Bottom Line
Road Law
If you saddle the horse, you may have to ride it

Jeff McConnell
James Mennella
ATTORNEYS AT LAW

Did you know that whenever you get a traffic ticket, you can plead “not guilty” and request a trial? Did you know that the state where the ticket was issued has the burden of proving their case against you and that you don’t have to prove you’re innocent?

Sounds good doesn’t it? The American legal system at its finest, right?

Well, even though you have a right to request and go to trial on most traffic matters, doing so may not always be in your best interest. Here’s a few of our most asked questions about going (or not going) to trial.

Question: I got a ticket for something I didn’t do and told the court I wanted a jury trial. The court made me post a $35 non-refundable “jury fee.” I gave the court the money, but later I changed my mind and called the trial off. 

Since I decided not to have a trial, I asked the court to give me my “jury fee” money back, and they said “no.” I don’t think it’s fair for the court to charge me for something I didn’t get. How can I get my money back?

Answer: Because the “jury fee” was a non-refundable court cost, simply making the request for a trial was enough for the court to refuse a refund.

Even though you didn’t actually go to trial, you did request a trial, and the court probably issued subpoenas to the citing police officer as well as any witnesses. Also, the court may have incurred costs when it mailed written notice to potential jurors who would be required to appear for trial.

Question: I just got a ticket today for something I didn’t do. I called the court and had my case set for jury trial. The court gave me a trial date, but now that I’ve had time to think about it, do I really get a jury trial for a traffic ticket?

Answer: As my law partner, James, always says, “If you saddle the horse, you may have to ride it.” Yes, you’ve requested a jury trial, the particular state constitution allows you to have a jury trial, you’ve paid your non-refundable “jury fee” to the court and the court has set the matter for jury trial. You’re on your way to a jury trial.

Of course, you also have the right to timely cancel your request for trial if you change your mind and decide to simply pay the ticket or agree to accept a plea offer. Unless you do cancel, accept a plea or simply pay your ticket, you’ll usually be expected to be present at your trial and, if you want, testify to your own innocence.

Question: I got a ticket for something I didn’t do, and I don’t want to be convicted. I called the court, and the clerk told me that the ticket would be dismissed if I go to traffic school, send in my traffic school certificate and pay my fine and costs. This seems like a total scam to me. I didn’t do anything wrong, but the court is treating me like a criminal. Should I go to trial or should I go to traffic school and pay my fines?

Answer: Good question. On one hand, you’re totally innocent of the charge that’s been filed against you, and you’d have no problem going to court and testifying. On the other hand, the court is basically guaranteeing to dismiss your charge if you timely complete traffic school and pay the fine and costs.

This is a difficult decision, and one where you should step back for a moment, take a deep breath and ask yourself what it is you really want. If your goal is to simply have your day in court regardless of the outcome, by all means, go to trial. 

But, if your goal is to protect your driver abstract and your long-term ability to drive a commercial vehicle, you should probably accept the plea offer.

Send any questions or comments regarding transportation law to: Road Law, 3441 W. Memorial, Suite 4, Oklahoma City, OK 73134; or fax to (405) 463-0565; or visit roadlaw.net on the Web; or send e-mail to roadlaw@att.net; or call (405) 463-0566.

March/April
Digital Edition