What do I plea, and how do I plea it?
June 19, 2013 1:00 PM   Subscribe

I got a $260 ticket in Portland for not turning into the closest lane. Lamest ticket ever, right? So what do I plea at my court date, and how do I plea it?

I was on a one-way street and turning onto another one-way street, through a yellow light. The officer wasn't happy about my speed, or the yellow light, or the turn. I haven't gotten pulled over in yeaaars and was really overwhelmed by talking to him. He only wrote me up for the turn, though, and it wasn't until afterward that I realized that I've always believed it was okay to (safely) turn into the non-closest lane when you're dealing with one way streets. It turns out that's true...in California. Not in Oregon, where I learned to drive (I even checked out the Oregon Drivers Manual from 10 years ago, just to make sure the law hadn't changed recently.).

I've read a lot of the previous posts about this sort of thing, and most people are saying to never plead guilty, but...I mean...I was totally ignorant of the law, and that's not really a reason to plead not guilty, right? Plus, I won't have the money to pay any fines for a couple weeks, and my court date is tomorrow. Here are the plea options for Multnomah County, what is my best option here?

The more details you can tell me about what I should do tomorrow, the better. I'll be sure to wear nice clothes.
posted by brisquette to Law & Government (22 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
You realize that "here are the circumstances and the charges, how should I plead" asks for legal advice as unambiguously as possible, right? And that most lawyers are going to be hesitant to answer such a pointed question?

To answer one of your questions, you are right that your ignorance of the law does not provide a valid defense to most crimes, and hardly ever provides a defense to traffic citations. That said, I am unfamiliar with the laws in your jurisdiction and IANYL.
posted by craven_morhead at 1:06 PM on June 19, 2013 [6 favorites]

Go to court and see if the officer shows up. If he doesn't, you win.

If the officer shows up, you will have a chance to plead no contest (nolo contendre), usually the judge will explain if you do this that you can satisfy the ticket by going to traffic school. Show up, be respectful and ask for help. "your honor, I'm kind of strapped for funds right now, is there a way you can help me out here?"

I've had judges reduce the fine and waive the points. Which I will take all day and twice on sunday.

I've been to traffic court a bazillion times (none in the past decade though) and the judges are usually pretty nice and will work with you. Just don't be that asshole with the blown up picture that proves that the officer didn't see what he says he saw. That guy pays EVERY TIME.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:07 PM on June 19, 2013 [8 favorites]

This question is the clearest example I have ever seen here of a request for legal advice. You have the plea options, so choose which one will be the best for you.

As you seem to realize, a judge will not care about how you learned to drive. He will care about what the law is and whether or not you followed it.

posted by Tanizaki at 1:09 PM on June 19, 2013 [3 favorites]

Go to court and see if the officer shows up. If he doesn't, you win.

This is not always true since in many cases the ticket is the sworn testimony of the officer. Don't rely on a busy cop to be your ticket out. your best bet is to plead no-contest and if the judge is accepting plausible reasons try to explain that you thought you were driving in a safe manner. Then shut up.
posted by Gungho at 1:11 PM on June 19, 2013 [6 favorites]

Not your lawyer. The scheduled "appearance" is to enter a plea. The citing officer is not going to be there. If you want to plead "not guilty" a hearing/trial date will be set some time in the future. If the officer does not appear at that time, without a valid reason, the case may/will be dismissed.

As said, your ignorance of the actual legal method of turning is not likely to help you.
posted by uncaken at 1:13 PM on June 19, 2013

You could actually ask a lawyer in your location for advice. If this ticket could lead to points on your license, it may be worth it.
posted by citygirl at 1:13 PM on June 19, 2013

Best answer: No advice here, IANAL, just information from both sides of traffic court in Oregon. I've worked for the DMV, and for a traffic court, and have had multiple opportunities to stand before a traffic court judge (oops!).

(Note: my information on all accounts is a decade old or older)

Usually, a plea of no contest or guilty, on minor infractions such as this, will give you a set fine that is lower than the amount on the citation. Most courts will set up a payment plan for you. Failure to pay will eventually lead to suspension of your license. Attitude is everything.

AFAIK, Oregon does not have a points system, unless the laws have changed in the past few years, which they might have... do your research.
posted by batikrose at 1:17 PM on June 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Eep! I read a bunch of previous AskMe posts about speeding tickets and parking tickets and things, and didn't even think of the legal advice issue when I asked this.

Lawyers should feel free to avoid this post as much as possible; traffic citations seem like kind of an everyman experience that I happen to be particularly clueless about, so I assumed a lot of normal folk would have specific opinions based on their own experience.
posted by brisquette at 1:19 PM on June 19, 2013 [4 favorites]

Best answer: This is not true:
Go to court and see if the officer shows up. If he doesn't, you win.

My spouse had to plead a ticket in Multnomah County a few years back and none of the cops were there.

I have had two traffic tickets in Beaverton, and both times, my fine was reduced because I hadn't had a violation in x years, and in the second case, points were waived if I took a class. Mult Co might offer something similar.

It might be worth your while to get a $35 consultation via the Oregon State Bar referral service, though my spouse talked to a lawyer before his hearing in Mult Co and it was so completely a waste of time and money, it was absolutely no help at all.

Good luck.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 1:21 PM on June 19, 2013 [2 favorites]

At least in Washington, you would want to plead guilty and ask for mitigation. If you plead not guilty, but then the first sentence out of your mouth is an admission of guilt, you have shot yourself in the foot. I am not a lawyer, and my only experience of this is watching my husband deal with a bullshit traffic ticket in traffic court; the judge explained this point thoroughly before proceedings started. Oregon may be totally different. If you want jurisdiction-specific advice, hire a lawyer.
posted by KathrynT at 1:22 PM on June 19, 2013

That's a weird law; either you have the right of way or you don't.

Anyway, if you did what the ticket says you did, then your only option is to plead no contest. If you plead not guilty, then there will be a trial where you will be able to offer no defense and you will be found guilty. I don't imagine there is a courtroom in the land where being found guilty will cost less than pleading guilty. Yes, you have the right to make the State prove their charges, but then they have the right to fine you the maximum.

It also sounds like you made multiple errors and the officer gave you a break by only writing you up for what seems to be the least serious offense.
posted by gjc at 1:42 PM on June 19, 2013

Best answer: Lawyers should feel free to avoid this post as much as possible

Oh, we do. No worries there. The trouble is that, when you make an explicit request for legal advice on AskMe, the result is twofold: Lawyers make an extra effort to avoid your question, but people who have no idea what they're talking about but think posting answers on AskMe is "fun" will now believe they have some factual basis for telling you in confident detail exactly what to do. These folks' participation on the site far outstrips their actual fields of knowledge, they're not really helping anybody notwithstanding the fun they have, and they potentially cause harm in instances like this one if you, the OP, aren't careful to remember that free advice is worth what you paid.

I got a citation once, many years ago in Boston, and I consulted a family friend who was a police sergeant in a local suburb. He confidently explained how my court appearance would go. I thanked him and felt better. But I also sought a second opinion, from an attorney who practiced regularly in the court where I'd be appearing...and thank God. It turned out that my friend, well-meaning though he was, was flat wrong about how my citation would be handled in this particular court barely thirty miles from the jurisdiction where he wrote citations. I basically did the opposite of what he'd told me, and it worked out perfectly. Years later I ended up working as a defense attorney in that very same court, and now I know: If I'd taken his poor advice, I would have been much worse off.

I wish you luck tomorrow. I'm not licensed in Oregon, and I am not your attorney. I have no legal advice to offer you. However, as someone who's had the "everyman experience" of dealing with a traffic citation, who received conflicting advice and who subsequently gained expert hindsight, I would caution you to apply critical-thinking skills to any advice you receive and be careful about which, if any, you take.
posted by cribcage at 1:53 PM on June 19, 2013 [47 favorites]

Going to court once saved me a $400 ticket for a slightly latish pedestrian crossing over RR tracks. I thought the charge was ridiculous and I guess the cop did too, because he didn't show up.
posted by telstar at 1:55 PM on June 19, 2013

Best answer: Go to court and see if the officer shows up. If he doesn't, you win.

Yeah, this isn't practiced in Multnomah county for traffic violations. There's quite a few more steps before it gets thrown out. Officers are notified when their cases are coming up. I believe they batch them together here in Multnomah county to make it easier for the officers to show up.

Just that if you play nice, they'll usually reduce your fine. Especially if you have a spotless driving record, have all your paperwork up to date, have a legit license, dress nice for court, are polite to the judge, apologize, etc. However, the judge can only reduce it so much per Oregon law.

And yes, it does sound like the officer gave you a break and didn't charge you with everything he or she could have.

IANAL. Or even close to one.
posted by furnace.heart at 1:59 PM on June 19, 2013

Things to consider:

1. Everything you probably think that you know about the law and going to court is wrong (and almost all responses that you get to your question will be wrong as well).

2. Will this moving violation increase your insurance rates? If so then you are looking at possibly a lot more than a $260 expense.

3. A lawyer **capable** of getting this dismissed will absolutely cost you 2 or 3 times the cost of your ticket - at a minimum.

4. Are you willing to spend 10-15 hours reading up on actual law and preparing your case if you choose to do this yourself? Are you then willing to spend at least 2 half days in traffic court? (one to plea and one to argue) . Yes? - then start here:

posted by Podkayne of Pasadena at 2:59 PM on June 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

Lawyers should feel free to avoid this post as much as possible

I will, but I also wanted to point out that nonlawyers can get in trouble for the unauthorized practice of law and should also avoid giving legal advice as a general rule.

(I sympathize. It sounds like a really annoying ticket. But probably best addressed with a local lawyer.)
posted by payoto at 3:44 PM on June 19, 2013

I am not a lawyer and this is certainly not legal advice. It is a simple anecdote.

I received a ticket in Portland for talking on a cell phone while driving. I rarely, VERY RARELY talk while driving (at least without my hands-free earbuds in), but there was a personal emergency that day and I happened to be that guy.

I mailed in the form and pled no contest because I knew that I was guilty of breaking the law. I included a letter explaining why I was on the phone and apologizing for my indiscretion, as well as a check for the full amount of the fine. A few weeks later I got a check in the mail with a note saying the judge had reduced my fine and refunded me the difference. It was still an expensive lesson in the law, but I feel that my forthrightness and good driving record helped.
posted by tacodave at 4:35 PM on June 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

Mod note: Folks just answer the question please.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 5:40 PM on June 19, 2013

Be aware that, as with lane splitting in CA and no right on red in NY, being allowed to turn into the further lane in CA is not typical throughout the US, so whatever the outcome, keep that in mind as you drive in the future.
posted by davejay at 5:42 PM on June 19, 2013 [2 favorites]

Turning into the far lane has been illegal in Oregon for as long as I've had a licence (nearly 20 years now). In fact, with all the double right lanes in Portland, turning from the leftmost right turn lane on a red is also illegal (p 40 of the driver's manual). It's all about crossing lanes of traffic without right of way, thus why you got the ticket in the first place.

If you plea no contest you might just get traffic school, maybe not. Depends on the judge as much as what the cop says.
posted by fiercekitten at 8:32 PM on June 19, 2013

I got a similar ticket two years ago in Multnomah county. I turned right from a one-way onto another one-way and turned into the second closest lane. It was my first time ever being pulled over and I really thought the officer would see my perfect driving record and let me go. No such luck - it was the 29th of the month.

Right on the ticket was the option to attend a 'share the road safety class'. I attended that for thirty bucks. It was mostly intended for sharing the road with bicycles . . . this is Portland, after all. I brought my completion certificate to my court date and appeared before a judge (not exactly sure what I pled there . . . not guilty?). Anyway, I told the judge that I had gone to the class, had never been pulled over, etc. He expunged the ticket. The officer did not appear, the ticket never went on my record and I did not pay the fine, which was around $290.
posted by LucyHoneychurch at 11:34 PM on June 19, 2013

Response by poster: Thanks for the stories and advice, everyone. I'm still kind of frustrated at how opaque the system seems, even for something as simple as a traffic violation.

I posted this question because I was unclear on how I'd be interacting with the court system, and it turned out to be surprisingly simple. I showed up, waited in line to talk to a traffic clerk, then handed her my ticket and simply told her that the officer had said I would likely get it reduced (he did). She took my ticket, looked up some stuff on the computer, and took it down to $130. Then, the clerk highlighted a bunch of lines on a printout (including the no contest plea area.), had me sign and date it, and we were done. She said I had 30 days to pay, so that's pretty manageable.

We'll see how my insurance is affected.
posted by brisquette at 1:35 PM on June 20, 2013

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