Should I pay my NC traffic fine or go to court?
October 17, 2012 6:51 AM   Subscribe

I got into a minor parking lot accident in North Carolina the same day I moved out of state for a new job. Should I pay a $25 traffic fine or hire a lawyer to represent me in traffic court and therefore keep a clean record?

I am a relatively new driver in my twenties and caused some damage (mostly scraped paint, and possibly a small dent) to a parked car while backing out of a cramped parking space. The owner decided to call the police, and now I have a traffic court date in North Carolina.

The accident happened on the same day I left NC to move to Massachusetts, where I've started a new job. Obviously I won't be flying down to appear in court on a weekday. The police officer told me that if I hired an attorney to represent me in court and show that my insurance had paid for the other gentleman's damage, I wouldn't owe a fine and nothing would go on my record.

I've only now sat down to look at my ticket again, and I just noticed that I have the option of paying a $25 fine rather than appear in court. The cop didn't tell me this, and clearly was trying to dissuade me from paying the fine. However, it is definitely cheaper to pay the fine + mandatory court fees rather than an attorney + court fees, and less hassle for me as well.

I know that none of you is my lawyer, but would it be a really terrible idea to pay this fine and therefore plead guilty to a moving traffic violation? My violation is "unsafe movement." I assume my insurance premium will go up either way. What are the consequences of taking responsibility for what was truly a minor accident? I have never had a traffic violation before. I also never had a North Carolina driver's license because I only lived in the state for a few months, if it matters.

(I'm new here, although I've been a longtime lurker. Thanks!)
posted by toastedcheese to Law & Government (13 answers total)
I'd get a lawyer. If this was in Cumberland County pm me and I'll tell you a good lawyer to get for this.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 6:56 AM on October 17, 2012

If you call your insurance company they can probably tell you what the financial implications would be of accepting that violation. I know mine allows me a few grace points before the rates go up.
posted by something something at 6:59 AM on October 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

It's in Chatham County.
posted by toastedcheese at 7:05 AM on October 17, 2012

You don't necessarily plead guilty when you pay the fine. I'm not sure how exactly it works in NC, but in most states you can pay the fine out of convenience without admitting guilt.
posted by COD at 7:06 AM on October 17, 2012

This might be bad advice, which other people can come and weigh in on, but check to see if this will even show up on your license. I got a speeding ticket in Maine and it never materialized on my New York license because the two states don't have a reciprocal... whatever. They don't share. I was just barred from driving in Maine for a couple of years which completely didn't matter because I had just graduated from college and had no plans to return for the foreseeable future. So, ignoring could be an option.
posted by thebazilist at 7:07 AM on October 17, 2012

You need to include the potential risk of higher insurance rates down the road, not just right now. It may well be that your rates won't change today, but if you get another conviction in two years they will increase significantly. Had the first incident not been on your record, it wouldn't have affected you.

I also think COD is confused about how the judicial system works. There is no way that you can buy your way out of a conviction in "most states." Paying the fine by mail is absolutely pleading guilty in every state I've ever been ticketed in -- which is probably far too many and definately includes North Carolina.

Ignoring the ticket and hoping that it doesn't appear on your record in your new state or on your insurance policy as mentioned by thebazilist is also incredibly risky. I'm reasonably sure that Massachusets was one of the states that led the Non-Resident Violator Compact and its a pretty sure bet that they would enforce the conviction/fine for North Carolina if you were convicted in absentia. I know that they are one of the first three states to join the Driver License Agreement which is a really craptastic deal for residents.
posted by Lame_username at 7:48 AM on October 17, 2012 [3 favorites]

If your insurance already paid for the damage, they know about the accident, and that might trigger an increase in your insurance rates. I doubt the ticket will add much, if any to your rate increase, or indeed if they will find out about that if you are out of state. A $25 ticket (can that even be correct? I've had parking tickets cost twice that) is not something I would ever pay an attorney to fight, honestly.
posted by Jemstar at 8:00 AM on October 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'd also point out that the $25 is almost certainly just the fine component of the cost. In North Carolina, they charge you a fine plus "court costs" which vary from county to county, but are usually in the $150-$250 range. So paying the fine in advance is likely to cost more like $200. You can look up the exact charges via their online payment center at -- the cynic in me imagines that the fines & court costs are closely calibrated to the value proposition of getting an attorney.
posted by Lame_username at 8:15 AM on October 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

Paying the fine by mail is absolutely pleading guilty in every state I've ever been ticketed in -- which is probably far too many and definately includes North Carolina.


I do not understand why people are talking about pleading guilty. I have to imagine that this is a non-criminal traffic infraction. The payment of the fine is a civil penalty. Points might be assessed, although the judges will often withhold adjudication, which means no points assessed but you still pay the fine. However, there is no plea being made.

A lawyer for a $25 fine? No. Just pay it if you are that concerned about it. You could also go the way thebazilist said. The penalty for not paying a traffic fine is generally suspension of your license. NC cannot suspend your non-NC license, but could only bar you from driving in NC. But, $25 could buy you peace of mind.
posted by Tanizaki at 8:16 AM on October 17, 2012

Thank you, everyone, for the info so far - the NC legal verbiage is that you "plead guilty/responsible" when you pay the fine. It may be a non-criminal infraction, but it's part of the same system.

I have to pay large court fines whether I go to court or not, and I assume the amount doesn't vary. So from a monetary standpoint it's the cost of the fine ($25) versus the cost of the attorney ($90+).
posted by toastedcheese at 8:48 AM on October 17, 2012

Can't you do online traffic school to get the points from moving violations off of your license?

I don't understand why you were given a traffic ticket for a car accident. What information are we missing? On what grounds would a lawyer be defending you? Is there a real possibility of beating the ticket??

This is hard to answer without knowing why the ticket was issued in the first place. Is it the sort of thing online traffic school wouldn't apply towards? Hmm.
posted by jbenben at 11:32 AM on October 17, 2012

I have to pay large court fines whether I go to court or not, and I assume the amount doesn't vary. So from a monetary standpoint it's the cost of the fine ($25) versus the cost of the attorney ($90+).
This is not necessarily so. North Carolina ADAs will sometimes dismiss the charges in situations like yours (if you can document that the victim in the accident was fully compensated by you or your insurance) and when the charges are dropped (the odds of same increase significantly when you use a lawyer) and then you will not pay court costs. The standard dodge in NC is an oddball plea called "Prayer for Judgment Continued" and that keeps the conviction off your record unless you get another conviction in North Carolina. In that case you will pay the court fees. You can read about the dropped charges for accident cases on the NC State website. Its technically for Wake County, but the process is essentially the same all over the state.

Ultimately, it is a cost/benefit analysis if the risk of future insurance premiums or driving license penalties is worth more than $65 (or whatever the difference is between the attorney's fee and the fine).
posted by Lame_username at 12:31 PM on October 17, 2012

Jbenben, what I got was a "North Carolina Uniform Citation" and states that I executed a dangerous turn (i.e., backing out of a parking space). So, I caused an accident and got a ticket.

The police officer told me that if my attorney brought proof to court that my insurance had paid for the other party's damage, the whole thing would be dismissed. I don't know the legal mechanism for what he was describing.

I did get eight different automated letters from NC attorneys offering their services this week, and most of them included court fees in their charges, so I'm not expecting the court fees to be dropped if I go into court; however, maybe I should call an attorney and ask that question.

As it is, I'm leaning strongly toward paying the ticket because I don't have a NC license and I'm not convinced this will follow me to Massachusetts. However, further feedback is welcome.
posted by toastedcheese at 4:44 AM on October 18, 2012

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