Traffic Ticket Law

What is Traffic Ticket Law?

Traffic ticket law refers to the rules governing the operation of motor vehicles on public roads. The purpose of these laws is to deter unsafe driving, promote efficiency on the roadways, and to raise revenue. Law enforcement agencies from all levels of government enforce traffic laws within their jurisdictions. The term “ticket” refers to the written citation issued to offenders at the time of the violation. In more serious cases, however, the prosecuting attorney may file charges in lieu of a citation.

Common Infractions and Penalties

Violations can be classified as either moving or non-moving. Moving violations, as the name suggests, are traffic tickets for acts or omissions by the driver while the vehicle is in motion. Examples include speeding, failure to stop at a traffic signal, and drunk driving. Non-moving violations are issued for things like improper parking or allowing a vehicle’s registration to lapse. Tickets for broken or missing equipment also fall into this category.

Criminal penalties for traffic violations range from a verbal warning to prison time, depending on the severity of the offense, and whether the driver has committed the same offense in the past. Equipment tickets can usually be resolved by repairing the vehicle and then having it inspected by a police officer. Other common violations, like speeding, require the driver to submit payment to the court based on a fee schedule. For more serious offenses, a court appearance is required during which a judge will decide the penalty.

Traffic tickets can also result in civil penalties. The most common example is when the state department of transportation takes action to suspend, revoke, or permanently cancel a violator’s driving privileges. This can occur based on a single infraction, such as DUI, or it can result from an accumulation of demerit points for multiple infractions of less-serious driving laws. Either way, the driver will be afforded the opportunity to contest the penalty in an administrative proceeding.

Negotiating a Settlement

Especially for those accused of violating traffic laws that carry significant fines or jail sentences, deciding whether to admit fault or contest the charges is not an “all or nothing” proposition. A great deal of middle ground exists for drivers willing to take some degree of responsibility. Prosecutors face heavy demands on their time, and they are often willing to reduce charges or agree to a lenient sentence in order to resolve a case quickly.

To successfully negotiate the settlement of a traffic ticket, drivers must understand the concept of leverage. In this context, leverage refers to bargaining power. And what is it that drivers can offer to a prosecuting attorney in exchange for favorable treatment? Drivers can agree to waive their right to a trial and plead guilty or “no contest.” Prosecutors are always interested in avoiding trial because it conserves the resources of their staff and law enforcement.

It is critical to have the terms of a plea bargain agreed upon before a driver gives up the right to a trial. Once a guilty or no contest plea is entered, a driver’s leverage is gone. While a driver might attempt to contact a prosecutor directly, it is wise to hire a defense attorney for this purpose. Prosecutors will make time to speak with an attorney, particularly one with whom they are familiar. Also, the fact that a driver is represented by counsel gives the prosecutor even more incentive to avoid trial, as it increases the likelihood of defeat.

Fighting a Traffic Ticket in Court

If the driver is unwilling to accept the prosecutor’s settlement terms, or in situations where the driver has been falsely accused, it will be necessary to insist on a trial. Speeding tickets and other relatively minor infractions are typically heard by a judge, while DUI, reckless driving, and other such cases may be heard by a jury. Most trials can be concluded in a day. Both sides are allowed to offer testimony from witnesses and exhibits such as photographs and accident reports.

With respect to trial strategy, drivers will need a coherent theory that demonstrates either: 1) the true version of events is different than alleged, or 2) even if the alleged facts are accurate, the driver’s conduct does not meet the required elements of the violation. Throughout the trial, the goal will be to cast doubt on the prosecution’s case and to present an alternative explanation of why the driver was mistakenly pulled over and issued a citation.

Benefits of Hiring an Attorney

Even minor traffic violations can have drastic consequences, especially for drivers who cannot afford an increase in their insurance rates, or who depend on their driving privileges to earn a living. If you are concerned about the effect a ticket will have on your life, contact an attorney to discuss your options.


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