Drive long enough and you are likely to get a traffic citation for a driving infraction. Living in certain states can also increase the risk of you being stopped. The National Motorist Association tracks speeding tickets and has determined that motorists in Florida, Georgia, Nevada and Texas are ticketed at the highest rates.
So, what should you do if you have been stopped and ticketed for running a red light, speeding, an illegal stop or for any number of other illegal driving actions? Sometimes, it’s best to just pay the ticket, but there are times when you should fight it.
1. The Penalties Are Severe
Assuming that you were unable to talk your way out of a ticket after the traffic stop, there are some steps you will need to take to determine whether or not it’s worth fighting the ticket. The first consideration is the penalties you'll face.
If you decide to fight the ticket, it will take time, you will have to prepare a case, and you will have to spend time traveling to and from the courthouse. But simply paying the ticket may also not be so easy. For instance, you may have to spend several hours attending traffic school, you may have to pay high fines, and your traffic record could be negatively impacted.
So, how do you decide? Experts generally recommend fighting any ticket that will result in severe penalties such as jail time, high fines or the suspension of your driver’s license.
2. The Law Is on Your Side
The next consideration is whether or not the law is on your side. Review the traffic stop and make sure that you understand the law. Find out what evidence the court has against you and determine if the evidence is sufficient to prove that you have violated the law.
For instance, if you have been arrested for driving under the influence, but the officer did not have probable cause to stop your car, it may be worth challenging the ticket because there is a good chance that you may have your DUI case dismissed.
Another example is speeding. For instance, several states may post what are considered "presumed limits" (not absolute limits), and traveling faster than the posted speed limit simply means that you were driving at an unsafe speed based on the conditions that existed at the time. But if you choose to fight the ticket, you may win your case if you can prove to the judge that driving slightly above the posted speed limit was not unsafe.
3. The Officer’s Claims Can Be Successfully Challenged
The next step to deciding if you should fight a traffic ticket is to determine if the officer’s statements can be successfully challenged. If you believe that you can prove that the officer confused your car with another car, or did not have sufficient evidence that you broke the law, you should fight your ticket.
For example, if you have been ticketed for speeding, the officer can use different methods to determine your speed: pacing, aircraft, radar, laser and VASCAR. The strategy used to challenge the ticket will depend on how the speed of your vehicle was determined.
For example, if the officer determined that you were speeding using pacing, you could present evidence that the road configuration did not allow for an adequate determination, or that the officer was too far back from your vehicle and could have used their speedometer to determine your speed. If the judge agrees, you could win your case.
4. Errors Were Made on the Traffic Citation
Another reason to fight a ticket is if you can prove that there are errors on the citation. It can be a long shot, but judges have been known to dismiss tickets due to incomplete information or inaccuracies on a traffic citation.
Other Options for Winning Your Case in Court
If you decide to fight your case, your best chance of winning is if the police officer doesn't show up for the hearing. If you choose to fight the ticket, there are steps that you can take to increase the likelihood that the officer will not show up in court: postpone the hearing, reschedule to a date that's different to the one on the ticket, and choose a court date that immediately follows a holiday.
If you are able to delay the court hearing, not only is the officer less likely to appear, but their memory and details of the traffic stop will be less clear, giving you a better chance of winning your case.
Finally, if all else fails, it may be time to negotiate with the judge and be honest that you simply do not have the money to pay the ticket, and ask them if they will consider waiving it. They will most likely say no, but it does not hurt to ask.