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What to do in traffic court after receiving a ticket
Well, I got a ticket for being in the carpool lane. (I wasn't trying to cheat, I swear! There was hardly anyone on the road and I didn't see the signs...) I really disagreed with the ticket the officer gave me (unlike my prior speeding ticket... I definitely was speeding).
I went to the traffic court to contest my ticket, and I must say I learned quite a bit from the experience.
Here's what I have to say after watching everyone at my arraignment in the traffic court go before me:
- It can't really hurt to go to an arraignment: It doesn't cost any more money to go to the court, and the worst that can happen is you pay the full amount you were charged with beforehand. Of course, you may go and make a fool of yourself, maybe even annoy judge, by having no good argument.
- Get there early! You might not be let in, or if your case was already called, it might be too late and you would have to schedule another arraignment.
- Dress appropriately: Show the same respect to the judge and court that you want back.
- Turn your cell phone or other gadgets off! If a cell sounds off, the bailiff will happily kick your butt outta there. For that matter, don't talk too much while you're waiting, either.
- Use the bailiff to your advantage: If your bailiff seems like an okay guy or gal, go ahead and ask before the court is in session what you can do to try to reduce or avoid your charges. The bailiff knows all about the judge and what he or she will or won't go for. The bailiff has also seen enough cases in court and witnessed what works and what doesn't.
- If you're guilty, the first word out of your mouth should be "guilty": Don't start with an explanation of why you are contesting the charges. The first thing the judge wants to hear is your plea, so don't make him or her mad by coming up with excuses immediately. If you want to explain or make a request, then follow up your plea with it.
- Keep answers short: The judge doesn't want to hear stories or other redundant or superfluous facts. He or she only wants to know what's relevant to the case so a ruling can be made and you can get the hell out of there.
- Ask for a reduced charge: A lot of people flat-out asked if they could pay less and have the fees and charges reduced. Reasonable excuses are if you are unemployed. The judge may be inclined to reduce charges by significant amounts. Your traffic school fees may even go down!
- Think carefully before saying "not guilty": It's true that if the officer doesn't show up to your trial, then the case is dismissed. But you might end up looking like a fool if he does show up and contradicts your arguments, and you'll just have to pay the full amount anyway, and perhaps additional costs for assessments and such.
- Request community service: If you don't think you can pay the charges, ask if you can do community service hours instead. The number of hours may be high; for my $396 ticket, the equivalent was 40 hours of service. A girl who didn't pay the $2 to use the public transit system had to do 25 hours of service.
What to expect:
- If you arrange an arraignment after you go to court, don't expect to see an officer there. He only comes if you plead "not guilty" at the arraignment and a court trial is scheduled.
- The first cases taken care of are ones that were put off from previous arraignments, such as ones that included extensions for payment. Cases requiring defendants to only show proof of documentation and such, like licenses or receipts, are done earlier as well. Then it seemed like cases are taken care of in the order of the date of the incident, with earlier ones first (not exactly in order, but for the most part).
Will and Karen in Traffic Court
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