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Virginia speeding ticket: asking for leniency? (72 in a 55)
June 8, 2014 5:44 AM   Subscribe

Motorcycle speeding ticket in VA (72 in a 55). I'm not contesting it per se, but is it worth asking for leniency? Details inside.

Hi folks. I received a speeding ticket on the interstate yesterday for 72 MPH in a 55 MPH zone. I was definitely over the speed limit (and I don't contend that it was 72). I'm a bit conflicted because while I was definitely going a bit fast, it was in the context of overtaking a couple of cars whilst merging from a two-lane ramp into another section of interstate, and I hit the throttle a little harder than was (arguably) necessary so as to get into open space and away from the couple of other cars as quickly as possible. That sort of thing quickly becomes second nature on a bike because you are constantly playing keep away with people who are texting or doing their makeup or whatever else while they drive. So while I don't at all argue that I was going 72 MPH (and thus "speeding"), I am a little frustrated in that it feels like a situation where the officer clocked me at the perfect moment (in the middle of overtaking cars so as to create a space cushion for myself for safety reasons & peace of mind). I had barely finished merging into the straightaway when he appeared behind me with his lights on, which is to say that I wasn't just cruising down a straight section of interstate -- I picked up some speed in the course of merging and getting into open space.

Again, I totally understand that he clocked me at 17 over the speed limit, and I don't think that motorcycles are in any way above the law, and while it sounds silly, I take great care these days not to "be a speeder", even if I do occasionally speed within a certain context such as this particular merger in these particular traffic conditions. I asked the officer if I was being unsafe and he said "well, speeding is unsafe", and while I understand his point, it simply isn't that cut-and-dry with a motorcycle, and I feel that I was being much safer by taking preventative evasive action than by taking my chances with someone who may well be trying to merge lanes while texting or whatever.

Another note which may or may not be of relevance is that I've had (I think) 4 speeding tickets in my life, the last of which was a reckless driving ticket in November of 2009. I got my first motorcycle shortly after that and I haven't received a ticket in the nearly 5 years since as I've taken care to ride as safely as possible. I'm quite proud of that fact, and I'm very disappointed to have received a ticket such as this in the course of what feels like "normal riding" (i.e. accelerating to create space, as opposed to simply cruising at high speed).

Is it worth the effort of going to court to explain to the judge the context of the situation? I really worry that I sound like I'm trying to spin careless speeding as "defensive riding", but there really is a huge difference between accelerating to create a space cushion versus cursing at sustained speeds for the hell of it. Is there any chance that a judge might reduce the fine or something? Is it even worth the trouble?
posted by austere to Law & Government (9 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
I'm no legal expert and it's been years since I saw the inside of a traffic court, but...
Pleading no contest or nolo contendere means you admit no guilt for the crime, but the court can determine the punishment. The judge will hold a conversation with the defendant to ensure s/he understands the plea and the possible punishment. This gives the defendant an opportunity to explain the circumstances and why s/he is pleading no contest instead of guilty or not guilty. Through this conversation, the judge gains a better perspective on the situation. The defendant has some possibility of getting a less harsh sentence than might be handed down after a jury trial.
posted by jon1270 at 6:21 AM on June 8


Unless you want to start paying lots more money for motorcycle insurance, you need to talk to a traffic lawyer right away. Note: many traffic lawyers (including mine in NC to whom I've sent almost a dozen of my friends) will talk with you about your options over the phone for free, and then tell you whether they think you need to hire a lawyer in your particular case.

As a non-lawyer and person who knows nothing about how motorcycles might change the scenario, the first thing I thought is that if, in a car in NC, you are on record as going anything more than 9 miles over the speed limit your insurance company will be notified and your rates will skyrocket. So at the very least check with a lawyer about how many miles over the speed limit you can safely plead guilty to without sharply increasing your insurance payments.

From personal experience, this involves getting to the courtroom early and asking to speak with the DA on duty in the room, before the judge arrives, then saying you'd be happy to plead guilty to 9 miles over the speed limit and pay the fine and court fees. It was easy, and didn't affect my insurance at all.

Your future insurance rates should be your primary concern here, not whether or not you can convince a judge you probably had good reason to speed at that moment. To sort that out, you need to talk to a traffic lawyer in your state.
posted by mediareport at 6:42 AM on June 8


Since you are not contesting any of the facts of the citation, you can either plead guilty or "no contest". Your citation will likely say something about how to do this on the back of the ticket. You may find that the citation gives you a reduced payment option for prompt and unchallenged payment of the citation. If you go to court about the citation, you will lose that option.

This question is highly location-dependent, but in general, one of three things will happen if you go to traffic court about the ticket:
  1. The judge or a local official offers you some deal to reduce the ticket. For instance, you may be required to take a defensive driving course. The deal may be more or less expensive than the original citation and may or may not be reported to your insurance company.
  2. The judge or local official listens to you, realizes that you are admitting guilt for the citation, and refuses to change the citation. You will lose any reduced payment option (if it exists), and you will likely pay court fees in addition to the citation.
  3. The judge or local official does something entirely different, which occasionally happens because traffic courts are not exactly staffed by the most competent legal professionals. This may or may not be in your favor.
The likely option is #2. For #1, there's little incentive for the local officials to offer a deal proactively - they already have "won". However, if you are a sufficiently charismatic person, you may be able to convince them. A lawyer will help, but I find that option even more ethically wrong than you going to court alone (since it means that traffic law enforcement becomes dependent on whether or not you have enough money to afford a lawyer).

Is it even worth the trouble?

In my opinion, no. I find it ethically wrong to challenge a legitimate crime in court. It is a waste of taxpayer money (since local prosecutors and the cop that gave you the citation have to be paid to deal with you), a waste of court time (since court fees don't come anywhere close to paying for the court, which is generally woefully underfunded), and reinforces the idea that traffic law is a technicality rather than necessary for public safety. Nothing in your post indicates that you feel that you've actually done anything wrong. However, you deliberately excluded the option in your description of simply slowing down.

Pay your ticket. You admit your guilt. It'll give you an incentive not to do it in the future.
posted by saeculorum at 6:47 AM on June 8 [5 favorites]


Go to court. The worst that could happen is that you're exactly where you are now. You may have the choice of traffic school, which negates the points. (It does in CA and FL) which is good.

Plead Nolo and see what happens.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:04 AM on June 8


If it happened in Spotsty or Stafford county you need to talk to this guy. If it happened somewhere else in the state still call him, as he will refer you to a good traffic attorney that practices in the jurisdiction of the infraction.
posted by COD at 7:04 AM on June 8


VA has an on line class you can take to reduce five points - it's a on line class with an in person exam. You should do a consult with a traffic lawyer, see what he or she says about pleading. I suspect they'll recommend pleading guilty, paying a fine, then reducing points with the class. If you hire one, they can also negotiate to get fewer points on the day of.

Thanks for giving me the incentive to do some necessary research!
posted by Measured Out my Life in Coffeespoons at 8:32 AM on June 8 [2 favorites]


The laws might have changed in the meantime, but I received a ticket in Virginia about 10 years ago, while I was passing through from out of state. Going to court would have been a major ordeal since I lived several hundred miles away. I called the court and asked the clerk for some advice: she suggested that I write a letter to the judge and ask for traffic school, and to call the court back the day after my hearing. I did what she suggested, and when I called back, the judge had decided that if I paid the court costs (~$50), and sent in proof of a defensive driving class, the entire ticket would be dismissed.
posted by dcjd at 11:12 AM on June 8


I got a speeding ticket in Virginia going I think 12 mph over the limit (67 in a 55). I showed up at the court and pleaded no contest, and the judge found me guilty of going 9 over. There was one college kid before me who pleaded guilty to going 16 over and also had his ticket reduced to 9 over. As a bonus, the fees were lower for paying in person--my ticket went from something like $150 to $90 if I recall correctly. Basically just for bothering to show up to the courthouse.

It was my first ticket, which the judge did ask the officer, so you may not have the same luck. But if you have the time to go I say it doesn't hurt to try. I would suggest you come up with a short non-defensive response to"tell me what happened?" E.g. "I was avoiding a car and ended up going too fast; I didn't realize I was going 17 over but that's what the officer says and I'm sure he's right. I'm sorry about that."

I was on 29 between Charlottesville and DC. YMMV, obviously.
posted by _Silky_ at 3:12 PM on June 8


I got pulled over for doing "75 in a 55" (I remain unconvinced that I was going 75) in Virginia. I went and pled no contest, had a similar explanation to yours (the car in front of me was behaving really erratically and I was trying to put some distance between us because I thought they were going to cause an accident). The judge actually said he would throw my ticket out altogether if I would agree to take a defensive driving class (one all day Saturday class), which I did. It isn't on my record at all anymore.
posted by CharlieSue at 11:42 AM on June 9


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