Worth it to throw myself on the mercy of the court?
August 23, 2011 11:11 AM   Subscribe

Just got a ticket for misuse of a turn lane. Any point going to court to contest it or try to make a deal? (YANML)

I just had a really stressful doctor's appointment where I was told that I need a surgery. In my dazed state, I went looking for a bakery that I used to visit (and which had moved), and wound up going straight in a turn only lane. No accident resulted, and I'm pretty sure that the cop who wrote me the resulting ticket actually saw my face-palm when I realized I was in the middle of an intersection and was too far forward to take the required right turn.

The ticket is for $110 and an unknown "convenience" fee if I pay it online. I also have the option of going to court next month. If I choose the court option, is there any chance of explaining my situation and getting the fine reduced or waived? I'm living pretty close to the edge financially, and that $110 would really hurt. Is there any way to find out if I have any points for this offence?
posted by terrierhead to Law & Government (14 answers total)
Contest it via mail. The tips on ticketassassin.com are solid.
posted by mumblingmynah at 11:15 AM on August 23, 2011 [3 favorites]

Your jurisdiction matters. You should be able to answer the points question by looking up the code section referenced by your ticket.

If you go to court, you may be able to talk to someone, likely a DA, about getting the charge or fine reduced. Take a look, in some areas the fine and charge are automatically reduced if you plead guilty and plea by mail.

In some areas, you are not able to contest the ticket via mail, you have to show up in court.

If you can contest it by mail, do it. If not, figure that a 50% reduction in the fine will take 3-4 hours at the courthouse, and determine for yourself whether the hourly rate is worth it. The ticket's impact on your insurance rate may up the value of contesting it.

There are other, similar traffic ticket questions on AskMeFi, they may be of some use as well.
posted by craven_morhead at 11:29 AM on August 23, 2011

If not, figure that a 50% reduction in the fine will take 3-4 hours at the courthouse

This is not necessarily true. Both times I've gone in to hassle with tickets took me 45 minutes and an hour. One was to get the fine reduced on a parking ticket (unsuccessful), the other was to deal with a failure to provide insurance info, which was an hour, but infraction wiped clean.
posted by Mister Fabulous at 11:33 AM on August 23, 2011

Where are you? Depending on your jurisdiction they might throw out the case if the ticketing officer doesn't show up to testify, or the hearing may just be a formality.

Since you admit that you actually did what you were ticketed for, I don't see why they would waive the fee. Almost no one feels like they can afford to throw away $100+ on a ticket, not even people who have lots more money; they are unlikely to consider yours a special case.
posted by hermitosis at 12:32 PM on August 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

Where do you live? Does the ticket say anything about it being a moving violation that is subject to points on your license?

You don't want to just pay the fine and admit to being guilty of a moving violation, they will tack the points on when you pay.

If you can take the time, you have nothing to lose. If you fight the ticket in person and you didn't get a reduction, you have lost nothing but time. If you didn't try, you may miss an opportunity to have the ticket reduced or points eliminated.
posted by Yellow at 12:45 PM on August 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

Where are you? As a Canadian whose partner got a generic speeding ticket in Washington state, we were able to contest in via email from home. Ended up with the fine cut in half, just by pleading ignorant tourist. Obviously, we had no intention of going back to fight it in court, but the whole thing boiled down to us asking nicely and a (email-reading?) judge who was obviously in a good mood.
posted by cgg at 12:45 PM on August 23, 2011

I've gotten two speeding tickets in Illinois. Both times I went to court, and it was very much worth my while. I got "probation" ( can't remember the specific term, but as long as I didn't screw up again within a year, there were no points on my license). The first time, the ticket cost was cut in half because I told the judge it was my first time and I was very contrite. The second time, the judge addressed all of us with "the economy sucks, plead guilty and it'll be $20." Each court appearance took about an hour, not including travel time.

tl;dr: if your record is otherwise clean, put on a suit and go to court.
posted by desjardins at 12:51 PM on August 23, 2011

Response by poster: I got the ticket in Mission, Kansas. My driving record is pretty clean - last had a speeding ticket in 2003 or so. Otherwise, no violations in the past 10 years.

I called the district court phone number on the back of the ticket. Kansas doesn't do points, but it will count as a moving violation conviction if I just pay up. I'm not sure what impact that would have on my car insurance rates (USAA). I also have the option of going to court and paying double the fine and having the ticket not submitted to insurance.

I did goof, so I'm not sure how to plead. It doesn't look like there's a "guilty with explanation" plea in Kansas, so I'm stuck with guilty, no contest, or not guilty.
posted by terrierhead at 12:58 PM on August 23, 2011

The option of paying double the fine and no submission to insurance is interesting; I have no experience with that (or with Kansas courts, FWIW).

I worked as a DA for a while. I didn't handle cases this small, we handled careless driving and up, while the city attorney's office handled the traffic infraction stuff like what you were charged with. However, in our traffic cases, a standard plea offer would usually involve something like cutting the points/fine in half, dropping it to a non-moving violation (our favorite was "permitting an unauthorized person to drive," since it was a violation you could commit without being behind the wheel, which mattered if your license was in jeopardy), or, very rarely, doing a deferred judgment or deferred prosecution (i.e. you don't get any more violations in the next 6 or 12 months and this one goes away).

If you rejected these deals and plead not guilty, forcing our office to take you to trial on something petty like this, we would take a look at the case. If we have a crap case, we would drop it (unlikely here). If we have a solid case, we would look over it again to see what other charges fit your actions (e.g., were you also driving carelessly? failed to yield? failed to signal once you changed lanes, etc.), and we would add those as well.
posted by craven_morhead at 1:19 PM on August 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thank you craven_morhead. How would I go about trying for a plea offer? According to the ticket and the courthouse person on the phone, I'd only get to talk to the prosecutor during my court time. Do I just go up and ask for a reduced charge?
posted by terrierhead at 1:32 PM on August 23, 2011

I've done prosecution work in a small town before, doing traffic tickets, DUIs, etc. In my experience, everyone who plead not guilty got one plea offer. For really small potatoes traffic stuff, part of the plea involved (in addition to a fine) taking the offense "under advisement," meaning if there were no other offenses for x days, then the charge would vanish.

YMMV, obviously, depending on your jurisdiction. In my area, I always tell people its worth it to plead "not guilty" and see if he/she can get the matter taken under advisement (and to pay the fine).
posted by chicxulub at 1:38 PM on August 23, 2011

Best answer: Yep, if you were in my jurisdiction, it would work like this:

You show up to court at the appointed day and time, and check in at a window with a clerk. She pulls your file and tells you to have a seat in a waiting area, not unlike a hospital waiting room. You wait. If you showed up early, you hear your name called 15 minutes later. If you showed up at the time you were supposed to show, your name may get called 3 hours later.

I call your name.

You come into a small room with a single desk and three or four chairs. I'm sitting behind the desk (either as an intern in law school or a brand new DA) with a stack of files. I've already talked to fifteen people about their cases today. Yours is relatively minor, since nobody got hurt, there wasn't any property damage, you don't have a long history of this sort of thing, etc.

You give me your 20-30 second explanation of what happened, including the face-palm bit.

I chuckle, and give you something on the low end of what I was planning to offer you. Not sure what that would be, since as I said, this is something smaller than I would handle on its own, but it would be something like cutting down to a lesser violation, say failure to signal, or a non-moving violation. We didn't do a deferred prosecution or deferred judgment on such small cases, but it may happen in courts where this is the bread-and-butter, such things are generally localized and up to the adminstration at whatever branch of the executive branch you're dealing with.

If you accept my offer, say a plea to a tiny infraction, I write up the plea paperwork in about 15 seconds, go over it with you for about 30 seconds, summarizing the major points, and we both sign it. I send you into a crowded courtroom and hand your file off to a clerk. 45 minutes later, the judge calls you up, makes sure you understand what you're doing, and accepts your plea to the lesser charge. Then he sends you to another clerk's office where you pay your fine.

Occasionaly I received requests to plea by mail, or plea to a reduced charge by mail. Rarely, I would handle these by mail, but since it was a huge pain and took a disproportionate amount of time away from my (literally) 500 other open cases, I found reasons to deny requests to plea by mail, especially without good reason (e.g. someone lives in another state).

Again, I want to stress that the nuts-and-bolts of this process is largely procedural, and will vary by jurisdiction and even by courthouses within a jurisdiction, but that's how it would work in my jurisdiction if you were charged with, say, careless driving.
posted by craven_morhead at 2:07 PM on August 23, 2011

Keep i mind that if you plead guilty (or no contest) your insurance rates will be affected. So not only will you be paying what the ticket costs but you will be paying some hundreds of dollars more over the next few years. I highly recommend this book by Nolo Press before you make any choices.

In some states , if the policeman does not show up in court and you plead not guilty you are almost always let go because the prosecution doesn't have a witness. The California version of the book I referenced told me that the police don't show up 30% of the time in California so you have that going for you right there (I know you are in Kansas). Get the book, read it and decide if the time involved in fighting the ticket is worth the ticket costs + increased insurance costs.

One thing - Never count on an "explanation" to get you out of a ticket . It never will - you just plead guilty. The best you can hope for is a reduced fine and if the judge (or lawyer sitting in for the judge at traffic court) is having a bad day you won't even get that. Read the book.
posted by Poet_Lariat at 4:26 PM on August 23, 2011

Do you have the option to plea "no lo contendre" or "no contest" and take defensive driving? If so, you can submit the defensive driving certificate to the court for your ticket, and to USAA to get a discount on your insurance.
posted by Houstonian at 8:29 PM on August 23, 2011

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