Traffic Infractions – Should I Challenge my Ticket?

Should I Fight My Traffic Ticket?

Absolutely! You should consider FIGHTING your California Traffic Ticket!

Let’s be honest. We’ve all wondered… If you’ve received a traffic ticket that you feel you didn’t deserve, surely you’ve wondered whether it’s worth your time to go to court or simply pay the fine. Maybe that’s why you’re here reading this. Traffic violations can be difficult to fight, particularly if it’s your word against the word of the police, sheriff, or Highway Patrol officer. For this very reason, most people who receive traffic tickets don’t bother to contest their tickets, even though they believe a court appearance might clear their record of the violation, save them thousands of dollars on their future insurance premiums, or even facing loosing their license because they are living that well-attested folk superstition: Traffic Tickets come in THREES.” Yikes! If that’s you – – – if stress, your life situation, or the changing magnetic pull of the planets has you at your second, third or forth ticket in a year or two – you are a candidate for a lawyer! If for no other reason, just to stop the accumulation of points before your drivers license is suspended…

For every one else – – – if you are concerned about your driving record and protecting your automobile insurance, or you are just wanting to stand up because you were in “the right,” it is not all that expensive to get legal representation for a traffic citation – especially from a lawyer who specializes in such cases. People represented by a lawyer almost always do better than those who attempt to defend themselves. Call it the “system;” call it the smart thing to do: it is simply true.

All traffic charges are either infractions or crimes. Infractions are the less serious matters, such as speeding tickets, failure to stop at a stop sign; or red light tickets. Infractions are not considered crimes because there is no potential jail sentence. Because you are not facing jail (loo of your freedom – unless you “blow off” the system and get a warrant), you have fewer rights on a traffic infraction than a traffic crime (see below). When charged with a traffic infraction, you have the right to a trial, but your case will be heard by a judge there is not enough tax money or resources for a jury trial. Moreover, in traffic infractions you have no right to a court appointed attorney because there is no possibility of your going to jail. That said, however, you may hire your own attorney.

Traffic crimes, such as Reckless Driving or DUI (Driving Under the Influence) are misdemeanors punishable by fines up to $5,000+ and up to one year in a county jail. There is often the possibility of a license suspension and court-ordered probation. In such cases there can be a jury trial. A lawyer is always a good idea when facing a misdemeanor charge as you will statistically do far better having representation than you will be defending yourself. While that may be a “sad commentary” on the judicial system – as is any profession – when you know what you are doing, when you know the system and the people within that system your results are almost always significantly better.

Why? California law gives everyone the right to challenge their tickets in court, but it is estimated that only about 3% of individuals cited for a traffic violation exercise this right.  If you don’t immediately challenge your ticket, you not only waive your right to a hearing, but you also waive your rights to negotiate with the prosecutor for a reduced charge or to request that a judge defer your infraction.

Even if you don’t want to argue against the ticket in court, you should always contest your infraction to preserve your rights down the road.  But be careful, you must respond to your ticket within 15 days of receiving it or you will be stuck with it.

Christopher Solomon has written an excellent article for MSN on the hidden costs of traffic infractions and why to challenge them, available HERE