Fighting a Speeding Ticket
January 13, 2005 9:58 AM   Subscribe

SpeedingTicketFilter. So I got a ticket for going 74 in a 55 MPH zone. Should I bother fighting it? (Details Inside)

I was pulled over by a single officer who clearly was racking up the tickets, as there were two or three cars which he had pulled over prior to me. The thing is, I'm really not convinced he correctly clocked me (or that it was me he clocked)- I was definitely over the limit but perhaps 5 miles less. I feel like the only argument I could make was that he was so busy with the other people he had pulled over that he incorrectly tagged me.

So how does one try to argue that in court? And has anyone had any success in doing so? From what I've heard, unless you can provide some proof the only hope you have is that officer doesn't show up.
posted by jeremias to Law & Government (47 answers total)
Well, if you were speeding, and you knew you were speeding... you broke the law, and you knew you were breaking it... pay the ticket.

Next time, slow down. Or keep speeding and accept the consequences.
posted by raedyn at 10:02 AM on January 13, 2005

And if you think you weren't speeding as much as he says, check yr speedometer, it could be wrong. Are you using the correct size of tires on your car that could affect the reading on your dashboard.
posted by raedyn at 10:04 AM on January 13, 2005

I'm sure you've already tried it (you're on Askme, after all), but a few google searches reveal some pretty helpful advice. On the other hand, is it really worth it? A hundred bucks or so, and as raedyn points out, you are guilty.
posted by Plutor at 10:09 AM on January 13, 2005

If you mean, is it worth fighting it to get the charges dropped. You might be able to beat it if you take it all the way to court, and the officer doesn't show up. But probably not on the, "I don't think he clocked me correctly," defense.

Having said that, where I live, it's pretty much an open secret that if you just show up at the court date the points will be reduced (I've never even had to explain why I thought they should be reduced). Not sure if it's the same in other states though.
posted by drezdn at 10:10 AM on January 13, 2005

Always, always ask for a hearing. In most jurisdictions, chances are good the officer won't show. If he does, you're probably screwed, and you should have enough self-respect not to embarrass yourself in front of the judge -- but it's always worth taking the shot.

If you feel you should "accept the consequences," that's fine. But speeding tickets are a slightly different scenario. The limits are deliberately set below where we expect people to drive. And traffic court exists for good reason. If you were speeding excessively, you shouldn't be indignant about having to pay if you lose -- but neither should you feel ashamed about using the tools provided to try getting off the hook.
posted by cribcage at 10:14 AM on January 13, 2005

Fight the ticket. Odds are they won't drop it, they never do. But they may change it to a parking ticket and school, which won't add points/cause your insurance to skyrocket. I'm in NY, so YMMV, but they'll rarely leave a speeding ticket as a speeding ticket (since the state gets moving violation money, and the locality gets parking ticket money). Plead not guilty when you send it in, and see the DA on your court date.
posted by Kellydamnit at 10:21 AM on January 13, 2005

If you're in a state like VA, 74 in a 55 might mean automatic reckless driving (although it might be 75) and a suspended license.

Also, if your spedometer is incorrect, I think you can get out of it if you provide evidence that it was wrong and that you've fixed it.

posted by callmejay at 10:23 AM on January 13, 2005

Take it to court. If the cop doesn't show, you're off the hook. If he does, a lenient judge will reduce the penalty. I once had a judge levy the financial penalty, but eliminate the "points", so it was never reported to DMV.

If you're stopped for a speeding violation after you've been clocked by radar, it is your right to ask for a printout from the radar gun. That being said, the cop may not appreciate being challenged, or might label you a smartass for being argumentative.

The few times I've been stopped, the cop has charged me with a lower speed than I was actually going, reducing the penalty to the next lowest level (i.e., caught speeding at 53, charged with 49).
posted by grateful at 10:26 AM on January 13, 2005

If this is your first ticket, you can almost invariably get the penalties reduced in some way -- you may pay the same amount, for example, but the ticket doesn't go on your record. Or you go to "safe driver" training. Or maybe the police officer doesn't show up, and you go home without a penalty. Or maybe the judge just reduces the penalty.

"Fighting the ticket" in this case doesn't really mean not paying a penalty -- you're probably screwed unless the officer doesn't show up for the court hearing -- it means negotiating the extent of that penalty, so long as this is a one-off. The courts have leeway, and the spirit of the law is generally that if it's a one-off situation, the punishment isn't so bad as for the chronic offender. IMHO, you should fight it.

The question here is whether you hire a cheap lawyer or not. The lawyer will make this very easy for you (you probably won't have to appear in court if this is a first-time thing), but you may end up spending more money than if you just paid the ticket in exchange for getting it off your record. If you have time to burn, go to court and see what happens, you may be assigned to a driver's safety course and not have to do anything, and the worst case scenario is a few more hours of hassle with no other negative consequences. If you don't want to spend money on a lawyer and don't have time to burn, on the other hand, then just pay the ticket.
posted by eschatfische at 10:26 AM on January 13, 2005

Show up for court, the worst thing that could happen is you'll get convicted for the original speed. Your presence can sometimes be enough to get the fine/points reduced. Be nice, polite and let the judge do the talking. Since it was a speed trap with a large number of tickets written, it's highly probable the officer will be there. Also, larger jurisdictions specifically set aside time for their officers to be in court. Your fine is income, after all.
posted by tommasz at 10:27 AM on January 13, 2005

Is the punishment less for breaking the speed limit by less? In the UK it certainly would be.
Being guilty of speeding at just over the limit isn't the same as being way over it, in the same way that stealing one car isn't the same as stealing two. You don't have to own up to stuff you didn't do, and if the cop is making stuff up to make you look worse than you are then to hell with the fairness of being caught for breaking the limit.
posted by biffa at 10:29 AM on January 13, 2005

The question here is whether you hire a cheap lawyer or not.
I've never, ever heard of anyone bringing a lawyer to traffic court to fight a routine speeding citation. Not to be blunt, but do you have any idea what you're talking about? I don't think whether to hire a lawyer is remotely at issue here.
posted by cribcage at 10:31 AM on January 13, 2005

When I got a ticket a few years ago in NC, I received a fair amount of junk-mail from local lawyers before my traffic-court date. Hiring a lawyer can help you to... well, the less favorable way to put it would be to exploit any procedural errors the cop might have made to get off.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:39 AM on January 13, 2005

I'm not sure if Mass has this, but in Michigan, you can plead "guilty with an explanation". In the case where I did this, EVERY person who chose this option was made to pay the fine but got zero points on their license. The only person who got shafted was a lady who insisted she couldn't have been going that fast but wasn't sure. She pleaded "not guilty", the judge swore both the cop and the lady in, asked a few questions, and gave her the full fine & points. Even then, he asked her to stay until the next break so he could explain to her how to appeal.

The way it worked was on that given day, one cop argued all his cases so the "hope he doesn't show up" thing did not apply. However, I got there an hour before my appointed time and observed how it worked. I would recommend doing the same. I noticed that during the hourly breaks, the people for the next hour would talk to the cop and work out a deal before taking it before the judge. Like I said, most of them were "guilty with an explanation" and no points.
posted by Doohickie at 10:41 AM on January 13, 2005

Keep in mind that in some places [Vermont is one, I am going through this same set of questions at the moment waiting for a court date for a ticket I got in August] you will have to pay a small court fee if you go to court and lose, in addition to your ticket. In Vermont this is $30 but it is a small consideration in weighing your options. biffa has a good point, if you could save serious money or points on a ticket if you were going, say, only 15 over as opposed to 19, it's especially worth the hassle. Usually it's not the price of the ticket that is the big headache, it's the points on your record that will cause your insurance rates to go up.
posted by jessamyn at 10:44 AM on January 13, 2005

I've never studied law in North Carolina, and you don't mention what your "ticket" was for. But yes, plenty of low-rate lawyers specialize in traffic laws, and they can be helpful -- for traffic violations, not (small) speeding citations. Not all rectangles are square.
posted by cribcage at 10:46 AM on January 13, 2005

I have a friend (really! I haven't driven in almost 8 years) who has gone to traffic court for a number of points-bearing offenses and, each and every time, managed to have the charge reduced to something like "no seatbelt" or "broken taillight." Definitely, definitely worth going. No question.
posted by uncleozzy at 10:49 AM on January 13, 2005

But even an occasional ticket can have "amazing economic impact," says Geoffrey Nathan, a lawyer in Boston who specializes in fighting speeding tickets.

If you can spare the time, going to court will probably be an interesting experience, if only to watch other people and the judge or traffic commissioner.
posted by WestCoaster at 10:51 AM on January 13, 2005


last time i got a speeding ticket, in north carolina, going about the same speed as jeremias, i paid a lawyer 150 dollars to go to court for me. he got me a prayer for judgement, since i haven't had any violations in the past 5 years. this meant no fines, no points, no insurance bumps.

oh yea, and the one time i got a ticket before this time, i um, HIRED A LAWYER.

do YOU know what YOU'RE talking about?
posted by glenwood at 10:54 AM on January 13, 2005

I got caught going 70 in a 55 one time on the highway (before my part of NY State raised the limit to 65).

I went to court, said I was sorry for speeding, and asked for leniency since this was my first ticket. They dropped the speed to right under 65, thus reducing the points I would have had on my license. Just go to court, be polite, and hope for the best.
posted by jasonspaceman at 10:56 AM on January 13, 2005

What Doohickie said. In NYS (don't know about NYC) vehicle & traffic law violators are encouraged by the judge/and or court clerk to have a "conference" - often results in the violator agreeing to plead guilty to a lesser charge (though one that still carries points).

Keep in mind that police officers will write a note to themselves after issuing a summons (e.g., summons issued for 60 in a 30: UTT# 444444- 011305 1401 hrs - Operator Smith sarcastic, uncooperative).

Operator Smith is not going to be offered a reduced charge. Always be polite!

The way it worked was on that given day, one cop argued all his cases so the "hope he doesn't show up" thing did not apply.

True - Departments attempt to schedule officers so that there are no conflicts w/court but the conflicts still happen.

Officers are scheduled to respond to court from their residences - but sometimes a babysitter doesn't show up, a spouse is late getting home, the car breaks down, et ect.

When Officers are working during the shift that the court appearance is set for there is no end to the things that can go wrong - 6 other officers may have called in sick and the officer is needed "on the road", crime-in-progress, et cet.

Always contest the ticket and show up for your court appearance!
posted by mlis at 11:12 AM on January 13, 2005

Most of you that think the cop won't show up because he's too busy are the same ones that didn't think he would turn around and pull you over because he was too busy.

The cops get paid overtime for sitting in court and they're generally better prepared than you (not to mention they've spend much more time in court). Also if you have a ND on the ticket that means no deal because you were obnoxious or a jerk or something.

Remember, your tickets pay their salaries.
posted by edmo at 11:34 AM on January 13, 2005

First off, as everyone has said, always contest the ticket. It's kind of like pleading "not guilty" even if you did it--you need the process to give mitigating circumstances to reduce the penalty.

A lot of states (MA, for instance) don't require the officer to be present. A stand-in representative of the police can take their place. It's absurd, but they're finally cracking down on the whole "no-show, free-to-go" deal.

As for the penalty--I've never had points reduced, but I have had the ticket torn up. One time I had to speed up in order to avoid a collision, and when I explained it them, there was a beautiful moment where the judge and police rep. looked at each other and kind of sadly shrugged. "Nothing we can do about the points, but we'll waive the fee." Of course, I'd much rather have the fee any day of the week, but it was the best they could do. Insurance-crazy states like NJ, MA and NY are all probably like this.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 11:38 AM on January 13, 2005

I've never studied law in North Carolina, and you don't mention what your "ticket" was for.

Plain-old speeding. 60-something in a 55.

Why wouldn't you think a lawyer would be automatically useless for a normal boring speeding ticket? I have no way of knowing what the requirements of a valid ticket are, and whether or not the officer satisfied them. I would not normally have any way of knowing what variety of procedural devices there might be that would reduce the actual pain of the ticket. Lawyers know this sort of thing, or at least they're supposed to.

I only knew to ask for a PJC because a friend was an EMT, who consequently hung around with cops a lot while waiting for them to clear a crime scene so he could go in, and got extensive how-to-beat-a-ticket tips from them.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 11:49 AM on January 13, 2005

You drove fast, you got caught - pay the ticket. Do you really have the time to prepare for court, show up, state your case (and, in my books, you don't have a case)

You'll still have to pay - and you'll have wasted a LOT of time (yours, and the court's and the cop's too)

All this because you aren't sure that he clocked you correctly. C'mon, pay up and move on.
posted by seawallrunner at 12:25 PM on January 13, 2005

I've never, ever heard of anyone bringing a lawyer to traffic court to fight a routine speeding citation. Not to be blunt, but do you have any idea what you're talking about? I don't think whether to hire a lawyer is remotely at issue here.

What? At least in Texas, people hire lawyers for speeding tickets all the time. In fact, there are several here in Houston that specialize in handling tickets just like this. The one I'm most familiar with charges you the amount of your ticket, the benefit being that it won't go on your insurance record. It's an amazing thing to watch in court; your name is called, the lawyer stands up, asks for a quick conference with the prosecutor, walks over and whispers a bit, and then they move on to the next case. Done. I wish my cases were that easy to handle. It's clearly a volume business, and he does quite well.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 12:39 PM on January 13, 2005

Okay, ALWAYS show up for court. Usually before you go before the judge you can meet with the issuing officer or the procecutor and they will offer to reduce the ticket.

I've had a number of them, most recent 80 in a 55 wound up with half the points 1/4 of the fine on a reduced charge.

Had two tickets once (speed too fast for conditions, obstructed view), one was dropped, the other was dismissed if I had no tickets for a year.

Tried to plead guilty to passing a school bus, Judge sent me back to the prosecutor to deal.

Did hire a lawyer for my first ticket (the lawyer was a traffic court judge in a different jurisdiction) he charged $50, never even had to show up for court.
posted by DBAPaul at 12:41 PM on January 13, 2005 [1 favorite]

Oh, and a friend of mine--also a lawyer--asked to take the issuing officer's deposition when he received a ticket. The prosecutor quickly dropped that one.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 12:43 PM on January 13, 2005

If you were given a 74/55 ticket, consider whether you might have been driving even faster (not trying to flame, just saying what if), and the cop was lenient and let you off the hook. Had he rated you higher, you'd have a suspended license and more points.

If its on the knife's edge like that, and I can't say for certain that I wasn't going faster, I would not tempt fate and just pay the ticket.
posted by AlexReynolds at 12:45 PM on January 13, 2005

BTW: Don't make excuses, just ask if you can work something out. There is no excuse, your speedometer was wrong? you should have known by the feel of the ride that you were going too fast etc.
posted by DBAPaul at 12:46 PM on January 13, 2005

If its on the knife's edge like that, and I can't say for certain that I wasn't going faster, I would not tempt fate and just pay the ticket.

How is that tempting fate? Can they retroactively increase the charge somehow in MA? That would seem deeply unkosher; I'd think that usually the very worst thing that can happen is exactly what the ticket charges you with.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 1:23 PM on January 13, 2005

I'm sure it's been said before, but fight fight fight. Just by showing up, you can get it reduced. In response to someone who said above that you broke the law, now pay the fine: you did, but that doesn't mean that you can't try to make this as inexpensive as possible.
posted by adampsyche at 1:33 PM on January 13, 2005

I've never, ever heard of anyone bringing a lawyer to traffic court to fight a routine speeding citation. Not to be blunt, but do you have any idea what you're talking about? I don't think whether to hire a lawyer is remotely at issue here.

To be blunt: yes, I do know what I'm talking about. monjo_bosatu and ROU_Xenophobe appear to, as well. There are lawyers who specialize in traffic violations who offer free consultations and are generally inexpensive.

Back in 1997, the last time I had a ticket, I hired a traffic lawyer for $75 (yes, $75) to argue my speeding ticket. He had the ticket reduced by $100 and got the points taken off my record; I didn't have to appear in court, and received materials in the mail from the court regarding the decision. Since I was scheduled for work at the time of the court appearance, the lawyer's fee was worth it both in terms of what would have been lost wages and convenience.

And here's the kicker: if you're a AAA member, they'll reimburse your traffic court legal fees up to $1000. Seriously. So, if one was a member of the AAA, why *wouldn't* you have a lawyer argue a routine speeding ticket?

So, yes. People use lawyers for traffic court.
posted by eschatfische at 2:20 PM on January 13, 2005

And here's the kicker: if you're a AAA member, they'll reimburse your traffic court legal fees up to $1000. Seriously.

That website says AAA provides reimbursement for "vehicle accident charges." That doesn't sound like it includes speeding tickets; does it?
posted by gsteff at 3:02 PM on January 13, 2005

"you should have known by the feel of the ride that you were going too fast"
Not really. Recently while on a long boring drive, I compared mile-markers vs the odometer (which runs the speedo), and found out my CRX reads almost 5% off-I've actually been going *slower* than I thought. It's still a poor excuse for speeding.
Definitely fight it. If you don't have any priors, call the prosecutor's office directly, and explain that you're not worried about the cost but the points and attendant insurance hike. I started doing this after a sleazeball lawyer forgot to represent me (the letter threating to call the Missouri Bar got my money back) and a warratnt was issued. Usually, the prosecutor's secretary will answer the phone, and if you're pleasant, she'll tell you what you need to do to get the ticket reduced to a non-moving violation.
posted by notsnot at 4:30 PM on January 13, 2005

Sorry, gsteff, I was familiar with AAA's policy before I posted the link, and just went to my region's site -- where it's not very well explained.

From the AAA member handbook: AAA pays up to $900 for legal defense when you plead not guilty in court to a covered traffic charge. You choose your attorney. The amount seems to vary by state, and there are exceptions for DUIs and other major felonies, but not the average speeding ticket. The AAA card can also be used as a bail bond if you get arrested for a traffic violation.

Also, as an ice scraper.
posted by eschatfische at 8:13 PM on January 13, 2005

It's been a few hours, and a few people don't seem to understand that "traffic violations" include far more serious crimes than speeding citations, crimes which would warrant a lawyer, which is why traffic lawyers exist. So I'll leave that issue where it is. Readers can decide for themselves.

But someone made a comment about Massachusetts not requiring an officer to be present. In contrast to North Carolina law, I can speak with authority to Massachusetts law, and this isn't quite accurate. In Massachusetts, you are entitled to a hearing before a judge, where the officer must be present. If he doesn't appear, you win.

However, before granting your court hearing, the state may compel you to appear before a magistrate to plead your case. The magistrate is attended by a state police officer who reads every citation, standing in for each officer. It's basically a hoop the state makes you jump through, wherein you must appear and the officer will not. Your failure to appear constitutes a waiver of your right to a court hearing, and you lose.
posted by cribcage at 8:29 PM on January 13, 2005

A lot of people have posted above "pay the $100 and move on."

A speeding ticket can cost you thousands upon thousands of dollars in future car insurance premium-rises. If you can get out of one by any means, it's definitely worth it - money almost no object. California and NJ used to have traffic school for a first offense - you go to traffic school, they wipe the ticket.

Even if you are guilty, you probably learned something already; definitely do what you can to avoid thousands of future dollars down the drain.
posted by ikkyu2 at 8:38 PM on January 13, 2005

In GA, your court appearance is just a preliminary hearing. If you pleaded guilty all the leniency stuff applies, but if you contest the charges the judge issues a continuance and the cop will show up.

that being said, research your states speeding laws, they may have requirements that aren't commonly known. for example: here an officer must offer you the opportunity to see his calibration at the time he gives you the citation GA code 40-14-5 b
posted by Megafly at 9:22 PM on January 13, 2005

California and NJ used to have traffic school for a first offense - you go to traffic school, they wipe the ticket.

They still do in CA: the caveat is that you are not permitted to challenge the ticket (actually it's at judge's discretion whether or not to permit you to do traffic school after contesting the ticket). So it's a choice of fighting the ticket or choosing the easy way out and going with traffic school.

Actually, you can attend traffic school once every 18 months, and even attend it multiple times to remove points, but not insurance notation. Generally the rule is you go to traffic school for CHP (they almost always show up) and take advantage of our short-staffed local cops by contesting there, when odds are they won't show up, unless it is a speed trap town.
posted by calwatch at 10:14 PM on January 13, 2005

How is that tempting fate? Can they retroactively increase the charge somehow in MA? That would seem deeply unkosher; I'd think that usually the very worst thing that can happen is exactly what the ticket charges you with.

Court fees add to the guilty verdict, and attorneys rarely work on a pro bono basis.
posted by AlexReynolds at 10:36 PM on January 13, 2005

posted by Dick Paris at 4:12 AM on January 14, 2005

Calwatch: as someone returning to California to be a driver again, it's good to know; thanks. Although I don't speed much, anymore.
posted by ikkyu2 at 5:15 AM on January 14, 2005

First off, as everyone has said, always contest the ticket

I think this advice is b*llocks and I would be wary of any advice from Americans on this British issue.

If you contest the ticket and take it to court, you may be liable for points, an increased fine AND THE COURT COSTS should you fail.

If the fine is for the standard 3 points and less than £100, then unless you think you have a case (which by the sound of it you don't) I suggest you swallow your pride pay the fine and accept the points.

The suggestion that you may pay 'thousands' in the future on insurance premiums is rubbish. Speeding points are ten-a-penny in this country and the insurance companies don't take much notice of your first 3. We have speed cameras to thank for that.
posted by Frasermoo at 6:04 AM on January 14, 2005

hmmmm... on second look, I appear to have assumed that MPH meant you were in Britain. I forgot that our American cousins are as backward on measurement as us.

I'll just leave quietly.
posted by Frasermoo at 6:10 AM on January 14, 2005

I just finished going through this same deal. I like to drive fast and hate having slower people in front of me and this has led to my second speeding ticket in 2.5 years. I live in California, and was clocked as going 77 in a 55 mph zone by a CHP patrolman using radar. My lawyer's advice was to find out if the court in my jurisdiction would allow me to attend traffic school, thus avoiding a point on my license and a rise in my insurance. I think the question was asked because I could have been charged with reckless driving and gotten 2 points on my license or even had it suspended at that speed. I called the court and the clerk said I was allowed to go to traffic school. I paid $181 for my "bail," $24 to the court as an "administrative fee" to allow me to attend traffic school and $33 to the traffic school itself. Bottom line is yes, it was very expensive but I avoided a rise in insurance and a point on my license that way. I am working on not letting slower traffic in front of me bother me.... :)
posted by Lynsey at 10:12 PM on January 14, 2005

Right, remember that 20 over can technically be considered as reckless, though remmeber that's at officers' discretion and reckless is also a misdemeanor and requires a higher burden of proof. Generally at 90+ the chances are higher that you would get reckless and it's a given when you hit the century mark.

The trick to remember is to watch other traffic and not be the fastest car on the road, don't stick out (brightly colored cars, sports cars like the Corvette will get ticketed more than cars that have almost as much power like the GTO but look less sporty and more "normal"). That must have been a special enforcement zone, as CHP generally likes pacing, especially in rural areas. Radar is reserved for roads with safety problems that turn into speed traps and urban freeways.
posted by calwatch at 2:52 AM on January 22, 2005

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