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Can I get my ticket reduced by going to court?
December 4, 2007 11:29 AM   Subscribe

I was ticketed for running a red light in Los Angeles. I'd like to go to court and plead no contest and ask for the fine to be reduced. Is this a good idea, or a waste of my time?

I know I ran the red light and I don't have plans to try to weasel my way into a "not guilty" verdict. I also know that showing up in court and hoping the officer won't show is pretty pointless. However, the fine is quite high--once traffic school is factored in, my guess is it'll be above $450. My husband is a graduate student, I'm a pastry chef, and to say we are not rolling in money is an understatement.

I want to go to court, acknowledge my mistake, explain my financial circumstances, and very nicely ask the judge to reduce the fine. Is this a common occurrence? Would it just make the judge angry that I've come to plead no contest and waste the court's time? For what it's worth, I have a completely clean record--no other accidents or tickets, and over 10 years of having a license. I have read other threads about getting out of tickets, but I know it varies from location to location. I'm most interested in hearing from people who have done similar things, or who have experience with the LA traffic court system. Thanks!
posted by Bella Sebastian to Law & Government (21 answers total)
 
I worked for the traffic division of the LA Superior Court about 4 years ago, so things may have changed since.

Many, many people ask the judge to reduce the fine because of financial hardships. You definitely should ask if the fine can be reduced. The judges will sometimes be sympathetic and do it if they like you. Be very contrite and deferential. If they refuse to reduce the fine , ask to be put on a payment plan (i.e., ~$20-50 a month--this can be negotiated). Judges will almost always agree to that.
posted by HotPatatta at 11:37 AM on December 4, 2007


My e-mail address is in my profile if you have further questions.
posted by HotPatatta at 11:38 AM on December 4, 2007


The "officer didn't show" thing is a myth. In most states, he/she doesn't have to appear for you to still be found guilty.

However, it is my experience that it is always worth it to "fight" the ticket. Go to court, and plead guilty, and give your explanation why you ran the red. I have been to court for traffic tickets several times and have heard a LOT of excuses. Most of them lame - of course, mine were completely proper. :) But usually a judge will cut you some slack.

It is a common occurrence. But don't plead your financial hardship, just plead "the case". Good luck!
posted by ObscureReferenceMan at 11:38 AM on December 4, 2007


yeah i think in all of cali (at least a few years ago) if you show up to fight a ticket they'll give you a last chance to back out and just pay the fine. to entice you, they'll cut the fine in half.
posted by alkupe at 11:52 AM on December 4, 2007


Usually the trade is lower or no points (which could save you money on traffic school) in exchange for the same or higher fine (plus court costs which you will have to pay just for the privilege of appearing in court to contest the ticket). Everyone wins, except the insurance company.
posted by caddis at 11:57 AM on December 4, 2007


I don't know about California, but around here (Ontario, Canada), getting the fine reduced is small potatoes compared to the increased insurance premium and (again, around here, at least) the only way to reduce that expense is to get the charge reduced to a lesser offence.
posted by winston at 12:06 PM on December 4, 2007


As others have said, it's probably worth it to put up a bit of a fight, unless it involves lots of travel, etc. to get to the courthouse.
posted by craven_morhead at 12:18 PM on December 4, 2007


Rolling a stop sign is around $180, plus $12 for traffic school, which takes the points off. That wasn't so bad, just so you know.
posted by klangklangston at 12:44 PM on December 4, 2007


The last time i fought a minor traffic violation in court (mine was a speeding ticket, the kind you get surprised with later in the mail), a couple things happened that might be informative to you.

Everyone in the courtroom with me was ticketed by one of three officers. The first officer didn't show, and so all his ticket-ees were able to just walk. The second officer, totally uninterested in taking the stand over speeding tickets, loudly announced that anyone with his name on their ticket could change their plea to "guilty" and he'd effectively knock the fine in half. All of his ticket-ees took the offer and he was out of there in ten minutes. Of course, my officer was the by-the-books third officer, and most everyone who remained just rolled over and paid their fine. Anyone who claimed financial hardship could get on a no-interest payment plan to the court that made it easier to stomach.

Long story short, I decided to fight it, despite the fact that 100% of the evidence was on the police officer's side. Nervous, I apologized to the judge for taking up his and the officer's time. The judge said -- and this is the point of the story -- "Nonsense. You have nothing to apologize for. This is what you pay me for, so take as long as you need."

So I say, go for it.
posted by churl at 1:06 PM on December 4, 2007 [1 favorite]


Check out TicketAssassin.com for dealing with moving violations in California. There are simple legal maneuvers that allow you to try the whole thing by mail.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 1:17 PM on December 4, 2007


Rolling a stop sign is around $180, plus $12 for traffic school

True, but that does not factor in court costs (were you looking at a fee schedule published by the state?). All traffic tickets carry a fine set by the state plus a processing fee tacked on by the county court. Oftentimes, the court's processing fee dwarfs the fine.

to entice you, they'll cut the fine in half


Um, no. They might reduce it if they think you have a good case, but from my experience watching hundreds of cases and processing the paperwork from thousands of cases, I'd estimate that only 5-10% of people are successful when they try to fight the ticket.
posted by HotPatatta at 1:49 PM on December 4, 2007


I normally would not play my anecdote vs your anecdote, however I will question ObscureReferenceMan's claim of "most states" since not only have I never lived somewhere that the officer did not have to show, but the US legal system usually takes very seriously your right to confront your accuser.

That said, betting solely on the odds of your officer not showing up are poor. The officers I knew in Miami scheduled carefully their court days and bent over backwards not to miss them; their commanding officers would confront them if they missed many, or any. The department tracked no-show dismissals and the percentages were scrutinized.

I'd say that showing up and pleading hardship is entirely reasonable. If you have some evidence - a tax return or paystub - taking it along might not be entirely a bad idea. I'd not expect to be entirely off the hook, however, as the whole point of these fines is for them to hurt. So it needs to be convincing that you're talking about eating vs not eating, not eating out vs eating at home.
posted by phearlez at 1:54 PM on December 4, 2007


Oh, I left off one thing - you're in a much better position (and I have seen it be successful) if you can point to an unblemished driving record and a history of showing responsibility. If you have a half-dozen citations in the past decade from doing similar things or speeding you're a lot less likely to see leniency than if you can say you've been driving without incident and this was a one-off you have learned from.
posted by phearlez at 1:56 PM on December 4, 2007


My mom asked a judge to reduce her ticket for running a red light in Maine due to financial hardship and he gave her the option of replacing some or all (I forget) of the fine with community service, so you could ask the judge if that's a possibiity if s/he won't reduce the fine outright.
posted by robinpME at 1:59 PM on December 4, 2007


"the whole point of these fines is for them to hurt."

The cynic in me thinks that the whole point of the fines, in most cases, is to make money for the county.

"The 'officer didn't show' thing is a myth. In most states, he/she doesn't have to appear for you to still be found guilty."

Also I'd be surprised if there were any state in which you could be convicted with no evidence presented by the state -- which is essentially what it would take to get you convicted without the officer present.

It would not be that unusual for a prosecutor to get a continuance for an officer not showing up (if he/she wanted to) but a conviction? I'd love to know how that would work.

The "myth" is the frequency... when you hear people talk about it, you'd think most cops never saw the inside of a courtroom.


But to answer the OP's question... ignore the advice not to plead your financial hardships, but do it at the right time. You don't want to ask the court to find you not guilty because you're poor (I hope), you want them to reduce your payments... so if you think you an win, go ahead an plead not guilty, make the state prove its case, and then (if/when you eventually get found guilty), ask the judge for some lenience on the sentence.

...you might try calling the prosecutor's office (though this will vary by state and county)... many of them will talk to you and could get you the same deals without ever setting foot in a courtroom.
posted by toomuchpete at 2:10 PM on December 4, 2007


I don't know about California, but around here getting the fine reduced is small potatoes compared to the increased insurance premium.

For the benefit of those outside the Golden State, the Californian option of pleading guilty-traffic school means you only pay the fine (and court costs, if any) and after completion of the eight-hour traffic school session, the State declines to tell your insurance company about the ticket, hence no insurance increase.
posted by Rash at 2:57 PM on December 4, 2007


Also I'd be surprised if there were any state in which you could be convicted with no evidence presented by the state -- which is essentially what it would take to get you convicted without the officer present.

It happens everyday--many, many times over. The citation serves as the state's evidence because it is the officer's sworn statement (he signs it at the bottom). Think about it: when you go to court and you and the officer give your testimonies, the court accepts the officer's testimony as evidence just as it accepts your testimony as evidence. Generally, the officer does not present physical evidence to the court and the trials often become he said/she said affairs. The judge has to take one party's side, and more often than not, s/he takes the side of the officer.
posted by HotPatatta at 6:33 PM on December 4, 2007


Thanks for the answers, everyone. I'll definitely be going in to ask to have the fine reduced or at least to be put on a payment plan. I also liked the advice about bringing a pay stub, just in case. And to clarify this point:

Rolling a stop sign is around $180, plus $12 for traffic school, which takes the points off. That wasn't so bad, just so you know.

I already have the "bail notice" and the fine is $381, plus $40 to go to traffic school, not counting whatever the school itself charges. So kids, apparently it's better on the pocketbook to roll a stop sign than run a red light.
posted by Bella Sebastian at 7:27 PM on December 4, 2007


"The citation serves as the state's evidence because it is the officer's sworn statement"

There's a huge problem with this argument: the confrontation clause of the United States Constitution. You can't cross-examine a citation.
posted by toomuchpete at 8:27 AM on December 5, 2007


It's a civil infraction, not a criminal case.
posted by caddis at 8:35 AM on December 5, 2007


I normally would not play my anecdote vs your anecdote, however I will question ObscureReferenceMan's claim of "most states" since not only have I never lived somewhere that the officer did not have to show, but the US legal system usually takes very seriously your right to confront your accuser.

When I first wrote my response, I considered trying to reference my source, but couldn't remember it (and didn't want to search). I also should have added that I've only fought tickets to two states (NY and GA). So, I guess, mea culpa.
posted by ObscureReferenceMan at 10:07 AM on December 5, 2007


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