I've never had a ticket before, and now I'm Evel Knevel!
April 16, 2008 9:15 AM   Subscribe

Last night I was stopped for "Reckless Driving" in Charlotte, NC. The officer stated that I was going 55 in a 35, that I was weaving, and that I hit the curb when she pulled me over. She had me take a breathalyzer test, which I passed. I know you're not my lawyer, but I've never even had a speeding ticket before! What do I need to do?

I don't believe I was going 55 in a 35, as the traffic around me was moving faster than I was on a very narrow street. The officer had extremely bright headlights and a spotlight on her car, and they were shining directly in my mirror. I had a hard time seeing the road, and eventually flipped my rearview mirror up so that the lights weren't shining in my eyes. This is when she stopped me. I hit the curb because the area has absolutely no street lights and I simply couldn't see the curb.

She wrote the ticket for 'reckless driving: Driving without due caution in a manner so as to endanger other people or property' but did not include information about the speed, weaving, or anything of that nature. I have to appear in court in June. The officer said that I could talk to the DA and he would discuss getting it dismissed and/or going to traffic school.

Now, I will note that the officer, after giving me the ticket, said that she was -sure- that I had drove while drunk before, and even though she didn't catch me this time, she was going to give me the reckless driving charge to 'teach' me a lesson.

I'd rather not have 4 points on my license! I could have gone over 55MPH in a school zone and only gotten 3 points! Any advice?
posted by aristan to Law & Government (18 answers total)
Call a lawyer and explain everything that happened in as much detail as you can remember including what you said to the officer and what the officer said to you. He/she will then advise you how to proceed. You shouldn't have to pay for the initial consultation.
posted by junesix at 9:23 AM on April 16, 2008

Okay. First of all everything about the breathalyzer, the curb, the bright lights, the cop saying she was going to "teach" you a lesson - forget all that stuff. It doesn't matter, and no judge is going to want to hear your possibly facetious sob story.

Furthermore, the cop herself will probably not remember the details of the evening when the June court date rolls around.

Moving forward here's what you should do:

- Get a hair cut, a shave, a suit. You're going to court, you should dress and look well.
- Show up early and look for the cop - if you see her approach her and in as nice as terms as possible say, "Hi, I'm so-and-so, you pulled me over in April. Look, I've never had a ticket before, could you possibly help me with this when I go before the judge." Alternatively you may have a chance of speaking with the magistrate and you should say the same thing to him, "Your honor, I've never had a ticket before, would it be possible to get a reduction."

Unless you want to lawyer up and build a case that the officer was some how out of line or mistaken then I highly suggest you do the above.

I'm from Greenville, SC and have had all manner of traffic run-ins with southern pigs. Regardless of how unfairly you've been treated, you only economically feasible way is to ask for a lighter penalty in light of the fact that you've had a perfect driving record up until now.
posted by wfrgms at 9:24 AM on April 16, 2008

Fight it, fight it, fight it. Ideally hire a lawyer, but if you can't find/afford one, do it yourself. Tell the judge exactly as you told it here (up to and including the bit about "teaching you a lesson"). If she has the speed on radar, that will be harder to fight. Of course, the fact that she did not reference the speed suggests to me she may not have it. But in any case that should be a speeding issue, not reckless driving. Your prior unblemished record should help, as well. Good luck.
posted by pardonyou? at 9:25 AM on April 16, 2008

When I had my very first ticket when I was in college, I ran a yellow light late at night. I was given, and passed, a field DUI test (I was sober). The officer asked me why I took so long to pull off (I was on a narrow street with no shoulder and I flailed at knowing what to do).
I was all prepared to say, "I'm sorry your Honor, this is my first time, I was nervous because I have never been pulled over and didn't know what to do." But when I got there the judge said "How many prior tickets?" When he heard "none", he said, "Miss Stick, go home. Dismissed."

Hopefully your excellent record will mitigate the situation, especially if you explain politely and without accusing the officer. Good luck!
posted by pointystick at 9:32 AM on April 16, 2008

It sounds like the officier is just making you jump through some hoops in lieu of any real punishment because it'll get dismissed (albeit with you maybe having to waste some time in a traffic school) when it gets shown to the DA.

Deny, deny, deny!
posted by Static Vagabond at 9:36 AM on April 16, 2008 [1 favorite]

Almost all police cars have cameras recording 24/7 while they're on the road, so the cops should be able to provide tape. Did you actually hit the curb?

Okay. First of all everything about the breathalyzer, the curb, the bright lights, the cop saying she was going to "teach" you a lesson - forget all that stuff. It doesn't matter, and no judge is going to want to hear your possibly facetious sob story.

It won't look so facetious on videotape. Even what the cop said may have been recorded.

It will help to have a lawyer. They'll know if the ticketing was recorded and how to get the tape if it was.
posted by delmoi at 10:00 AM on April 16, 2008 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Did you actually hit the curb?

Yes, I did. I had very bright lights in my mirrors but no street lights. I checked in the right hand lane, turned on my signal and moved into the other lane, but hit the curb with my tire as I was stopping because the street was very narrow (two cars barely fit) and I was trying to make sure there was no vehicle behind me in the other lane. It was very hard to tale because all I could see in my mirrors were the officer's lights.
posted by aristan at 10:03 AM on April 16, 2008

You didn't do it? Then get a lawyer.

I don't understand what you guys mean when you use the word "facetious." Do you mean factitious?
posted by grouse at 10:05 AM on April 16, 2008

The Raleigh News & Observer did a series last year about how drivers get out of speeding tickets in North Carolina. You might want to check it out, starting with this article.

One interesting paragraph: "Driving over 55 and more than 15 mph over the limit, for example, can cost a driver his license for at least 30 days and at least a 45 percent insurance surcharge for three years. But last fiscal year, 234,509 drivers charged with that offense went to court; 5,703 were convicted as charged -- 2.4 percent. Another 6.4 percent lost their licenses because they failed to show up in court."
posted by Dec One at 10:28 AM on April 16, 2008 [2 favorites]

Hire a lawyer. Shouldn't cost more than $200. Sometimes the best way to locate a good one that is familiar with the workings of the particular court you are to report to is just to go down to the court house sometime before your court date and talk to a couple of guys/gals wearing suits. Even if they don't handle your kind of case they can probably point you to someone who does. I'd probably pick a middle-aged one that looks like they've been around a while. You don't need Perry Mason you just need someone familiar with the process in that particular court system.
posted by Carbolic at 11:10 AM on April 16, 2008

Even though it sucks to have to pay for a lawyer when you believe you haven't done anything wrong, it will pay off in the long run to keep those points off your license (which will lead to higher insurance premiums). The attorney will also know how to subpoena the cop's dashboard cam film (if there is one) in order to verify your story in court.

Best of luck!
posted by Oriole Adams at 11:46 AM on April 16, 2008

IANAL, and I'm not familiar with NC cops in the slightest.

I did speak for a bit with a prosecutor in MA not too long ago, who suggested that a huge amount of first offenses (not just traffic) simply get dismissed. You might have to pay $50 or so in "court costs" and be sent on your way. I've also spoken to some cops who refer to recent OUI cases as having no chance of sticking in court. They pulled someone over driving erratically and had an odor of alcohol on their breath, but passed the Breathalyzer and passed a field sobriety test. They had probable cause and it was a valid arrest, but they fully expect the case to be tossed out the next morning in jail. But what several cops have said is that they really don't care: they got them off the road for the night through a legitimate arrest. I don't mean to compare you to these people: these people were driving drunk and recklessly. I'm just saying that they'll sometimes give charges that they know won't stick.

My opinion? Go fight it, and have a strong case prepared in your defense. In the event that your case gets to trial, you can probably get your charges knocked way down. But I wouldn't be surprised if the case gets dismissed, possibly with a trivial fine or something, while you wait for trial. (Oh, and don't try to argue in court that she was rude: I hear that judges hate this, and that it's totally irrelevant anyway.) As long as you can get a lawyer for less than the cost of your possible fines, I think it's a worthwhile investment.

But, again, I'm not a lawyer, a prosecutor, nor has my time in North Carolina extended beyond a short layover in Charlotte's airport.
posted by fogster at 12:01 PM on April 16, 2008

My experience leads me to believe that your situation is one that requires a lawyer.

In general, what I learned was that your demeanor and attitude in court are extremely important. If you go in pro se and say the cop's lying, you're going to actually increase the chances of getting a maximum penalty. They just won't believe you (except in the rare cases where there's a real Officer Loonybins on the loose).

You should think strategically. For instance, I was charged with driving on a suspended license (a paperwork error) and speeding. I fixed the paperwork, with the help of my state senator, and they all assumed there was a bribe involved by their faces. So the first charge was dismissed, but the judge charged me the maximum on the speeding charge. Given the alternative -- which could have been a revoked license and occupational restrictions, in addition to a fine and possible jail time -- I was happy to take it.

Disputing an officer's judgement on how fast you were going is possible, but in traffic court they've heard every line in the book. You will be best off sticking to claims such as "I was driving with traffic" and backpedal anything suggesting you knew you were speeding. The officer would not have been spotlighting you unless you were already attracting attention, so blaming them for distracting you is a tricky avenue. You should play up your nervousness and unfamiliarity with surroundings here.

I personally think you're going to have to suck up some sort of fine, but you'll want to try to get a lesser charge, such as getting the reckless driving reduced to inattentive driving. When that happens, though, expect that you may well be given close to the maximum fine for the lesser charge. It's a way the court has of saying "we'll let you off the hook this time ...."
posted by dhartung at 12:41 PM on April 16, 2008

I would advise against trying to find the officer before court and convincing him/her to take a dive. At best it's useless and at worse you could get into even more trouble.

A good friend of mine is LAPD and he has to show up for a court appearances lest his boss yells at him for not doing his duty. So there is no way he going to bail after talking to the accused right before court.

Also, trying to convince an officer to lie/not show up could possibly be considered bribery. The police don't hand down judgements, that's up to the judge. There's not really an ethical way for the officer to change what happens in court to benefit you.
posted by sideshow at 1:34 PM on April 16, 2008

You proabaly don't need a lawyer, especially if you have a clean driving record.

I would simply go to court in at least a dress shirt and kakhis, ( no flip-flops and AC/DC t-shirts!! )

you will probably be able to speak to to the prosecuter before hand.

Talk about how you got a little nervous by seeing a car come out of nowhere and begin to almost tailgate you, and how the hi-beam headlights in your mirrors and spotlight blinded you, as that is releveant,--- so is passing the breathalizer.

Hitting the curb shouldn't be a huge deal because it was dark, and you weren't doing anything wrong, and you have never been pulled over before and the whole thing made you very nervous.

Everything else is everything else, and will not help your case at all, so don't bother claiming the cop hurt your feelings, is teaching you a lesson, is a man hating biatch etc...

More often than not, a minor first time offense, with a good attitude and plausible explanition results in you paying the fine + court cost, but getting no points . Still might not be fair, but at least your insurance doesn't skyrocket
posted by Mr_Chips at 1:38 PM on April 16, 2008

My experience with a reckless driving ticket and no real defense was that the lawyer was way better at making me sound sympathetic to the judge than if I had been doing it myself. Had there been any facts in the case in my favor, I would have really been in good shape :)

Despite my terrible record and unimpeachable, damning evidence against me, I was only convicted of speeding. I saw a lot of poor saps who went before me get convicted of what they were charged with, so I chalk it all up to the lawyer. It was the best $800 I could have spent, considering what the worst case scenario for reckless is.
posted by jewzilla at 10:29 PM on April 16, 2008

You guys are wayyy over thinking this thing.

The reckless driving ticket has nothing to do with the OP hitting the curb or whatever. It relates to the speed reported by the officer. 20mph or over = reckless driving.

It's a standard ticket issued to offenders who officers don't like the looks of. If the officer had been in a good mood the OP probably would have gotten off with a standard 10mph or under speeding ticket.

NOTE: the OP hasn't out right denied that he/she wasn't exceeding the speed limit by 20mph, only that he/she isn't sure, "doesn't believe." The OP isn't helping us by being so vague, but such recollections are hard to come by to begin with...

The simplest, most straight forward thing for the OP to do is show up early on the day of the trial and try and talk to either the cop or the magistrate. There is also a good chance that the cop won't even be there, in which case the whole thing maybe tossed out.

It's Charlotte. It's a craptactular southern town where the law enforcement lives off of writing speeding tickets - mostly along I-85.

I promise that the cop went on to write another dozen "reckless driving" tickets and performed half a dozen field sobriety tests that night. She won't remember the specifics of the incident unless the OP was a spectacular asshole.

The OP should gloss over the specifics and appeal to the magistrate in traffic court on the grounds that this is a first time offense. The ticket won't be dismissed (because that's akin to the court giving away free money) but it could easily be knocked down to a two-point speeding ticket which likely would not be reported to the OP's insurance company.

No need to lawyer up unless there is something the OP isn't telling us...
posted by wfrgms at 12:06 AM on April 17, 2008

I'm not sure how things work in NC, but I know when it comes to reckless driving your best bet is to...

~Take a drivers improvement course before the trial starts, so that way it'll look like you're making an effort to improve your ways.

~ Take your car to a garage and check the calibration of your speedometer. If it reads slower that you're actual speed you can use that in court.

~ HIRE A LAWYER, and ask them about the things I suggested.

~ In court be apologetic, polite, and well dressed.

I hope everything works out for you!
posted by BettyBurnheart at 4:10 AM on February 23, 2009

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