cartoon of girl getting her driver's license

Bad news: Your 16-year-old was carelessly cruising down the highway when suddenly he was startled by the wail of a police siren.  Slowing down at first sight of a cop didn’t cut it this time and he was left with his first traffic ticket that could cost YOU hundreds of dollars in insurance rate hikes. What now? Although the best way to get out of that ticket is to teach your teenager how to avoid it in the first place, Unger & Kowitt wants to make sure you know that all drivers, regardless of age, have three options when they do get that first traffic ticket. Continue reading “Help! My Teenager Got His First Ticket. Now What?”

sticky note with the words helpful tips

So you got a traffic ticket and want to fight it yourself. You don’t want or need some fancy lawyer doing the talking for you. Besides, who knows more about what happened when you got pulled over, you or the lawyer?

Believe me, I understand the anger and frustration and the need for justice that is coursing through your veins. I can also understand the need to attempt to do something yourself and the feeling of accomplishment that goes along with it.

We’ve all tried to “fix” something ourselves before breaking down and calling a professional? And although you never went to law school, how hard can it be? You’ve seen a few shows on TV with lawyers. You just stand up there and tell the judge what happened, right? Well. . .how do I answer that question delicately? Lean close, I don’t want you to miss it. . . here it comes.

NO! Do not start telling the judge what happened.

Here are 3 huge mistakes I see people make in traffic court.

  1. Failing to Prepare

  2. Failing to Listen when they are waiting in court

  3. Talking too much

Failing to prepare is without a question the number one worst thing you can do. To read more about the importance of preparing for your trial, please read my post on how to beat a traffic ticket in court. I will summarize that post by saying it is much more complicated than telling the judge why you feel the police officer was wrong to give you the ticket, and only by preparing will you be able to intelligently make an argument that sounds more like someone who deserves a dismissal and less like someone complaining or making excuses.

The next mistake I see all the time are people who fail to pay attention to everything going on and fail to listen when someone else’s case is being heard. Especially if an attorney is talking. The chances are pretty high that the attorney is talking about the exact same type of case you have. What better opportunity will you have to pick up some “free legal advice” about your case? You might be able to make the same argument the attorney made when it’s your turn. Yet, I see people on their phones, talking to their neighbor, or just staring off into space instead of listening.

You’ve heard the expression “you have two ears and one mouth, that’s so you can listen twice as much as you speak.” Listen, listen, listen, and when it’s your turn to speak. . . whatever you do, DON’T TALK TOO MUCH. And that is the other big mistake I see people make.

By preparing, you will know what you were charged with and what the elements that must be proven against you. By listening, you will hear whether the police officer properly informed the judge about your case, and by only talking about what is absolutely necessary, you will stand a chance of getting your case dismissed and not shooting yourself in the foot.

Don’t tell the judge anything that isn’t legally required. Again, this goes back to preparing, but never tell a judge you were only speeding for a few seconds or that you were only keeping up with traffic. These are not only excuses, you are actually admitting to the violation and have just made it very easy for a judge to find you guilty.

If all else fails, and you chicken out or change your mind at the last minute and want to hire a lawyer, no worries, there are good ones to be found. You may want to read up on how to hire an attorney for a traffic matter and the questions you should ask.

If you do go through with it, let me know how it goes. I’d love to hear, win or lose.

Court costs are one of the most frustrating things for people to understand. At least once a week, we get a call in the office from someone who wants to know why they have to pay more court costs on their most recent ticket compared to their prior ticket. Or, and this one is my personal favorite, why their friend who had the exact same type of ticket, paid less in court costs. The answer to all these questions lies in understanding the 4 factors that can determine traffic court costs. Here they are:

  1. Your driving history

  2. The type of ticket

  3. Your attitude towards the officer who pulled you over

  4. The judge or traffic magistrate hearing your case

Your driving history is one of the biggest things that can determine the amount of your court costs. The reason is simple. The courts are always on the lookout for “crazy drivers” and try to nip in the bud, any future “crazies.”

If you have only been driving for a few years and have already racked up 3 or more tickets and they are all “dangerous” activities like speeding over 100mph or passing a stopped school bus, then you are a judge’s dream defendant, because he/she gets to make an example out of you, in front of everyone. You will most likely get one of the higher traffic court costs of the entire day from that judge.

Conversely, if you have been driving for 40 years and this is your first ticket, you will probably be rewarded for your great driving history and merely get a slap on the wrist.

Now, truth be told, the person who appears to have a “perfect” record, my be a worse driver, and may have received numerous tickets in his/her lifetime, but if all those tickets were taken to court and dismissed, they would not appear on a driving record and it can look as if that person never had a ticket. This is another reason why it’s so important to fight your tickets and not to just pay the fine.

The next factor is the type of traffic ticket you received. Clearly, we can all agree, that not all traffic tickets are the same. As mentioned in the previous paragraphs, certain violations like speeding in a school zone where children are present are much worse than making a right turn on red when no one was on the road at 2 a.m. Even speeding tickets all vary in severity. Going nine miles over is clearly not as bad as going 39 over. This is common sense and should be no surprise to anyone.

The third factor is the way you behaved to the police officer who wrote you the ticket. Personally, I feel the first amendment provides you the right to call the officer a name as long as it’s not threatening in any way (believe me, I’ve heard what the officers call you guys when they pull you over, and it ain’t pretty), but the courts do not agree with me and will absolutely punish you more severely if you are anything but nice to the officer. They are only doing their job (yes, they have ticket quotas) and don’t need to be told that they should “get back to the donut shop.”

What I always tell people is to roll up the window after the officer gives you the ticket, drive away, and call him every name in the book if you feel the need to get it off your chest. But please, bite your tongue and your urge to tell the officer how you really feel. It will save you money in the long run. Oh, and please, please, for the love of God, do not say “My attorney will see you in court!!” We love the vote of confidence, but you’re not helping your cause.

The last factor is the actual judge or magistrate that hears your case. Judges are people too and just like people, they have good days and bad days, some are nice and some are not as nice. The judge is given great discretion on an appropriate punishment and here’s another case where two identical violations, with two identical records, can wind up with two completely different results.

Most attorneys know when they see who the judge is going to be, what the result will probably be. And “no” we can’t pick who your judge is going to be. That’s called forum shopping and it’s a no-no, but there are still a few tricks most attorneys know to try and work the system, but it’s not foolproof.

I hope I’ve been able to give you some insight into your traffic court costs. If you have any questions or comments, I’d love to hear them. Of course, you can always email me at [email protected]