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It was a K-turn, not a U-turn
February 13, 2013 4:01 PM   Subscribe

I got my first traffic ticket (boo) and not sure whether to fight it or pay it. It's for an illegal U-turn in PA. I think it's BS (no, really), but not sure if it's worth fighting. I also don't want to get points on my license.

I made a U-turn to get into the entrance to my friend's storage unit. It was only the 2nd time I'd been there and I'm not familiar with the roads. There was literally no traffic in either direction, so I made a U-turn and pulled in. There was a posted "No U-turn" signs, BUT it was well before I got to the entrance to the place and I didn't see it, because I didn't realize I needed to make a U-turn until after I decided to make one. [Specifically, there was a slight median where the entrance was, so I had to get past the median. The U-turn sign was maybe 50-100 feet before the median ended.] It wasn't at an intersection, and it's been over 10 years since I got my license, so my memory of U-turn rules is you can do them unless there's a sign that says not to. I looked up the law and it says unless posted no U-turn or on a curve (it was just before a curve so the officer counted it as being on a curve as well).

So, I feel it was unfair because it wasn't posted at the place where people would actually be turning around -- it's just into the county border and it feels like a ticket-trap. It's a $112 ticket, and I hate the bother of going to court if I'm not going to win. But I'm also concerned about points (PA document says 3 points).

So here are my questions:
-Do they give out points automatically, or is it on a case-by-case basis?
-Do I really have a chance if I fight this?
-If I try to fight it, can they raise the violation or give me more points?
-Bonus question: how they hell do they get a $25 fine up to $112?
posted by DoubleLune to Law & Government (14 answers total)
 
I don't know about PA, but my experience in California is that:

1) You will lose unless you have some really genuinely extenuating circumstance. I saw a judge let a guy off when he contested his ticket for stopping on the shoulder of the freeway in a non-emergency because he said he needed to answer an important call and he thought it was better than driving and talking on his cell phone. The judge let him go. No other subjective "but it was too far/dark/slow/etc" excuses have ever worked that I've seen.

2) The judge will basically just cut anyone's fine in half if they show up, plead guilty, say they're sorry but they're short on cash.

3) A lawyer probably won't take your case (traffic lawyers are DUI lawyers), and even if he does, it will cost you a lot more to pay the lawyer than the fine and increased insurance premiums.

4) Unless the fine is worth a full day's work for you, I wouldn't even bother, it's not worth the time.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 4:19 PM on February 13, 2013


Usually first tickets have an option of traffic school and no points. Didn't you get such an option? You should be able to attend this online as well. The 112 should be Admin fees mostly and they should have the breakdown printed on your ticket or somewhere...
posted by asra at 4:24 PM on February 13, 2013


1) It was only the 2nd time I'd been there and I'm not familiar with the roads. There was literally no traffic in either direction, so I made a U-turn and pulled in.

This part is irrelevant. It was illegal whether or not you were familiar with the streets, and whether or not there was traffic. If you decide to go to court, don't use the no-traffic thing as part of your argument, I don't think it will win you friends.

2) There was a posted "No U-turn" signs, BUT it was well before I got to the entrance to the place and I didn't see it, because I didn't realize I needed to make a U-turn until after I decided to make one.

This part is really, really unclear. There was a sign, but there wasn't? You didn't know you needed to make a u-turn until... after you had done so? Honestly, it sounds like there was a sign, you didn't see it, and you made the u-turn. But I can't tell from the way you have described it. Perhaps I'm misunderstanding your description here.

3) it's just into the county border and it feels like a ticket-trap. Also irrelevant, and also don't argue this if you go to court.

Would I go to court if it were me? Probably, because there's points on your license involved. It's going to depend on your State, and how they run things, but for example, in my experience with Minnesota, if the cop doesn't show up to defend handing out the ticket, odds increase that you can win. And sometimes the cops just don't make it. So I would show up in the hopes that the cop does not. I would see if I could find someone who knows the PA traffic courts, and if this is the way they operate.

If he did show up, I'd probably be apologetic, explain I didn't know the area, didn't see the sign, didn't realize I was going to have to turn, and if I were a student/low income/not well off/have a family to support, I'd be sure to tell the Judge that, because they are not heartless, and they may reduce the fine. This won't help you with the points thing, but you are already there at that point, might as well try to get it reduced.
posted by instead of three wishes at 4:27 PM on February 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


It's totally worth going to court. The two likely scenarios are that you show up to court and the cop doesn't so your ticket is dismissed or that you show up to court and the cop shows up so you negotiate a plea that gives you no points and a reduced fine.
posted by foodgeek at 4:27 PM on February 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


You didn't know you needed to make a u-turn until... after you had done so?

Oops, typo. The road set-up is this: There was a sign. After the sign was my turn (blocked by median), so I realized I needed to make a U-turn. There was not another sign after that.

We drove around and looked for the sign afterwards, to double check I hadn't missed one.
posted by DoubleLune at 4:39 PM on February 13, 2013


But you did miss one; you're just arguing there should have been another no U-turn sign. Which seems nonsensical to me. I'd see if there was some way to get rid of the points, maybe with traffic school or whatever. But it doesn't sound like you have a leg to stand on to me with regards to the "I didn't see the U-Turn sign because it wasn't in the spot I looked for it" thing.
posted by Justinian at 4:50 PM on February 13, 2013 [4 favorites]


Did you cross a double-yellow centerline?
posted by humboldt32 at 4:58 PM on February 13, 2013


I've fought tickets I. CA and FL. I tried in PA and the magistrates have NO sense of humor. If you go to court you might be able to ask for traffic school in lieu of the ticket. It will be cheaper and you won't get points. I hate traffic school, but it might be an option.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 5:14 PM on February 13, 2013


It is my experience, three times in the last 5 years, that it is worth going to court. I am in NY. IANAL. Twice, I negotiated a plea with the DA who was just lining up the defendants making pleas deals outside the courtroom, to a lesser charge that had no points or fewer points, but with the same fine. I got the feeling they cared much more about the money than the state's licensing process. About 6 years ago, I called the DA in a town to far to go to and worked out a plea over the phone.

The third time there was no DA to plea bargain with. I decided to go to trial. I had read as much as I could about fighting tickets and I had read all the applicable statutes. Be as prepared as a non lawyer lay person can be. The judge warned me that if I went to trial instead of delaying until there was an available DA, I could not strike a plea deal once we went to trial. He did tell me that I could be no worse off than if I just had plead guilty and mailed it in.

It took all of 20 minutes. The judge asked the policeman to present his case. I objected as he should not be acting as both DA and witness. I was over ruled, but the judge thought it was a novel idea. The officer testified his radar gun read (ahem) 80 and that he also used some alternative method he learned in the academy about counting when the car moved past two objects.

It was a speeding ticket so when it was my turn, I asked the police officer about his radar gun, the last time it was calibrated, the last time the tuning forks were calibrated and the angle at which he was shooting the radar. The answers were vague at best. I also asked the police officer to silently count to 15 in his head while I ran my stopwatch on my watch. I was trying to prove his counting method was flawed and would not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that I was doing 80. After some debate whether that was appropriate, the judge said to go ahead. The policeman was off by 3 seconds.

When asked if I wanted to testify, I declined. We were then asked for our summation. I told the judge I believed in the system, that was why I was there, and that the police officer did not prove that his radar was functioning properly or being used properly. I also mentioned that I had three kids and a mortgage but I believed in the system so much I took a day off from work to seek justice. When the officer presented his summary he mentioned that I refused to testify. I immediately objected and mumbled something from my high school civics class about the supreme court ruling that you had no obligation to testify and not testifying should not be interpreted as being guilty. He sustained my objection!!

The judge asked for a few minutes to think about it. Three minutes later he came back, asked me if I was an attorney which I am NOT. I told him my mother wanted me to be one, but this very moment was the closest I ever got. He said I did a good job, but it came down to believing one of us and since he did not know me and knew the officer to be a trust worthy witness, he was finding me guilty. He said he was giving me the lowest fine possible and no points. I got the ticket down from 3 points and $200 to about $85 with court costs included and one point.

It was a great learning experience and real time civics lesson. It has been my experience that if you take the time to appear, act sincere without whining and can demonstrate some hardship, you will either get a plea deal or a reduced fine. If it is the points you are worried about more than the monetary aspect, go to court and talk to the DA, the policeman and/or the judge. If you are worried about the money, I don't know of a jurisdiction in the country that doesn't need the revenue. You will lose unless you can PROVE you were right. Take pictures and bring them too if they substantiate what you are claiming.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 5:24 PM on February 13, 2013 [5 favorites]


I live in PA and work for the courts. I'd suggest taking the hearing. You'll have to pay a small additional hearing fee (under $10), but going to court is the ONLY way you even stand a chance of getting your points violation amended to a non-point violation (and yeah, points are automatic, not case by case -- if you plead or are found guilty of the offense, you get the associated # of points).

Some police departments and MDJs are very fair about cutting a deal with you, especially if you have a good driving record. If you were in my county (and especially in my court), there's a nice probability that this would be amended to a lesser charge. Not to mention that you'd probably get let off the hook completely if the officer doesn't show. It's up to the discretion of the judge.

I have never seen people plead not guilty to a traffic charge and then get hit with a higher charge in court. The worst that would happen is you'd be found guilty and get the points you were going to get anyway and be out an extra few bucks/out some of your time. It depends on how important those points are to you and how much of an inconvenience going to court is.
posted by houndsoflove at 5:34 PM on February 13, 2013


a lesser charge that had no points or fewer points, but with the same fine. I got the feeling they cared much more about the money than the state's licensing process.

Same feeling in Florida. Didn't agree with my red light violation, went to court. The fine stayed but not the points.
posted by Glinn at 5:59 PM on February 13, 2013


The U-turn sign was maybe 50-100 feet before the median ended.

If it was a half mile, you might have something to complain about, but that's literally less distance that is required to signal before making a turn. You would technically have to make the decision to turn with the sign right in your face. It was there specifically to tell you not to make a U turn when the median ended.

I would go to court, I have never been screwed by doing that. Worst case is that you get the same punishment as you would have if you just mailed in the fine.
posted by gjc at 3:56 AM on February 14, 2013


The judge and the prosecutor don't want to hear excuses. They hear excuses all day long. Been in your shoes, and I'd advise you to simply acknowledge your mistake ("I just didn't see the sign") and hang your head in shame ("I got nothin', I'm sorry") and ask the prosecutor if there's a way to reduce the points even if you have to pay a larger fine (because the points are more expensive in the long run). This method worked in a NY jurisdiction - got a speeding ticket converted to parking tickets - which was happily paid because even though the parking tickets cost more, there were no points. Also discovered that the state gets the money if it's a moving violation, but the county gets the money if it's a parking violation... and it's a county court. So you can draw your own conclusions there.
posted by Mary Ellen Carter at 6:14 AM on February 14, 2013


I have had two tickets in Oregon and here you can do a "trial by mail" basically where you give a statement and plead guilty or not guilty. For both of my tickets I pled guilty, but included a description of why the incident occurred (for example, in one of them I was turning right at an intersection and didn't stop completely for a red light, even though there was no traffic). Both times the judge reduced the fine by quite a bit.

So I'd say it's worth going to court. Not to *fight* the ticket, but to explain what happened and throw yourself on the mercy of the court.
posted by tacodave at 3:15 PM on February 14, 2013


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