ATTORNEYS AT LAW
The idea for this column came from an actual case we recently handled for a client. The client was a commercial driver who had, by his account, recently received a “bogus” traffic ticket while driving his truck in Georgia.
For those of you who have driven in Georgia and, in fairness to this particular client, it’s certainly not unusual for the great state of Georgia to give out very “creative” traffic citations, particularly for the alleged violation of improper lane use.
The facts of this particular case really aren’t that important to what we’re about to share with you. What is important and what we want to tell you about is the client’s understanding or misunderstanding of the basic, real-life, legal system in the United States.
Here are a few of our most frequently asked questions about the legal system. We hope our answers will separate the wheat from the chaff, the fact from fiction, what’s right from what’s real. As always, we hope the information helps.
Question: I was driving through Georgia, close to Atlanta, at about 2 a.m. I was on a side street, about to deliver a load, when I came to a four-way stop sign. There was no other traffic in sight and, going less than 5 mph, I “floated” through the stop sign.
Almost immediately, a state patrol pulled me over and gave me a ticket for failure to stop at a stop sign. I tried to explain to the officer that I could see for at least 100 yards in all directions before I came to the intersection and knew there was no other traffic in the area.
The officer told me to “tell it to the judge” and handed me the ticket. This ticket isn’t fair, I want it dismissed and I don’t want to give any money for fine or costs to this court. What can I do?
Answer: This is a very common question and one that we try to answer almost every day. First and foremost, you’ve got to face the current reality that your name and license number is appearing on a ticket. So you have to do something with that ticket, or your license may be suspended or a warrant for your arrest may be issued.
Of course, the most obvious thing you can do is simply pay the ticket, take the conviction and the driver points and be done with it. Second, you can plead “not guilty,” have the case set for trial and show up at trial to testify. Of course, you probably don’t want to testify that you’re actually guilty of the charge but that it’s not fair that you should be convicted of it. The judge will not be amused, and you will be convicted. If you can’t honestly testify to your innocence, it may be better to accept a reduced charge if offered and send in the fine and costs.
Question: I got a ticket while I was driving out of state that I really didn’t deserve because I didn’t do anything wrong or illegal. I’m just going to tear it up and forget about it. What difference does it make? I’ve heard that the court can’t convict me of the charge if I’m not there and besides, the court can’t find me anyway … can they?
Answer: Yes, the court can find you. Although it’s true that most courts can’t actually convict you of the traffic charge when you don’t respond to a ticket, the judge will, nevertheless, issue a failure to appear ticket and/or a warrant for your arrest. The FTA/warrant notices are then electronically sent to that state’s Department of Motor Vehicles, and that DMV then notifies your home state. Then, your home state DMV sends you a notice of suspension in the mail.
So even though most courts won’t actually convict you of the charge in your absence, they can certainly put the paperwork in motion that will eventually lead to your license being suspended or worse, your arrest.
Question: I have a traffic ticket and I tried to call and talk to the judge or the prosecutor but they won’t speak with me or call me back. I’m not guilty of the charge and don’t think it’s fair to have to take time off to go back to court. What can I do?
Answer: Unfortunately, this is where fairness doesn’t equal reality. The reality is that you have a ticket that you don’t deserve and that’s not equitable or fair. But regardless of the unfairness of receiving the citation, you must abide by the court’s procedural rules for responding to the ticket.
If the judge or prosecutor refuses to respond to you via telephone, call the court clerk and ask whether you can plead “not guilty” by mail or fax. Once you get notice of your trial, then you can write to the judge or prosecutor to request relief or that the matter be dismissed. Be careful to keep track of your trial date. If you haven’t heard from the prosecutor or judge in a reasonable amount of time, there’s a good chance you’re not going to. So you’ll have to decide whether you’re going to spend the time to come to court, hire a lawyer to appear on your behalf or simply pay the ticket and take the conviction.
Send questions or comments regarding transportation law to: Road Law, 3441 W. Memorial, Suite 4, Oklahoma City, OK 73134; fax to (405) 463-0565; contact us through our Web site at roadlaw.net; e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org or call us at (405) 463-0566.