A traffic ticket is a citation or summons issued to a person who violated a traffic law.
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WHAT IS A TRAFFIC TICKET?
A traffic ticket is a citation or summons issued to a person who violated a traffic law. The citation or summons, written by a police officer or other authorized representative of the government, is an order to appear in court before a judge (or magistrate). After issuance of the citation or summons, the person accused of violating the law can remain free pending his/her need to appear in court.
WHY IS A TRAFFIC TICKET TREATED DIFFERENTLY THAN A CIVIL MATTER BY THE COURT?
Traffic tickets are handled as criminal matters. Traffic ticket sentences can result in a fine, probation, or jail time. The sentence in a traffic case is punishment for the violation. A civil case normally results in an award of money paid by one party to the other. The judgment imposed makes the victim “whole” for the harm caused by the offender. Civil cases do not result in fines, probation or jail time.
INFRACTIONS, MISDEMEANORS AND FELONIES – WHAT CLASS AM I IN?
Crimes are categorized into classes that are defined by their punishments.
– Infractions – An infraction is a category of misdemeanor. Infractions normally go to municipal court. The defendant may be denied the right to a jury trial without violation of constitutional rights. Offenses such as traffic tickets, illegal parking, and minor violations of local ordinances are treated as infractions. The typical punishment for an infraction is a fine.
– Misdemeanors – A misdemeanor conviction can result in imposition of punishment greater than an infraction but not as severe as that of a felony (examples might be a heavier fine, or short jail sentence).
– Felony – A felony can result in the imposition of the greatest punishment for violation of law, such as a jail sentence exceeding one year and fines of more than $1,000.
The category of a crime is important. Infractions receive the least constitutional protection while felonies have numerous protections. The punishment for an infraction is less severe than the punishment for a felony – which can result in jail time or the death penalty.
WHAT COULD HAPPEN IF A POLICE OFFICER WANTED ME TO SIGN A TRAFFIC TICKET AND I REFUSED?
The traffic ticket contains an actual notice to you of a pending court date at which you must appear. By signing the ticket, you acknowledge receipt of the “notice to appear.” Since the officer charged you with a violation of law, he can arrest you. By signing the traffic ticket, you avoid an arrest at that time. You also promise to show up on the court date. It is better to sign the ticket and leave the scene instead of refusing to sign it and going to jail.By signing the traffic ticket, you remain free and retain the right to show up on the court date to fight the ticket. A person can refuse to sign the traffic ticket; however, the officer can place him/her under arrest and take him/her to the police station.
WHAT SHOULD I DO AFTER BEING GIVEN A TRAFFIC TICKET?
In deciding what to do about a traffic ticket, you need to consider such things as:
– the punishment you face;
– any possible defenses, justifications or mitigating circumstances,
– the impact of the ticket on your privilege to drive,
– whether a plea of guilty, or a finding of guilty, will impact any claims persons injured may have against you, or claims you may have against other parties,
– the of the ticket on your automobile insurance premiums,
– the amount of energy, time and cost involved in fighting the ticket,
– the benefits and costs of retaining an attorney to defend you and protect your rights.
A rule of thumb to be polite and cooperate with the police officer who issues the traffic ticket. You can talk to the officer about the circumstances of the ticket (trying to “talk your way out of it”), but remember that anything you say to the officer can be used against you in court. You will often be asked to sign the traffic ticket, which does not create any presumption that you are guilty.
As soon as you can, write notes about what happened while the details are still fresh in your mind. Include the time, the weather, the exact location, what the officer said to you, and what you said to the officer (even if you said some things you shouldn’t have). Then begin to gather all the required information. You should ask an attorney for advice It may make sense to pay the ticket and put the situation behind you.
If you can afford the fine, determine that the admission of guilt is cannot be used against you in a lawsuit, and the impact on your driving privilege will not cause you any trouble, you might decide to enter your guilty plea, pay the fine and put the situation behind you. On the other hand, after weighing the consequences of an admission of guilt or a no contest plea or a finding of guilt after a trial with the cost and possibility of successfully defending against the charge, you might want to fight contest the ticket in court. You must make this decision after carefully analyzing the relevant facts and law governing your ticket(s).
WHAT ARE “POINTS” AND HOW DO THEY AFFECT MY DRIVING “PRIVILEGE?”
Many states have a point system that assigns a point value to each traffic ticket. More serious tickets have higher point values. For example, failure to stop at a stop sign might be 1 point, while speeding on the highway could cost you 3 points. Most states will look at your record over a period of time. Some states restrict the number of tickets you can receive in a year. Exceeding the point limit, or the maximum number of tickets, will result in a suspension or revocation.
If you are found guilty of too many tickets in a certain time period, your driving “privilege” (i.e. license) can be suspended. If the Department of Revenue suspends or revokes your license, and you drive anyway, you may also receive a ticket for driving while suspended or revoked. This is a very serious charge, and can sometimes be charged as a felony depending on your driver record.
DO INSURANCE COMPANIES RAISE PREMIUMS FOR POINTS ON YOUR RECORD?
Insurance companies set rates based by analyzing statistics and probabilities. Statistics show the probability of a person getting into an accident increases with each traffic ticket conviction. The increased likelihood of an accident raises the risk of loss to the insurance company. The insurance company then raises your rate due to the increased risk of it paying a claim on your behalf.
WHAT IS TRAFFIC SCHOOL?
Some states offer driver improvement programs to reduce future traffic violations, and make safer drivers. Consequently, those states allow people to plead guilty or “no contest” to minor traffic infractions, pay a fine and go to traffic school. Doing so will normally result in a reduction or elimination of points. Traffic school is a course on driving safety and traffic laws. After successful completion of traffic school, and submission of completion to the Department of Revenue, the points then come off your driver record. Most states allow you to attend traffic school only once every 12 – 36 months, and only if it is a minor traffic violation. As to whether traffic school will save you money or not, consider the fact that you will have to pay the fine, any DOR fees, traffic school fees, and time attending classes and/or performing self-study. Consider also the impact on your auto insurance rates if you do not have the points removed.
I RECEIVED A TICKET IN ANOTHER STATE. I DID NOT DISPOSE OF IT. IS THERE A LIMIT ON HOW LONG THIS WILL HANG OVER MY HEAD?
If you missed the court date, the judge probably issued a warrant for your arrest. If you get stopped, the officer may arrest you. The other state may extradite you to stand trial for the ticket. At some point, either voluntarily by you, or through arrest, you’re likely going to have to “face the music.” And when you do that “music” may be even more costly, both in money and possible jail time. You may not be allowed out on bail because you have already shown yourself to be a “flight risk” which means you would be in jail all the while awaiting trial. Your sentence on the original crime of DUI or DWI will be enhanced because of the flight to avoid prosecution as you’ve committed two crimes.
Your best first step is to contact, and retain, an attorney experienced in ticket cases and licensed in that state. The attorney can try to work out an arrangement with the prosecutor. The prosecutor would probably agree to a less severe sentence, than if you happen to be arrested.
CAN THE POLICE ALSO CHARGE ME WITH A DUI OR DWI IF I WAS STOPPED FOR SOME OTHER REASON?
The reason for the officer stopping you does need not be related to driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. In fact, most courts require the officer to stop you for something other than the suspicion of driving under the influence.
Routine stops for faulty equipment and improper vehicle registration, such as a cracked windshield, burned out headlight, a broken turn signal, etc., as weel as moving and parking violations have been held by the courts to give an officer legal justification to stop you. If the stop was the result of racial profiling, that may give a lawyer more to work with in an effort to have charges dismissed or reduced.
WHO CAN LOOK AT MY DRIVING RECORD? HOW LONG DO VIOLATIONS STAY ON MYDRIVING RECORD?
The DOR and police officers can look at your record any time. Employers, attorneys and insurance companies may also have access. Offenses stay on your permanent record unless you take steps to remove them. Your insurance company may look at your record for the last several years when calculating your premium.
AN OFFICER ARRESTED ME FOR DRUNK DRIVING. THE BLOOD TEST SHOWED THE CODEINE, BUT THE ALCOHOL LEVEL WAS NOT OVER THE LEGAL LIMIT. THE OFFICER STILL WROTE ME A TICKET FOR DRIVING UNDER THE INFLUENCE. WHAT SHOULD I DO?
In most states driving under the influence of illegal drugs, or prescription medication, is the same as driving while intoxicated. Make sure to hire an attorney. Tell an attorney the whole story and answer his or her questions. Maybe you weren’t under the influence of alcohol, medication, or drugs even though it was in your blood. A thorough investigation of the facts and the law will likely give you the insight you need.