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#419 Fighting a traffic ticket

mp3 #419 Should I Fight My Traffic Ticket? (mp3 file)

If you received a traffic ticket that you feel you didn't deserve, you may wonder whether it's worth your time to go to court or if you should simply pay the fine. Traffic violations are difficult to fight, particularly if you have only your word against the word of the arresting officer. For this reason, many people who receive traffic tickets don't bother to go to court, even though they believe a court appearance might clear their record of the violation for which they've been cited. You'll have to decide for yourself whether you want to take the time to fight a ticket. However, if you are concerned about your driving record and protecting your automobile insurance, or if there are unusual circumstances -- for instance, if you've been given a speeding ticket while rushing someone to the hospital -- you should think over your decision carefully.

If you do not want to fight your traffic ticket, but you do not want the offense on your driving record because of higher insurance costs, many courts will allow you to go to a traffic violator school instead. You will have to pay a fee to go to traffic school, and you have to complete the traffic school course. But there is no fine, and your offense will not appear on your driving record.

First of all, traffic violations are divided into three categories: infractions, misdemeanors, and felonies. An infraction -- for example speeding or failure to stop at a stop sign -- is punishable by a fine only, but no imprisonment. There is a court trial but no jury trial. However, if you are convicted of a fourth infraction such as speeding, in less than one year's time, then the fourth offense may be a misdemeanor.

A misdemeanor is usually punishable by a fine up to $1,000.00 and up to six months in county jail, but some misdemeanors are punished by up to one year in jail. Most drunk driving cases are misdemeanors. There will be a jury trial unless it is waived, that is, unless both you and the prosecutor don't want a jury to hear the case and are willing to let a judge decide the case.

Felony traffic violations, such as some hit and runs, are punishable by a term in state prison. There will be a jury trial unless both you and the prosecutor choose to waive it.

Except for an infraction, a person who gets a traffic ticket has the same rights as any accused person. You are entitled to be represented by an attorney if you want one, and an attorney may be appointed by the court if you cannot afford one. For an infraction, you have no right to a jury trial or to a court appointed attorney, because there is no possibility of your going to jail or prison if you are found guilty of an infraction.

If you plead innocent to an infraction, you must make two separate court appearances. First there is an arraignment, that is, a time when you are called before the court and asked how you will plead to the charges against you, guilty or not guilty. If you plead not guilty, a date will be set for your actual trial. At the trial the prosecution will attempt to prove your guilt.

In many courts if you plead innocent to a misdemeanor charge, you will appear three times -- for the arraignment, for a pre-trial hearing and at the trial. The pre-trial hearing provides an opportunity to negotiate with the prosecuting attorney.

In some cases, the court will not allow you to go to traffic school for your offense if you plead not guilty at the arraignment and ask for a trial. Also, traffic school may not be available based on the facts in your particular case. For example, you may have been driving at too high of a level of the speed limit. If you desire the option of traffic school for your offense, be sure to ask the court about that possibility at your first appearance.

If you can't afford an attorney, but you still feel that you are innocent of a traffic infraction, or that there are unusual circumstances in your case, by all means insist on a trial of your case and insist that the prosecutor prove your guilt.

Before you go to court, prepare your case. Check the law you are accused of violating to make certain you understand it. If pictures will help your case, bring them to court. Bring any witnesses, especially people who were in the car with you at the time of the alleged violation.

Make your defense in as clear and simple terms as possible. Avoid legal terms that you don't understand. Just tell your own story the way you see it. The court is usually very helpful to people without lawyers. Tell the truth and present your case as carefully as you can.

If you want to hire or consult with an attorney, call your local State Bar-certified Lawyer Referral Service. The person who answers your call can make an appointment for you to see a lawyer. Consider, though, that lawyers who practice in this area of law may charge more than the fine for the ticket.

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