, Falls Church, and Loudoun. Contact us to discuss your case and to learn how we can help you protect your driving record.