SPEEDING TICKETS

Any driver who is stopped for a routine traffic violation, the driver is technically under arrest because they are not free to leave until the officer has written a ticket.  The officer is the witness to your crime and the ticket is your summons to court where you will be tried, judged and fined.  Although this kind of arrest does not appear on background checks, it will however show up on your driving record and your insurance company will be notified unless you take certain action. 

What should you do if you get a speeding ticket?  If you don’t get a lot of them, there is much.  You can plead guilty, pay the fine and get points on your license.  Of course you can pay hundreds of dollars to a lawyer who may be able to get it “taken care of” if he knows someone.  Chances are though he will work out some kind of plea deal on your behalf where you may have to take a class or get the charges reduced to a minor infraction but, you may still have to pay the original fine.   Why not cut out the barrister middle man and do all the work yourself?

Plead “Not Guilty” on the ticket and mail it in.  You will then receive a hearing date to answer to the arrest.  In many traffic courts, they will ask you how you plead and again you state “not guilty.”  They will then send you to the back of the room to meet with an officer or a representative from the DA’s office.  They will peruse the facts of the ticket, your driving record, ask you a few questions, then offer you a plea deal.  They will reduce the speeding ticket to something like a parking ticket or some other non moving violation.  The obvious benefit for doing this is so you do not get a mark on your license, lose your license if you have other points against it or for your insurance company to be notified.  You don’t want them raising your rates. 

If this whole scenario scares you, find out when traffic court is and attend it a few times so that you can see how the whole process works.

I attended court once where the judge openly outlined the whole procedure and admonished everyone to plead not guilty.  He told the criminal throng in the courtroom that he didn’t want to make life miserable for everyone by giving them marks on their driving record, giving them higher insurance rates and the possibility for future loss of license.  One woman clearly didn’t understand what he
was inferring and plead guilty to her ticket. The judge said,
“Is this what you want to do?”
She hesitantly said,
“Yes . . . ?”
The bailiff was violently shaking his head “NO.” 
The judge said,
“Do you wish to plead ‘Not guilty?’”
The bailiff shook his head “Yes.”
She said,
“Yes . . . ?”
The judge sent her to the back of the room to make a plea deal with an officer. She came back and the judge outlined that she was pleading to a lesser offense and asked her if she agreed.  She did and received a parking ticket but still had to pay the full speeding ticket fine and huge court costs.  Tickets are a cash cow for many municipalities. 

You should keep in mind that if you plead not guilty, the arresting officer must be present to testify to the charges against you because he is the witness to your crime.  In Podunk towns, this could be to your benefit.  They expect many people to plead guilty or take a plea so, the arresting officer is usually not present. 

I received a ticket for not coming to a complete stop at three a.m. during a freezing rain storm.  I approached an uphill intersection and was afraid if I came to a complete stop I would not be able to regain traction.  I slowed to the point of shifting into first gear, looked both ways and continued.  There was not another car on the road.  It took the officer two miles to catch up to me because of the icy conditions.  I plead not guilty and didn’t take the offer to plea it down.  I was going to fight this.  They dropped the ticket because the arresting officer was not present and he was not available to come in.   That doesn’t happen in larger courts where they would just reschedule the case and make sure that the officer who wrote the ticket was there (and earning overtime).  Because not taking a plea escalates it to being a trial, there is little chance of getting a plea bargain deal at that point so I don’t advise taking the risk unless you know you can win.

I once got a speeding ticket in a town where the purpose for the lower speed limit of 30 miles per hour in an open stretch of a four lane highway was so that the police can pick off drivers when they need to make their quota (as I was told). The limit dropped from 55 to 30 with no notice. In that town, the clerk in the traffic court happened to be the husband of one of my choir members. He personally made a deal with the judge that if I attend traffic school they would drop the charges. When he signed the papers affirming that I attended the three hour course, the ticket was dropped.

Besides keeping the roads safe, tickets are a lucrative “tax” against drivers. Some judges don’t want to see your record impugned nor cause further fiscal hardship by having your insurance rates go up.  Speed limits are set for safety reasons we may not be aware of and, to save lives.  The few minutes you gain from speeding are actually insignificant.  So if you have multiple infractions it may be best to have an attorney present to do the dirty work.  Otherwise, go ahead and play the game but better yet, don’t speed in the first place.

-Malcolm Kogut

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