Driving infraction: to contest or not?
June 23, 2008 6:32 PM   Subscribe

I was pulled over the other night after making a right turn at a stop sign. I believe i came to a complete stop but believe the officer could not properly see the sign or intersection from where he was standing. ( they seemed to be pulling lots of cars over: i watched three get pulled over in the short time i was stopped) How can i decide whether to contest this case? In my mind the key variables are: keeping a clean driving abstract so my insurance rates don't go up versus the hassle of going to court and potentially losing the case ( i am planning to photograph the site to see how strong my evidence looks and don't know yet). How would i discover whether this would affect my rates? In hawaii. Geico is the insurer
posted by dougiedd to Law & Government (22 answers total)
While I don't have an answer to your specific question, I wanted to give some tips on photographing evidence...

If you have a measuring ticker, be sure to include that in the photos so the judge can see proof of the distance between objects. Also, try to find evidence in the ground that the cops were waiting at said location (tire treads for example) because whats to stop the cop from saying "oh no, I wasn't there, I was actually over there" (where there equals some location that would have made him close enough to see you).

I'm guessing you don't have an opportunity to get witnesses but those would be ideal.
posted by Elminster24 at 6:43 PM on June 23, 2008

I had a similar thing happen in Hawaii a while ago. I contested the ticket with a letter explaining that I was a tourist, unfamiliar with local laws (this was a seatbelt issue) and the ticket was dismissed. I guess if you're local that might not work, but I suppose the desire to keep tourists happy and feeding the local economy worked to my advantage in that case...
posted by blaneyphoto at 6:49 PM on June 23, 2008

I've known two people with clean driving records to get tickets for failure to come to a complete stop at a stop sign. They went to court to contest it and the judge through it out due to their clean driving records. I would go to court and tell the judge what you told us, but don't say that you "believe" you came to a complete stop, make it sound that you were sure you came to a complete stop. Also with some insurances companies, they will allow you to have one moving violation before they start charging you higher rates. I'm not sure what Geico's policy is. Just take your chance in court, either you win or you don't. If you don't go, you still have the pay the ticket and it's still going on your record.
posted by MaryDellamorte at 6:51 PM on June 23, 2008

I've heard antecdotaly that when a ticket is contested, a lot of police officers don't bother to show up in court. If that happens, then the judge will throw it out. I (and you) have no idea if your cop would show up or not, but it's worth considering.
posted by zardoz at 6:55 PM on June 23, 2008

Geico is the insurer

Geico is notorious for raising rates on drivers with just one moving violation and/or accident. All insurance companies do this to a certain extent, but it seems that Geico is a lot less likely than the others to ignore that single speeding ticket two years ago when determining whether you get preferred rates.

If you don't fight it (or you fight it and lose), plan to shop for another insurer when your policy is up for renewal. Perhaps they won't raise your rates (or drop you entirely), but be prepared.
posted by toxic at 7:18 PM on June 23, 2008

I don't know how you would contest your ticket (other than that I also know people who got off because the police officer didn't show up). However, your other question has an easy answer.

How would i discover whether this would affect my rates?

All you have to do is ask your agent. I guess this is a bad idea if you are hoping that they will never find out about it, assuming you chose not to contest it or are found guilty as charged. But I have never had a problem getting answers to this sort of question from my agent -- I just frame it as "I was wondering if XYZ" and they have been very straightforward in answering. It helps, I think, that I have an actual agent who knows my name and with whom I'm comfortable talking -- these sorts of questions are more of a hassle with some random person on the 800-number. But even when I had a different insurance company, where everything was on the phone, I still was able to ask hypothetical questions about tickets, claims, and so on.

I'm pretty sure that if I get a ticket, my insurance company will find out sooner or later, so I may as well take some control over the process and ask questions right from the beginning. So far, at least, there have never been any negative consequences of doing so, though I'm sure it is a (distant) possibility.
posted by Forktine at 7:19 PM on June 23, 2008

Zardoz is right, if you show up, there's a reasonable chance that the cop won't, and you'll automatically win. But if he does show up, it is your word against his, so be polite but insistent that you stopped and he didn't see it. The judge won't care about your insurance rates, so leave that part out.
posted by spilon at 7:21 PM on June 23, 2008

Don't contest the ticket. Contesting the ticket in most places involves an actual trial - with jurors and the whole deal. What you want to do is show up at the time listed on the ticket - in other words, go to traffic court. You'll stand before the magistrate where you can make your case. Generally the magistrate is going to side with the officer, but because you have a clean driving record you can make the plausible case that you are a very careful driver and that the officer is mistaken.

What you don't want to do is say that the cop is lying, or deficient in some other way. Judges work with cops day in and day out - they know each other and probably trust each other's judgment. So if you can stress how careful and responsible you are and that you're sure you stopped without attacking the cop's judgment then that's the tact you should take.

Yes, there is a chance the cop may not even show up, but don't count on it.

Going to traffic court requires a certain amount of social engineering. You may get to talk to the cop before you go before the judge. If you do politely approach the officer and say something like, "I'm sure you don't remember me, but I wanted to talk to you about this ticket. (show the ticket) I have a clean driving record, never had a ticket before, can you help me out here?" The cop may agree to alter to the ticket to some other violation (running a stop is pretty serious, no?) that may not affect your insurance.

Like wise you may be able to make the same case to the judge.

Ideally you want it dismissed. But if that doesn't seem likely then you should be able to get the ticket talked down to something less damaging to your insurance and wallet.

Good luck.
posted by wfrgms at 7:23 PM on June 23, 2008 [2 favorites]

From where did the officer view you, in order to claim that you didn't come to a full stop? (I'm assuming that you got nabbed for making a 'rolling stop.') If it was from a vantage point ahead of your car, how can he prove that you didn't stop -- wouldn't he need to observe you from behind, and see your tail lights? Also, you may want to investigate how long you have to remain stopped at a stop sign before proceeding. If it's a definite minimum amount of time in seconds, it will basically be your word against the officer's. If the state mandates that you only be stopped long enough to ensure that there is no oncoming traffic, you might have it in the bag.
posted by brain cloud at 7:24 PM on June 23, 2008

Also wear a suit.
posted by wfrgms at 7:25 PM on June 23, 2008

Don't count on the cop not showing up in court. In most states the cop's ticket is a sworn statement and can be used even without his/her presence in court. Go to the court date and ask the cop (if he is there), or magistrate what would happen if you plead no contest? will there be a continuance without a finding? If they say no then plead not guilty and go on the fact that you did stop. State as evidence that you looked both left and right before proceeding and that you would have to have stopped in order to do so, or that you had to shift into 1st gear (if you drive a standard), so stopping was necessary. Don't accuse the cop, just state what you did. Let the judge or magistrate decide. (It also doesn't hurt to state your perfect record, and number of years of experience behind the wheel)
posted by Gungho at 7:34 PM on June 23, 2008 [1 favorite]

I was pulled over for "disregarding a steady red signal" in my hometown of Philadelphia. I allegedly blew a red light. I was all set to pay the ticket and deal with the higher insurance rates. A friend of mine who was a police officer suggested that I contest the ticket. His logic, which applies here, was that if I didn't contest the ticket, I'd pay a fine and my rates would go up anyway. Here is his advice to me, modified for your situation.

Contest the ticket. Go to the Hawaiian equivalent of Philadelphia Traffic Court. Wear a suit and tie, and behave as if you are testifying before the Supreme Court. If you need to enter a plea, you are Not Guilty. Do not say, Guilty with extenuating circumstances.

It is possible the judge may look at your ticket and say, "There's not much to go on here, dismissed." That's what happened in my case. The cop did not show up for my hearing, because cops hate going to Traffic Court as much as you or I do. YMMV.

If your case is not dismissed, you want to say something to the judge along the lines of "While it may have appeared to the police officer from his vantage point that I did not come to a complete stop, there was complete cessation of movement of my vehicle. I have a clean driving record, and I always try to keep it that way."

It is worth your time to contest this ticket. As to how much your Geico rates are going to go up, the answer is a lot more than you want to pay.
posted by Fat Guy at 7:44 PM on June 23, 2008

This is anecdotal based on experience in Maryland years ago:

I was busted for running a "stop sign." There wasnt even a stop sign there, I guess the cop meant to bust me for an illegal right on red and wrote the wrong thing. In reality i was a HS grad and it was "Senior week" and he wanted to search my car for booze (there was none).

So I drive all the way back down to the beach, all ready for a big legal battle. There's an actual prosecutor there, unusual for traffic court.

JUDGE: how do you plead?
ME: Not guilty.
PROSECUTOR: State drops the charge.

The end. I've been told that running a stop sign/ red light is a criminal offense and thus the state is held to the "beyond a reasonable doubt" standard of proof, whereas other moving violations are held to a lesser standard. Don't know if that's even true and of course it may vary by jurisdiction. But I got off.
posted by drjimmy11 at 8:20 PM on June 23, 2008

In many jurisdictions if you show up for court and ask the prosecutor for a deal to a no points lesser violation you can get it. Frequently there is a line of people asking for this. You will not be special. However, you will pay more, but you won't get points. The town gets more money, the insurance company gets less, you pay less overall. Everyone comes out a winner, except that you were innocent and still pay; you just payed less. It likely works that way where you are too; ask around. As for contesting the ticket with a trial, do you have any evidence, other than your word versus the cop's? No? Then don't do that. Most of the time they do actually show up, and in that case you likely lose. Life isn't fair, but all our life issues should be this minor.
posted by caddis at 8:20 PM on June 23, 2008

Contesting the ticket in most places involves an actual trial - with jurors and the whole deal.

Ha! As if.
posted by smackfu at 8:32 PM on June 23, 2008 [1 favorite]

A similar situation happened to my Mom (though not in Hawaii.. and, sorry, I can't be any help about the insurance situation). She was pulled over and issued a ticket for not coming to a complete stop at a stop sign. I was in the car, and she did come to a complete stop (if she were in the wrong, I absolutely would have told her so). In the end, my Mom contested the ticket. The police officer did indeed show up, and, unfortunately, the judge didn't care to hear from witnesses (me). My Mom told her side of the story, the police officer lied (with a significant bit of hyperbole), but because my Mom had never been stopped before (or since), the judge said that it wouldn't go on her record. She still had to pay the fine, though. She found the whole situation humiliating, and still complains about it frequently. Basically, her experience was closest to what wfrgms said. I would follow his advice, or, at least seriously consider the information he posted.
posted by Mael Oui at 9:07 PM on June 23, 2008

I was a traffic cop in Louisiana. We did show up, failure to do so resulted in a bench warrant for our arrest. The Sgt would get very pissed, we had to answer to Internal Affairs.

Depending on the week, I could write 60 to 200 tickets. I was assigned a court (Sec A,B,C, etc.) and two days a month, mine were second and last Thursday of the month. All of my tickets were written to that one court on either day. So I only went twice a month, I was paid to go to court. I always showed up.

The city attorney was usually happy to accept a plea for a lesser charge not to go to trial. He would check with us first, if you didn't give the ticketing officer a hard time, meh, lower charge or dismissal depending on your driving record. YMMV

Good luck
posted by JujuB at 9:17 PM on June 23, 2008

thank you all for good advice. it seems there are more options than i imagined.
posted by dougiedd at 9:26 PM on June 23, 2008

Don't forget, you are not guilty unless they can prove you did not stop. You do not have to prove you stopped, all you have to do is plead not guilty. Can they show, other than he said she said, that you actually ran the stop sign. This is a numbers game, they're looking for income you're looking for justice. Plead not guilty.
posted by ptm at 11:26 PM on June 23, 2008

I was issued what I considered to be unfair tickets twice. Both times I appeared as scheduled and pleaded my case. Cop showed up both times. Judge was a bit condescending, saying he'll invoke the fine so that I'll be more careful in the future (I tried not to roll my eyes), but wouldn't give me any "points" on my driver's license (points are what the insurance company uses as grounds to raise your rates).
posted by Oriole Adams at 12:44 AM on June 24, 2008

If you didn't do it, show up and say so. If you did, suck it up. That's how things are supposed to work, and the more people that behave as if they do work that way, the better off we all are.
posted by flabdablet at 5:39 AM on June 24, 2008

flabdablet, excellent point.

While different jurisdictions have different rules, if you are charged with a crime, you are entitled to a trial. Probably not a jury trial, but a bench trial. In this case, a bench trial is probably a better option, because a judge is bound by the law. A jury can do whatever they want.

Where I live, some of the more minor infractions go to the local "administrative" court. Which is not a court of law, it's more of a formalized bargaining session. Plead guilty, pay your fine and go on with your life. Plead not guilty, wait till the end and then there's a "trial". Which amounts to the sworn statement of a Sworn Law Officer versus your word. If you lose that, you can appeal to a real court with a real judge. However, anything you said at the kangaroo court can go against you. Good news, the locality might not want to pay their lawyer to go to court and it gets dissmissed. Bad news, they are annoyed with you for costing them time and money and they make sure to nail you.
posted by gjc at 8:09 AM on June 24, 2008

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