In most U.S. jurisdictions, tickets for moving violations are sometimes accompanied by “points” against your driver’s license. As a driver accumulates points, he or she may be required to attend a defensive driving course, re-take the driving test, or surrender their license in extreme cases. All states entitle individuals facing license suspension to receive a hearing.
You should study your ticket and look for the specific traffic law that the officer claims that you violated. Break the law down into understandable phrases or elements. Most laws will state, “It is a violation to do this and that”. If you did not violate every element of the specific law, a judge may decide to dismiss your case on a technicality. If the officer cites the wrong statute on the ticket, or grossly misidentified the highway or your make of car, you might get your ticket dismissed.
Determine if in fact you violated the law, but had a legal reason for doing so. Any emergency situation may be grounds for the court to take into consideration your reason for violating the law.
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Keep in mind that is always up to the court or judge to decide what constitutes a valid reason for the offense committed.
When a person is found guilty of a moving violation, it has multiple consequences in terms of the financial impact and the effect it has on the individual’s driving record. The fines, penalties and fees for traffic offenses vary greatly depending on a number of circumstances. Generally, the average cost of a speeding ticket ranges from a fine of $150 to $200.
However, if you are cited for speeding in a school or construction zone, the penalty will be assessed at a much higher rate. In addition, the greater your speed over the limit, the greater the fine. Traveling at 10-15 mph over the limit may result in a fine of $288, whereas going 20-30 mph over results in a penalty of $438 depending on the local and state laws where the offense occurred.
Some states assess a hefty fine for illegally using the carpool or high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lane. In California, the fine for this can range between $400 and $1000. Even if a police officer does not catch you committing this offense, you may still be in danger from programs that allow other drivers to report the offenders.
Insurance companies raise premiums based on the assumption that a speeding driver is not a safe driver. Thus, there is a potential likelihood of an accident in the future, which will be a huge expenditure for them.
Most insurance companies will allow one moving violation every three to five years. Violations that exceed that will likely result in your insurance premiums being raised. Insurance companies give a “good-driver” discount which can save hundred of dollars in yearly insurance premiums.
The more infractions you have on your driving record, the more risky you are to insure. You may have a limited selection of providers that are willing to insure you. However, there are auto insurance companies that specialize in offering affordable coverage to high-risk drivers. Most states keep violations on your driving record for three years, and in some states as long as 5 years or more. Policyholders may not realize that their insurers continue to charge higher rates, even after the violation has been removed from their driving record. The insurance company usually only checks your record when you apply for a policy. Therefore, it is important to take it upon yourself to let them know when the time period has expired.
If your license has been suspended, you may need to get an SR-22 filing before the DMV will reinstate your license. An SR-22 filing tells the DMV that you have at least the minimum amount of required insurance for your state. It also means that the insurance company will contact the DMV if your insurance is canceled or you let it lapse. Once you get your license back, you will need to maintain your SR-22 for the required amount of time, usually between one and three years.
The traffic offenses that are most likely to include jail time may include:
Reckless driving can be categorized as a Class 1 Misdemeanor in certain states, which carries a sentence of up to 12 months in jail. It is considered a criminal offense and is in the same misdemeanor classification of many other offenses such as assault and battery and petty larceny. Charges for reckless driving can vary between excessively exceeding the speed limit, passing a stopped school bus or engaging in racing on a public road.
Attempting to flee or elude a police officer after they have signaled you to pull over is against the law. You could face a fine of $500 to $5,000 and jail time of 10 days to 12 months. In some cases, you may have your driver’s license suspended for 6 months to 2 years. If you create a risk of death or injury to anyone, including yourself, in the process, the penalties will be much harsher.
Often your best alternative is to take a safety course for drivers. Nearly every state allows perpetrators of a traffic violation to attend some sort of traffic school in return for the violation being wiped off their records. Traffic school typically consists of a 6-8 hour class, which describes the dangers of committing traffic violations. Some states allow the completion of traffic school in lieu of paying the fine. Others may require payment of the fine in addition to the cost of traffic school.
Traffic violators may be eligible to attend traffic school once a year. In some states it’s an option once every 18 or 24 months. Those caught exceeding the speed limit by more than 15 to 20 mph may not be eligible. The type of violation can affect whether traffic school is an option for the offender.
Attending traffic school may protect your license status and keep your auto insurance premiums from going up. These programs vary in their standards, the cost, and time to attend the program. Some states allow individuals to complete online traffic school, while others require that you sign up through a court clerk or appear before a judge.
In many cases, you may be able to challenge the police officer’s view of what happened. This is especially likely in situations where a cop must make a subjective judgment as to whether you violated the law. Deciding whether it is safe to exceed the speed limit may be one example. In some states, the posted speed limit is not an “absolute” limit. If you are accused of making a sudden and dangerous lane change, you may be able to reply that the car in front of you had suddenly applied its brakes for no apparent reason. You were responding in the best possible manner to avoid an accident.
Go to the officer’s original position and check for any obstructions that may have caused them to have a poor view of the alleged offense. If you can cast doubt on the officer’s ability to accurately perceive what happened, you may have a good defense. The types of evidence most likely to help your case are:
It is your word against the police officer’s in most cases. Unless you can provide the court with compelling reasons or evidence to demonstrate that the officer is lying or mistaken, the officer’s word will most likely be taken over yours.
You may successfully argue that your actions were “legally justified” considering the circumstances of your alleged violation. If you were charged with driving too slowly in the left hand lane, it is a legal defense in all states that you had to slow down to make a legal left turn. This fact legally justified your action.
Any emergency not of your own making may constitute a legal necessity defense. If you swerve across a double yellow line to avoid a serious and immediate danger to yourself or others may act as a legal defense. Some examples of these are:
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The key defense is to convincingly argue that you were forced to violate the law in order to avoid a serious and immediate danger to yourself or others in the process.
When you pay a ticket directly, you are essentially pleading guilty to a traffic offense. You may not have read all of the fine print on the citation or realized that you were entering a guilty plea by paying your ticket. The prosecutor may offer you a plea bargain, which often includes the pleading guilty in exchange for a reduced charge.
By pleading guilty, you waive your constitutional rights. Your right to “due process” requires the State to prove its case against you in court beyond a reasonable doubt. In a case involving a violation of the speed limit, the ticketing officer’s testimony must meet strict requirements to prove that the officer is certified to used the speed measure device (radar, laser, pace, vascar). They must also prove that the device is officially approved, certified and tested, and that the officer used the device properly to measure the speed of your vehicle.
You also have the right to a speedy trial, which requires the State to take your case to trial within a certain amount of time. The length of time may vary in each state. However, if you request a continuance of your case, the court will view this as waiving the speedy trial rule. Many individuals are not aware of their constitutional rights and do not properly assert them. By failing to assert your rights in traffic court, you may unknowingly forfeit them.
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Before entering a guilty plea, you should know the answer to these questions:
No matter how minor you believe the traffic offense to be, it is in your best interest to take the time and consult with a legal professional that specializes in this type of law. Once you enter a guilty plea, it is nearly impossible to rescind it.