Receiving a traffic ticket can be unsettling. Once you get over the surprise and frustration, your next reaction is to look for ways to get out of the ticket and resolve the situation as quickly as possible. Thankfully, there is a guide that may help you get a more favorable outcome in the event you have to appear in traffic court. Attorney, financial planner, and judge J.W. Malka wrote the book Traffic Ticket Success: The Smart, Practical and Realistic Guide to Appearing in Court on Speeding and Other Traffic Tickets. Here are Malka’s tips for improving your chances of traffic court success.
The Cheat Sheet: Is it possible to get out of a ticket even if you were in the wrong?
J.W. Malka: There are ways throughout the traffic ticket process where, even if you were responsible for what is alleged, you may be able to avoid a ding on you driving record. A lot of it goes back to the legal concept that the state or government carries the burden of proof. In these cases, they have to prove to the traffic court that you actually committed the violation alleged in the citation.
As much as some people may believe so, it is not assumed that you are responsible or guilty. But many times people realize they did something wrong and accept responsibility. People are innately honest and responsible, in my opinion. That, however, doesn’t mean you have to pay the maximum fine! There are ways to save money if you ask good questions and just look for them.
CS: How does a ticket get dismissed?
J.W.M.: Sometimes the ticket never gets filed with the court by law enforcement, so the charges can go away before the process even starts. Other times, if you request a trial or hearing on your citation, the officer may not show up for that setting. Again, the ticket gets dismissed. Another way for a ticket to be dismissed, even if the officer does show up for trial, is if their testimony is not convincing or they are unable to establish that the equipment they used was in good working order, or that the methodology they used (for example pacing in a speeding ticket) was faulty.
Another great way to “get out of a ticket” even if you were in the wrong is if you attend a defensive driving program for a moving violation. If that option is available in your jurisdiction, and a lot of them are, then do it! In that situation, the ticket actually gets dismissed, even if you were in the wrong. This is often an overlooked, but very powerful, option. Again, traffic court it is mostly about compliance and learning from your mistakes.
The Cheat Sheet: One of the tips you mention is how to save money. What are some fees that you can save money on? How?
J.W. Malka: If you can handle something without ever having to appear in court at all, do it! For example, if you can mail in proof of your insurance or registration that was either in effect at the time of your ticket or acquired afterwards, do it. That’s a great option and can save you time and money. You can address that type of ticket without having to appear in court.
Here is a little more on those types of tickets: if the allegation is wrong, it can be dismissed. If it was right but you fixed the situation, you probably will get a reduced fine. And those reductions can be huge. “No Insurance” tickets, for example, can result in fines over $1,000, but if corrected can be reduced down, in many cases, to a few hundred, or dismissed completely. Most judges would rather see you put that money toward getting insurance anyway. It protects you, but even more importantly, it protects the public at large.
Also, be conscious of the time you have to spend taking off work, waiting to be seen, etc. Sometimes the opportunity costs are just too high. Many times those hours are better spent with family or earning money. Another great way to reduce the financial burdens or implications of a traffic ticket, if it is for a moving violation, is to attend defensive driving school to get the ticket dismissed. Keep in mind that only some of the savings is upfront, but most of the savings is long-term as well.
CS: How can a defensive driving course result in long-term savings?
J.W.M.: When you are convicted of a moving violation (speeding, running a light or stop sign, etc.) It usually means that in addition to a fine, you are also going to get points on your license. If you get too many points, your license can be suspended and you will end up in an even bigger mess. That may be the obvious way that points can affect you, and while it is bad, it is not the only negative result. There are huge financial implications as well. What most people don’t realize is that if they get points on their license for a moving violation, those points are going to be reported to your insurance company. Many insurance companies, if not most, will then raise your insurance rates for years to come! That increase can add up to thousands of extra dollars spent over time. If you attend driving school, the ticket is dismissed. That means no points will be imposed on your license and your insurance company does not raise your rates. That is a massive financial savings in many cases, especially if the driver is teenager – watch out parents!
CS: What are some dos and don’ts when it comes to appearing in traffic court?
J.W.M.: The Traffic Ticket Success: No Nonsense Checklist breaks down most of the do’s and don’ts that I share in my book. The traffic court do’s and don’ts start around page six and is available for free to anyone who wants it. You can request it on my website.
CS: Anything to add?
J.W.M.: Always consider consulting an attorney if you are unsure of what to do. The book covers some ways that you can get a reduced, or sometimes even free, consultation to help you decide how to handle your ticket. Finally, the best advice is to make sure you do not ignore your ticket! The situation is never going to get better if you ignore it. On the contrary, it is only going to get worse! Be responsible, be proactive and handle the matter. Even if you do not have the money to pay the fine now, don’t let it go. The court will not just forget about it and things will definitely get worse. Handle it upfront and figure out how to save some money. That is what the book is all about.
Go here for the first part of this interview.