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How to successfully fight a traffic ticket in court

Updated on April 28, 2011

The key to getting that ticket thrown out

As a retired police officer I have a wealth of knowledge on how to get your traffic ticket thrown out or dismissed. In these articles I will explain what observations and notes you need to make from the initial contact with the police officer and after you have received the ticket. I will also discuss what the police officer does after he or she has written you the ticket or citation. Finally I will tell you what you should do and what you should take to court with you. I want to stress that in no way am I telling you to lie or make things up to get out of a ticket that you deserved. The fact of the matter is cops are human and make mistakes just like the rest of us. I will show you how to get out of the ticket/citation that you did not deserve.

When stopped for a traffic violation

Things you should do

This may or may not seem like a shock to some of you but if you are a jerk to a cop that has pulled you over, you have pretty much guaranteed yourself a ticket. No police officer will ever admit that this is true (unless they are a personal friend or family member of yours). When you are pulled over, you should stay in your car with your hands on the steering wheel and wait for the police officer to ask for your driver's license (and most states your proof of insurance as well). You will not need to ask why you were pulled over as the vast majority of cops will tell you or ask you, "Do you know why I stopped you?" Your answer should always be NO, unless it was blatantly obvious like you peeled out of a parking lot onto the street. The reason you will not say yes whether you know or not is that every word that is coming out of your mouth will be documented and will go toward showing that you knew what you did was a violation. If you are lucky enough to leave with a warning, thank your lucky stars. A large amount of patrol officers do not like to write tickets and only will do it if they feel you need or deserve it. On the other hand a "Traffic Officer" or motorcycle cop will always write you the ticket since this is the majority of what they do all day. It is their bread and butter so to speak. Although they may not have quotas per se, the do have to show productivity during their shift. Let's be honest, it is more for revenue than it is for safety.

If you do get a ticket, make sure to get out your pen and paper. Write down the date, time, location of the alleged violation, traffic conditions, pedestrians and weather conditions. Keep reading and I will explain why all this is important. You will also want to drive the path of the violation again. Make note of any obstructions to signs (if that was what the violation was for), such as trees, bushes or just weather damage. Write down where the officer was during the alleged violation. Was his or her view obstructed? Was there another vehicle exactly like yours in the vicinity? After you have taken notes for any observations you made, make sure to take pictures or video. This is great in court!

This is exactly what not to do

Notice how calm the trooper is. That is because he probably really is a nice guy and also because he knows the guy's statements and actions are being recorded.

cop writing ticket
cop writing ticket

This is what the police officer does during and after the traffic stop

During the traffic stop the officer will ask you questions such as whether you knew why you were stopped and where you were coming from and headed. The reason for this is that he or she wants to seal the deal. They want you to admit that you did run that red light, roll the stop sign or speed. They do this because they do not want to go to court. During my years as a police officer, I never met a cop that was enthusiastic about going to traffic court. Cops like to have all their ducks in a row so that every appearance is speedy and with a guilty verdict. Cops by nature are very competitive and do not like to lose.

If you have ever been to court to fight a ticket you may recall that the officer testified to their version of the events and quoted you verbatim on what you said that day. That is because after every ticket, the officer will park and begin writing everything he or she heard you say with quotes. They do this not only to "seal the deal" but also because they contact hundreds of people a month and probably would not remember everything about your traffic violation if they had to testify by memory alone without having made notes. The ticket for most states, counties and municipalities will also contain some of the information I mentioned above. They will have the date, time, traffic conditions, direction of travel, weather conditions, location of the violation and some may even have space for a small diagram. This is why you should do the same. I'll give you one example of why this is important and you will see how to apply these principles to your case.

As a rookie cop I stopped a person who was driving without their headlights after dark on a street that was lined with large trees and not well lit. Sounds like a slam dunk right? Keep reading and see what happened.

Winning in court
Winning in court

Getting everything together to win in traffic court

As I explained to you above, I gave someone a ticket for driving without their headlights on after dark. This person decided to fight the ticket and we ended up in court. He produced a newspaper from the day of the incident as evidence. I almost laughed out loud. Then he showed the judge the vehicle code (the book that has all the traffic violations for your state) and pointed out the specific violation that he was cited for. The code read that it was unlawful for someone to drive without headlights upon a public highway 30 minutes prior to sunrise and 30 minutes after sunset. He pointed out the section in the newspaper that showed the time for sunset on that day. Then he pointed out the time that the citation was issued. He still had 5 minutes left to drive lawfully without headlights. Needless to say the ticket was dismissed and I left the court with my tail between my legs. This person did the research and followed up by preparing evidence that they would present.

This is why it is so important to read the section for the specific violation you were cited for. Most of the time you have to be in violation of all of the elements for you to have violated the specific traffic law for which you received the ticket. So read the violation thoroughly (usually found on the ticket copy that you were issued) and bring any evidence, photos, video, witnesses(either passengers, or bystanders that witnessed the incident) and any written questions you have for the officer. These question may include whether their radar equipment was calibrated regularly, the location where he or she initially saw the violation and maybe even how long they have been on the job. This may come into play if you receive a ticket for speeding and the way speed was determined was by sight or pace, which means that the officer drove his car either parallel with you or behind you pacing you to gage your speed. A veteran officer can do this with very good accuracy, a rookie cop, not so much.

If you do your research and leave no stone unturned you, too will be able to get that ticket dismissed. I also provide a Weekly Discussion blog on my website that I encourage you to visit at Custom-PI.com

Did you win in court?

Let's find out what percentage of people actually win in traffic court.

Have you ever had a ticket dismissed in court (does not count if the officer did not show up)

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    • profile image

      Ashley 2 years ago

      I've been thinking about fighting my speeding ticket. The only speed limit sign was miles back, and I had turned onto the road after it. I try to avoid speeding as a general rule, but it's hard to avoid when I don't know the speed limit. Hopefully I can get this all dismissed and it doesn't go on my record. http://www.noveyandtomko.com

    • mimarlou profile image

      mimarlou 4 years ago

      thanks for sharing your valuable experience, very interesting, I'll keep it in mind

    • profile image

      VatsalMakhija 4 years ago

      Thanks for all the amazing info!

    • SgtCecil profile image

      Cecil Kenmill 5 years ago from Osaka, Japan

      Awesome! This is one of the best lenses I've read. It's fun, informative and well-written. I hope I see more of your work!

    • jasminesphotogr profile image

      jasminesphotogr 6 years ago

      Great lens. I love the story about the guy you pulled over with the headlights off. It's something I'll keep in mind.

    • Commandrix profile image

      Heidi 6 years ago from Benson, IL

      Good explanation. I liked how cool the cop in the video was.

    • profile image

      MelanieComley 6 years ago

      Great advice. Not sure how effective it'll be here in France but... lol

    • Diana Wenzel profile image

      Renaissance Woman 6 years ago from Colorado

      Very interesting. Thanks for the advice. Hope I never need it!

    • profile image

      tgnyc00 6 years ago

      Nice Lens!

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      Impressively done with excellent and expert information. I would say this is going to be a very popular article!