Ticket Defense Strategies for Court
You've probably read articles about fighting traffic tickets -- but the reality is many of us (probably most of us) just don't have the money to hire a lawyer -- or the time/expertise (let alone gumption) to actually challenge a ticket on our own. There are some alternatives, however.
Plead Guilty -- With Explanation
Sometimes you can get a reduced charge by pleading guilty -- but with an explanation. Provided you have an otherwise clean record -- and the charge itself is relatively minor -- often, this can yield good results. Remember -- what they want most is money. The charge itself is of secondary importance.
A great deal depends on the judge, however. Some are hard cases, others more reasonable. Before you decide to go this route, it's smart to get to court early and watch how your judge handles other cases -- especially those similar to your own. If you think, based on his actions, that he's going to throw the book at you -- you can always request a continuance; in many states, these are granted automatically upon request. Simply tell the judge you are not ready to go to trial. A continuance will push your court date off for another few weeks or so and give you time to prepare a defense -- or hire a lawyer.
Traffic courts are a lot like buying a new car -- because there's lots of haggling involved. You can ask the judge (or the prosecuting/commonwealth's attorney) about the possibility of agreeing to attend driving school and/or pay a fine in return for dropping the charge against you -- or changing the charge to a non-moving violation, which avoids DMV "points" being assigned to your driving record. That means your insurance company won't have a pretext for a rate hike. In some counties/states, certain charges aren't reported to the DMV at all -- especially if it's an out-of-state ticket. (Mostly, these include non-moving violations such as "defective equipment" -- a common "lesser charge" that's often assigned in lieu of the original moving violation.)
The key thing, however, is to avoid the moving violation conviction -- even if it means paying a larger fine than you'd otherwise have paid for just the ticket/offense you were originally charged with. A one-time hit to your wallet is infinitely preferable to having that ticket held against you for anywhere from three to five years -- the length of time it will be on your DMV record -- and used by your insurance company to justify higher premiums. The total cost of a single moving violation on your DMV record can easily exceed the one-time hit of a fine for "defective equipment" (or whatever) many times over. And keep in mind: If you should be unlucky enough to receive another ticket before the old one "drops off" -- your jeopardy has just doubled. The points stack up -- and your insurance goes through the roof. How likely is it you can go for another five years without getting nailed again? For many of us, that's a virtual impossibility! It's possible in some states to take the DMV-authorized "driving school" online -- and avoid the hassle of spending an entire Saturday reliving high school detention. See http://www.trafficschoolonline.com/ for more information.
Either of these alternatives -- pleading guilty with an explanation or bargaining your way to a lesser charge -- can be more cost-effective than hiring a lawyer or spending days/weeks of your own time doing what's necessary to fight the ticket yourself. Most of us have jobs and responsibilities that make that very difficult, if not impossible. And it can be very intimidating for a layman to go up against the system, subpoenaing records, questioning the ticketing officer in open court -- and so on. By challenging the system in this way, one also runs the very real risk of antagonizing the court -- and becoming the target of an angry judge looking to "teach someone a lesson." It's true you can always appeal a conviction (in many states, a traffic law case may even entitle you to a jury trial, if you want to take it that far). But that involves yet more time, yet more expense. How much of either can you afford to spend on a traffic ticket beef?
Yes, there's the principle involved. If it's a really unjust ticket, you may be motivated to go all the way -- and do whatever it takes to beat the rap. But sometimes, it's smart to pick your battles -- and go for the best outcome you can realistically hope for given time and other constraints.
Negotiate Out of a Moving Violation Ticket
People who get speeding tickets are often guilty of doing the wrong things to get noticed. That starts a chain of events that leads to an unwanted ticket. So follow these easy ways to "stay under the radar."
Stay 5-10 mph of nearby traffic. Cops are usually looking for drivers who are going noticeably faster than the other cars on the road. If you're within a pack of cars all going 5 to 10 mph over the limit, you've automatically improved your odds of not being the one that gets pulled over for a speeding ticket, even though you're all technically speeding. The cop has to pick one car; if you go with the flow of traffic, it probably won't be you. And it definitely won't be you if you don't speed in the first place.
Stay in the middle of a group of cars. If you're the lead car, logic says you'll be the first car to run past any cop's radar trap up ahead and get a speeding ticket. And if you're the last car, you'll be the one the police officer rolls up behind. That means the safest place is in the middle -- just like a gazelle fleeing a hungry lion by seeking safety in the middle of the herd.
Follow a "rabbit." If you can't find a pack of cars going the speed you'd like to maintain, the next best thing is to find yourself a rabbit -- a solitary driver traveling the speed you'd like to drive that you can follow discretely, about 50-100 yards back. If there's a cop using radar, hopefully the rabbit will trip the trap and get a speeding ticket, not you. And if he brakes suddenly, you have just received your early warning in time to take defensive action.
Avoid tailgating, changing lanes, or aggressive driving. In addition to being rude and dangerous, you're just asking for a trucker or someone with a cell phone to call the cops and give them a description of your vehicle and license plate number. Always use your signals and be courteous to fellow drivers. It's safer, and it will help you fade into the background.
Stay in the curb lane. Use the far left lane to pass when necessary, but try to stay in the middle lanes when possible. Reason? If a cop is lurking in a cutout along the median strip (or coming at you from the opposite direction on a divided highway) the speeder in the far left lane is the one most likely to become the target. Drivers who get nailed with speeding tickets are often the type who rack it up to 10 or 15 over the limit and remain in the far left lane.
Be aware of hiding spots. On many highways, there are cutouts in the median strip every couple of miles. Usually, you can see these in plenty of time to slow down a little bit in case there's a cop lurking behind the bushes ready to give you a speeding ticket.
If you are the only car around, do not speed. If you ignore this warning it's the equivalent of plastering a "ticket me!" bumper sticker on your vehicle. Even if you're only doing five mph over the posted limit, if there's a cop using radar, he's got nothing to look at but you. Lonesome speeding is even more dangerous in small towns, where radar traps and aggressive enforcement by cops can be common. And never speed late at night. Drunk-driving patrols are heavy and cops are more inclined to pull you over for any offense in order to check you for signs of alcohol. Don't give them a reason.
Use a radar detector if lawful. Yes, they're expensive (good ones, anyhow). But a one-time hit of, say, $300 for a decent radar detector is cheaper than even a single big speeding ticket and the higher insurance costs that will come with it. Radar detectors are legal in most states and well worth the investment to avoid a speeding ticket.
Drive a nondescript vehicle. It may not be fair, but it's human nature to notice things that stand out from the crowd. Bright-colored cars, those with loud exhaust or other pimped-out enhancements are the cars more likely to draw a cop's initial attention than ordinary-looking, family-type cars. Since the cop has to single out one car, which car do you suppose is the likely candidate for a speeding ticket? The bright yellow Mustang GT with 20-inch chrome rims? Or the silver Taurus?
If you do get pulled over while driving a fancy, high-profile car, your odds of getting a speeding ticket versus a warning have probably gone up. If you're driving a fast-looking hot rod, the cop is going to assume you use it and deserve a ticket more than the guy in a family-looking ride whose plea that he "didn't realize he was speeding, officer" comes off as more believable.
Appearances count. That is, your appearance. If your appearance says, "Responsible member of the community," you're apt to get a more friendly response than if you look and act like trouble.
The worst possible thing you can do is combine all the no-no's listed above by driving a flashy car too fast, late at night when you're the only car on the road while looking like you just robbed a bank.
If you do that, expect a speeding ticket. And expect no mercy