Should you fight a traffic ticket?

The answer is that it depends. It is wise to try to separate the hopeless cases from those with a reasonable chance of success. (On the other hand, thousands of seemingly hopeless cases are won when police officers fail to show up in court to testify.) A determined person can achieve great success in traffic court if he or she knows what to do.

In deciding whether or not to fight, you should first consider the consequences of giving up and paying the ticket. Will your insurance rates increase? Will you increase your chances of losing your license? Can you get your case dismissed by attending traffic school? Do you want to spend the time and effort it will take to fight your ticket effectively?

Once you understand the consequences of not fighting your ticket, you should try to determine your chances of winning, taking into account these tips:

  • The main way to beat traffic tickets is to request a trial with the officer present and then get the ticket dismissed when the officer doesn't show up. There's a chance this might happen to you. You may want to try your luck. You've got nothing to lose but your time.
  • Even if the officer does show up, "guilt" (and "innocence") is often a matter of subjective interpretation. For example, under California law it's not illegal to drive 45 mph in a 35 mph zone if it is possible to show that your 45 mph speed was safe under the circumstances.
  • You might not be guilty of a particular violation, even if you think you are. If you read your state's Vehicle Code for your offense you may find that the offense you are accused of committing is more complex than you might have thought. It may be that you didn't do all the things that the prosecution must prove in order to convict you.

There are indeed the situations in which you were in fact scrupulously obeying the law and the police officer got it wrong. The radar gun was used improperly, the police officer's visual perspective resulted in a mistake, you were accused of rolling through a stop sign when in fact you did come to a complete stop. When you get a ticket under these circumstances, and realize that you will have to undergo what can be a considerable hassle to fight it, you will most likely be torn between giving it a good fight and cutting your losses by paying your fine and getting on with your life.

You may wish to fight your ticket, either for economic reasons or because you're just plain mad at being singled out for what most people do without getting caught. You should understand that:

  • Being singled out isn't normally a defense unless you can establish that the discrimination was for vindictive purposes (almost impossible to do).
  • Being a little guilty still means you're guilty, although the judge may cut your fine.
  • For the most part, the traffic court system is inefficient and corrupt, packed with police-oriented judges who care more about feathering their own nests than about justice.

In short, to win a traffic ticket fight, you must either obtain a dismissal or convince the judge you were innocent.

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