Questions about a court appearance.
November 20, 2012 8:51 PM   Subscribe

How do I let a judge know I plan to take a driving course?

So, recently I was involved in an accident. I was the one who caused the accident, due to being new to an area and unfamiliar with the terrain/road conditions. Thankfully, no one was harmed in the accident, and while I did hit another car, it caused only minor damage. The officer who came to the scene said this happens often in the town and was sympathetic, but had to give me a citation which required I appear in court. My citation was specifically because I failed to excercise due caution. I plan to plead guilty when I have my court date, but I had a few questions and was hoping someone might have some advice/ideas on them. This isn't a major case, I'm just receiving a sentence for a citation, so I have not hired a lawyer. As far as I was made aware, it wasn't neccesary for this sort of infraction.

Someone suggested to me that I plead no contest rather than not guilty. As far as I can tell, this doesn't offer me much in the way of benefits in court, if anything, I am afraid it might agitate the judge. Are there any benefits? Would such a plea get me in trouble?

Also, I plan on volunteering to take a driving safety course over the holidays while I am on break. As far as I understand, doing this can help you out in a case such as mine, and at any rate, it doesn't hurt to brush up. At what point is it appropriate to inform the judge of this, or is it something you simply alert the court to after the fact? Also, I will be traveling to another state for the holidays, which is when I plan to take the course. Do I need to take the class in the state where the accident occured? Is there a time frame this needs to be completed in?

Any advice guys? Hoping to get out of this with maybe a few hundred in fines and a slap on the wrist. Generally, I have a good driving record, and this is the first accident I've been involved in in over a decade (back when I was a 16 year old newb.). Don't really have that much experience with traffic court, or courts in general, so any advice is appreciated.
posted by Rosengeist to Law & Government (7 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
You don't "let a judge know" that you're going to take a traffic course. While you're standing in front of the judge, after you've pled guilty and politely expressed your remorse for the situation, but before the sentence is given, you ask if you can take traffic school or a similar course to help with your sentence. If he agrees, then you get some paperwork afterward that will tell you what you need to do to qualify for the lower fine or fewer points or whatever the judge agreed to give you in exchange.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 9:19 PM on November 20, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks!
posted by Rosengeist at 9:23 PM on November 20, 2012

IANAL. Lawyer up with an attorney who specializes in traffic violations. A good traffic attorney will get you a much better deal than you can cut on your own. Pleading guilty and throwing yourself on the mercy of the court is never a good idea. Always contest - you don't want infractions on your driving record (they increase your insurance premiums and have a negative impact in other areas). An attorney, if s/he can't get you off, can often get the charges reduced to a lesser infraction which won't appear on your record. Never appear in court without representation.
posted by Pudhoho at 9:25 PM on November 20, 2012 [2 favorites]

Talk to a lawyer...this is what they are there for. The judge will be happiest if you get a lawyer. Most lawyers will give you a free initial consultation, hear the facts of your case and tell you what kind of deal you can get if you hire them. If you don't get a lawyer, the judge will have to take extra time in court to explain the law to you, and you won't get the best deal. A few hours of lawyer time will probably cost less than how much your insurance will go up if this goes on your record.

I got a speeding ticket once (in Texas), and had it kept off my record by taking a driver training course online and mailing in some forms. But, this was easy to do myself-- there were instructions on the speeding ticket for how to do this. A lawyer can tell you if this is possible in your state. When I got my ticket, I also got letters (junk mail) from at least a hundred different lawyers who wanted me to hire them.
posted by sninctown at 9:53 PM on November 20, 2012

I am a lawyer, but not your lawyer. I have no idea what jurisdiction you are located in, but it is unlikely that I am licensed there. I cannot give you legal advice. Moreover, when somebody else does give you legal advice, it's difficult for me to address their comment without crossing the line myself. But I think I'm safe in telling you as a blanket statement that you should disregard legal advice you are given by strangers on the Internet.

If that includes ignoring a specific comment that was posted earlier in this thread, well, then so be it.

This isn't a major case, I'm just receiving a sentence for a citation, so I have not hired a lawyer. As far as I was made aware, it wasn't neccesary for this sort of infraction.

Different jurisdictions handle traffic infractions really, really differently. Based on what I've seen, for instance, I can speak intelligently about Massachusetts but would be disinclined to offer anything more intelligent than a shrug about New York.

Having said that, I can tell you that I hear stories like this often. "It's a minor traffic thing and I was told that I don't need a lawyer." Often it's true, the person doesn't need a lawyer. But having a lawyer can be the difference between, as just one example, paying a little money plus having a black mark that can follow you, versus just paying a little money. In other words, you basically trade the lawyer's fee for the black mark. Put in simple terms, court can be a technical and esoteric place and a lawyer can help you navigate options that otherwise you may not know exist.

You're asking some incredibly specific questions. (Eg, "Would such a plea get me in trouble?") This is a problem because I cannot address your questions without veering into giving you legal advice, not matter how many times I append my comment with "IANYL." But I can tell you that as a general proposition, buzz words like "required I appear in court," "plead," "guilty," and "sentence" are pretty much always going to result in me advising a person to speak with a licensed attorney in their jurisdiction.

I can also say that as a general proposition, I do look for creative ways to present my clients well, and taking a safe-driving course can indeed be a good example. It has come up. However, it's a bit complicated. There is one well-known class that I might dissuade a client from taking (for reasons not worth going into here), while there's another lesser-known class that might come off well. Again, this stuff can be esoteric. It can be a good idea, but it isn't always a good idea.

Whether a particular class is a good idea in your situation, and if so how to present that information to the court, is definitely "legal advice" and I can't know in your case. I would suggest that you consult an attorney in your jurisdiction who can help you with these questions. And by all means, if his/her advice conflicts with anything I have said in this comment, then ignore me and listen to him/her.

Good luck with your situation. I'm glad nobody was hurt in your accident. Happy holidays.
posted by cribcage at 10:28 PM on November 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

IANAL, but personally, I wouldn't plead guilty to something nebulous like this. What does the statute say? What are the likely penalties? What is the evidence? How do you know you're 100% liable for the accident? Hell, the ticketing officer's statement is a pretty big red flag; if similar accidents have occurred in the recent past, the road condition could be a big mitigating factor. Or this could be a routine thing, you talk to the prosecutor and he offers you a plea bargain and you pay $100.

I've pled guilty to speeding tickets, because I knew what the fine and points would be, and I wasn't in jeopardy of losing my license or getting pounded on insurance. But this is just too unknown. Look at the questions you're asking: no way are you going to get competent legal advice for your specific situation without engaging an actual lawyer.
posted by disconnect at 7:33 AM on November 21, 2012

I'd like to say that going to court is always a good idea.

1. If the cop doesn't show up, the case may be dismissed.

2. It's interesting.

3. I've been a bunch of times and you can speak to a traffic court judge person-to-person.

That said, every place is different.

At the Deerfield Courthouse in Broward County Florida, the judges are awesome. Total hoots and traffic court is super-fun. I went once and the cop showed up, I pleaded guilty and the cop said, "She was very polite, and remorseful, I'm sure she won't do it again." I got off with less than $50 and no points.

I once got nailed for speeding in Santa Clara, Alameda and Contra Costa counties simultaneously. I'm not sure about the different circles of hell, but taking 3 traffic safety classes within a month must be one of them. No points.

On I-79 outside of Pittsburgh, PA. The magistrates have no sense of humor. Just pay the ticket and save your time.

Go, be polite, don't offer excuses and be remorseful. Chances are you'll do just fine.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 12:15 PM on November 21, 2012

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