How to Handle a Traffic Ticket Dispute
If you’ve ever gotten a traffic ticket, then you know how frustrating it is to be in that situation. Your first thought will likely turn to finding ways to fight the ticket. You’ll be happy to know there are some things you can do to increase your chances of having a successful outcome in traffic court. J.W. Malka, an attorney, financial planner, and judge, wrote the book Traffic Ticket Success: The Smart, Practical and Realistic Guide to Appearing in Court on Speeding and Other Traffic Tickets, to help you learn how to navigate your way through a traffic ticket dispute.
The Cheat Sheet: What motivated you to write this book?
J.W. Malka: In addition to being an attorney and certified financial planner for a long time, I have had the honor and privilege of being a judge in various courts for over a dozen years. During that time I have personally presided over tens of thousands of traffic ticket matters. When people learn about my background, they will inevitably tell me about a traffic ticket that they, a family member, or friend received. And they usually ask me the same questions, “What should I do?” or “How can I get out of this?” or “How can I beat the ticket?” The first thing I will usually ask them is whether they actually did what is alleged. That usually elicits a very honest response such as, “Well, yes, but . . . “ This has happened to me countless times over the years. What always surprises me is how often people are simply unaware, or worse yet, terribly misinformed about the reality of what happens after you receive a traffic ticket and what you can do about it. There is so much misleading and bad information out there.
… When people get a ticket they tend to let their emotions get the best of them. They lose sight of the final goal which is to ultimately resolve the matter with as little legal and financial implications as possible. There are smart, realistic, and practical ways to resolve it, while at the same time saving some money. I decided to take the information I provided to friends and family members, and share it with anyone who has had the unfortunate experience of being pulled over and cited in traffic court, or who may have that experience in the future. The book is what I refer to as “an ounce of prevention” as well. It’s my hope that people will get it before they need it, that way they are prepared and can handle their tickets correctly from the start.
CS: What are some common misconceptions about fighting a traffic ticket?
J.W.M.: I teach people, both in legal and financial matters, but also in life in general, that you can’t “fight” something. You can be “smart, realistic and practical” about “dealing” with something. To me, fighting has such negative connotations and is a bad mental starting point. “Dealing” with something, on the other hand, is empowering. It is the difference between you being in control of your destiny or someone else being in charge. I am all about personal responsibility and living in the real world.
The Cheat Sheet: Do police officers have an advantage in court?
J.W. Malka: A major misconception is that the traffic court system is an arm of law enforcement and always finds in the favor of the police. That is simply not true. Here’s a little reminder from civics class: The traffic court system, or any court for that matter, is an independent body and part of the third branch of government, the Judicial Branch. Law enforcement is part of the Executive Branch. Officers cite you on the side of the road and then they file the charges in court. After that, the officer that gave you the ticket has no more rights than you do in court. In fact, in most cases they have fewer rights, options, or a say in the matter than you do when appearing in court. Many people find that surprising. Once a case is filed in court, the officer is simply considered to be a witness. You, on the other hand, are a party to the case. In most cases the officer will testify as to what they observed, but they don’t have what we call “standing” to do anything else. You typically will not find the officer cross examining a defendant for example, but the defendant has the right to cross examine the officer.
CS: Are the odds stacked against you in traffic court?
J.W.M.: Another misconception is that traffic court is only about punishment. It’s not. The main goal of traffic court is to get people into compliance with traffic laws. There are many incentives available in most jurisdictions to accomplish that, if you just look for them. Think about it this way: who wants people driving dangerously on the road, or driving a dangerous vehicle down the road, or not having their car properly registered or monitored, or even worse, not having proper insurance if they are in an accident? I know I don’t! Courts are constantly looking for ways to get people into compliance with traffic laws and to give them incentive to do so. Most of the time those incentives come in the form of money-saving opportunities. I encourage people to proactively seek out those opportunities and take advantage of them. But that will only happen if you think clearly about the situation, and that is what the book emphasizes.
Stay tuned for part two of our chat, where Malka will go over some of the do’s and don’ts of dealing with a traffic ticket.