The Insider's Guide to Speed Enforcement Pt. 5: Court
So, you got a speeding ticket. After the police officer leaves, there you are, with an official document in hand. You are unhappy. Your basic fight or flight or freeze response has you in its grip. You feel guilty, angry, shocked, insulted, humiliated, outraged or some combination thereof. Your heart rate is elevated; you’re stressing about money or points or the wife or the boss or just about everything. What happens next is up to you…
Secure in the knowledge that they haven’t had a ticket in ten years, some drivers figure they won’t get another ticket in another ten years. They pay the fine promptly and forget it. These folks are unhappy when the insurance bill, Abuser Fee, or Driver Responsibility Assessment comes in– at which point it’s usually too late to do a damn thing about it.
By the same token, some drivers simply ignore the ticket. They are even less happy when the suspension notice comes, or worse, when they’re pulled over again and [perhaps] taken to jail for “failed to answer ticket.”
Some drivers talk to a few friends, troll the internet and discuss it (or NOT) with their significant other and decide to contest the ticket. They arm themselves with a smattering of speed detection device theory, a few legal buzzwords and maybe some information (often valid in some other jurisdiction). Delighted with the “fresh knowledge” that radar and laser guns are far from infallible, and that other speeders fought the law and the law lost, they head off to court.
[As a lawyer specializing in motoring offenses, my office motto is “never take your legal advice from real estate agents, police officers or the internet”– present editorial excluded, of course. If you actually want to win your case, a local attorney with relevant experience is worth every penny.]
Some jurisdictions allow motorists to “call ahead” for a court date. Do not discuss the ticket with the Court Clerk. The Clerk’s heard every story in the history of the world ever. Beyond verification of your mailing address and scheduling your court date, he/she is not interested, and he/she has no authority to “make it go away” (the secret hope of every defendant in the world). Rudeness to a clerk will ensure that you get no consideration in scheduling preferences, should such a thing be available.
Speeding and other motoring offenses are “processed” in many different ways around the country. In many cases, the alleged perpetrator goes to court, waits forever, pleads not guilty, and then waits another eternity for a trial date. The potential “deal” that you can make on a ticket also varies widely. Just because your buddy got a “parking ticket” reduction a few years ago in another town is meaningless to the Judge in YOUR town.
Some places, notably New York City Traffic Violations Bureau, refuse to deal at all. To put it kindly, they are relentlessly pro-prosecution. Other jurisdictions will favor the motorist, or at least give them a fair shake. As any good attorney will tell you, Judges also vary widely, from by-the-book/throw the book at you to “lenient.” Traffic court is no exception.
When Court day arrives, dress decently and leave your attitude at home. The correct mindset: assertive, not aggressive. You are now on government (a.k.a. geologic) time, so bring a book. Cell phones, iPods and Blackberries are frowned upon in most courtrooms; a ringing cell phone during a session can punt you to the last case of the day. One of the basic rules of Civil Service: “We are here all day… YOU can be too!” Being polite and courteous counts in this arena.
Come to Court, sign in and wait. You may be called to discuss your case with the Prosecutor or Police officer who wrote you up. They may make you an offer (that you can refuse). If you’ve studied your state’s point system, you’ll have an idea what’s at stake.
The Judge and Prosecutor are not there to give you legal advice; don’t expect it and don't be disappointed if you don’t get it. In most places where negotiation is allowed, you’ll be offered something. I find that an attorney will normally be able to secure “the best deal in the house.” If you're a “frequent flier” or just don’t feel confident playing this game, again, a lawyer is a wise investment.
At the time of the offer, do NOT launch into your carefully rehearsed and novel (to you) arguments as to why the ticket was in error/illegal. The police officer or Prosecutor in front of you has but one answer to any such suggestion: “I’ll mark you for trial at the end of the calendar.”
Next up, next Thursday: your day in court.
Blautens on Feb 22, 2008
There are many, MANY reasons to contact an attorney for traffic offenses. Here are two: In Florida, you don't have to take the time to go to court, and the major firms have an attorney stationed in the courthouse at all times who usually build a decent rapport with the police officers. If the police officer didn't write notes about you being an a-hole on his citation, when approached by the attorney prior to trial starting, he will usually gladly cut a deal, especially if that is the only case he is there for (since he still gets paid his overtime minimum but can leave very quickly).
Speedlaw on Feb 24, 2008
Yes, I know Liberty well. All of Rt. 17 is a happy hunting grounds as there is no hard median, meaning it is one of the few interstate speed roads where the cop can zap you with opposite lane moving mode and do a U turn. Also, watch being shot in the back from the raised on ramps. NYSP does not have unmarked, but the slick-tops and the cop-maro (in black, not normal blue/gold) will burst Ka at you from the rear while sitting at the top of the ramps.
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