Do you always need a lawyer when you get a ticket? No. We know it sounds funny for lawyers to be telling you that you don’t always need a lawyer for every problem. But it’s true. Depending on what state you got the ticket in and what court it’s going to, you may be able to get great relief yourself. Now, we’re not saying we expect you to become “Perry Mason” overnight. All we’re saying is sometimes, with a little effort on your part, you may not need to hire an attorney to fight a ticket. Don’t worry, as always, you can call us for free advice before you do anything with your ticket. In this column, we’ll give you advice on how you might be able to help yourself when you get a ticket. Here’s the truth.
Question: I got a ticket and called the court to find out what I could do about it, and the clerk let me talk directly with the judge. The judge told me if I took traffic school, paid the fine and court costs she’d dismiss the ticket. I told her I wasn’t guilty, and I didn’t want to take traffic school or pay any fines or court costs. The judge set my case for trial. Now what do I do?
Answer: If you’re convinced you didn’t deserve the ticket, you have two options. You can go to trial or you can try to get the court to agree to a plea agreement. Here, you were lucky enough to speak directly with the judge and she offered to dismiss your case with traffic school, fines and court costs. Now, instead of having a guaranteed dismissal of your case, you may need to hire an attorney and take time off to go to trial. Plus, you don’t know what the outcome will be. Remember, even though you usually have the right to go to trial for any traffic matter, you may want to reconsider whenever the court agrees to dismiss your case with payment of fines, costs and traffic school.
Question: How hard is it to represent myself on a traffic ticket?
Answer: It depends. First, what’s your ticket for? Is it a traffic infraction, misdemeanor or felony? Is your ticket a “serious” or disqualifying offense according to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations? Second, where’s your ticket going to court? Is it a tough state or particular court? Will the court even let you appear without an attorney? You have to ask these questions before you know how difficult it will be to represent yourself. If your ticket is a simple traffic infraction, you have a good court that’s willing to work with you and you’re not demanding a trial, you may be able to handle the matter on your own. But, if you’re charged with a misdemeanor, felony or have a tough court, you’ll probably want to hire an attorney to help.
Question: If I go to court by myself and things don’t work out as I planned, can I then get an attorney to help me?
Answer: Maybe. If you go to court alone and then decide you don’t feel comfortable about representing yourself, yes, you usually can ask the court to continue your case so you can have more time to get an attorney. But, if you decide to represent yourself and you’re found “guilty,” you can’t say, “time out, judge, I was just kidding. I really want to have an attorney help me now.” At that point, you can pretty much stick a fork in yourself because … you’re done.
Question: I went to court on a speeding ticket and the cop testified he clocked me going 71 mph in a 55. When I told my side of the story, the judge asked how fast I was going. I told him my truck was governed at 65 mph, I had my cruise set at 65 mph and I was only going 65 mph at the time. The judge just looked at me and said “Guilty. Pay on your way out. Next case.” What happened?
Answer: Unfortunately, you testified, under oath and in open court, that you were breaking the law. Even if there’s no way you could’ve been going 71 mph at the time, the only thing the judge heard was that you were speeding. That’s right, you admitted you were speeding. No, not as fast as the officer accused you of going, but speeding nevertheless. If you knew you were speeding at the time, even 1 mph over the posted speed, you probably should’ve tried to work out a plea agreement with the court. A plea agreement may have reduced the speed on your original ticket or even amended the charge to a non-moving violation, like “defective equipment.”
We hope you can use the information in this column to help with everyday, real life problems you face on the road. We invite you to send us any questions or comments you may have regarding transportation law to ROAD LAW, 1330 N. Classen Blvd., Suite 215, Oklahoma City, OK 73106; Call at (405) 272-0555 or fax to (405) 272-0558. You also can contact us through our web site at www.roadlaw.net. We look forward to hearing from you.