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Traffic Ticket Frequently Asked Questions

What is a traffic ticket?

Traffic Tickets (also known as "Citations") are violations of traffic law and can be classified as infractions, misdemeanors or even felonies depending on the offense.

What is the difference between infractions, misdemeanors, and felonies?

A traffic violation/infraction is a non-criminal offense but still can have some significant consequences such as fines, points on the license, and jail time.

A misdemeanor is a more serious violation of the law, punishable by a year or less in jail and fines. Some examples of traffic misdemeanors would be failing to stop at the scene of an accident, driving with a suspended license or registration, first-time DWI offenses, and reckless driving.

A felony traffic violation is a very serious offense - punishable by more than a year in prison and some very substantial fines and other penalties. Vehicular manslaughter, driving while intoxicated where there is a prior history, and certain levels of aggravated unlicensed operation are some examples. 

Misdemeanors and felonies violations are usually invoked when the driver causes or creates a real threat of injury to a person or destruction of property or has multiples of certain offenses such as driving while intoxicated.

What exactly are points?

The Point System is simple in theory. Most every moving traffic violation is assigned a numerical value, from 2 to 11, depending on the severity of the offense. If convicted of the violation, the Court will notify the Department of Motor Vehicles. The DMV will then assign the mandated amounts of points to your driving record.  Accumulating 11 points or more in 18 months will result in a suspension of your license.

Insurance companies routinely check the number of points their policyholders have on their records. If you have multiple moving violations, the insurance company will likely view you as a higher risk and charge you accordingly.  If you have some serious violations on your record, (DWI or reckless driving for example) insurance companies may not want to insure you at all. But since the law mandates compulsory insurance, there is what is termed an "assigned risk" pool.  All these violators are placed in this "pool" and every insurance company must provide a certain number of pooled individuals with insurance. The risk is spread out among the various companies - hence the term "pooling the assigned risk." 

It is to your advantage to avoid getting points on your record. If you do receive a moving violation consult with your attorney as there likely is a way to obtain a better result.

Is driving a right?

No. Under the law, driving is considered a privilege granted by the State and not a right.

Can I demand a trial by jury for traffic violations?

Jury trials are an option only in the event the charge is a misdemeanor or felony.  Traffic violations only have a non-jury trial option.

Are traffic laws the same in each state?

No, they vary and differ from state to state.

Is the ticket still valid if there is a mistake on it?

The ticket is valid, but if the mistake is fundamental to the charge at hand, you may be able to defend yourself by pointing out the erroneous information. For instance, if you receive a parking ticket and the license plate number recorded is nowhere near your actual plate number, you may be able to say the officer erred in determining your car was at fault. If the ticket has a violation noted as occurring on a specific day, and you can prove you were elsewhere at that time, that may also be a defense. If the citation mentions your vehicle as being a yellow Honda and you drive a black Lexus, you can point that out to the judge as a cause to dismiss the charges.

However, simple errors don't mean much such as noting the car was dark blue instead of black or reversing a number or digit when recording the license plate. But, as mentioned above, if there is any doubt, the judge will usually err on the side of the ticketing officer.

When does it pay to contest or fight a ticket?

As a matter of practicality, if the offense is a minor infraction with no points being assessed to your license (such as a parking ticket) and little likelihood of affecting your insurance rates, then the best avenue may be to simply grumble, pay, and then forget about it. The time and aggravation spent in “fighting” will likely outweigh the benefits of saving a couple of bucks if successful. However, if the charge is more serious, a moving violation, potential fines will be higher and there also will be the possibility of points being levied against your license - you should consider hiring a qualified and experienced traffic attorney. In cases of DWI, reckless driving, or other traffic-related crimes, the Court will likely mandate that you have legal counsel given the stakes involved.

What should I do if I'm being arrested for my offense?

KEEP SILENT! Anything you say can and will be used against you. If the infraction was serious enough to warrant an arrest, then it is no time to play around. Be polite but remember that any substantive questions put to you can be used as proof against you later. Physically cooperate as much as possible - you do not need a charge of resisting arrest as well.

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