Road law
To be (in court) or not to be

By Jeff McConnell and James Mennella, attorneys at law

There are two very common questions we get from drivers.

1. Can Road Law go to court for me?

2. Can I go to court if I want to?

Unfortunately, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer to these questions.

I got a traffic ticket for speeding, 67 mph in a 55 mph-zone, in Houston. I got a notice in the mail that says I actually have to go to court. My problem is that I don’t live in Texas and I’m seldom back in the Houston area. Can you go to court for me so I don’t have to?

Unfortunately, this particular court (i.e., Houston Municipal Court) is very different from most courts. Houston Municipal Court requires the defendant to appear to fight and/or contest the charge even if the defendant has an attorney.

Different courts in different states may send you a “Notice to Appear,” but you can usually hire an attorney to appear for you to try to negotiate a plea on your behalf. If you’re not interested in accepting any kind of plea agreement and you want a trial, then you’ll usually have to appear in court even if you have an attorney. The primary reason is so you’ll be available to testify to your own innocence.

I was in Louisiana recently when I was stopped and given a ticket for improper lane change. At the bottom of my ticket there’s a date listed and the ticket says that I have to appear in court on that date. Can’t I just pay the ticket and be done with it? Or, if I decide to fight the ticket, can’t an attorney appear in court for me?

First, do not simply pay this ticket. This particular ticket is charging you with a “serious” category violation according to Section 383.51 of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations, and being convicted of this particular charge may result in your driver’s license being disqualified for 60 days.

Second, yes, in most cases an attorney can appear in court for you to try to have your charge dismissed or reduced to another charge that’s much less harmful to your driver record. However, please understand that your lawyer is not the judge in the court where your ticket is pending. If the particular judge has a policy that, “all traffic defendants must come to court,” then there’s very little your attorney can do to prevent you from having to appear in court.

I got a ticket for failure to yield, and the cop told me it would be much easier to just pay the ticket than come to court. Should I just pay the ticket?

It depends. Remember, in most traffic cases, you have a right to request and appear for a trial. You have a right to have the officer who wrote the ticket appear in court so that you may question the officer about the facts of your case. If you want, you may also waive or give up your right to a trial and accept a plea recommendation. If you simply pay your ticket, you’re pleading guilty to the particular charge. Usually, said conviction will be reported from the particular court and appear on your permanent driver record. LL

Send any questions or comments regarding transportation law to: Jeff McConnell and James Mennella, Road Law, 3441 W. Memorial, Suite 4, Oklahoma City, OK 73134; call 405-242-2030, fax 888-588-8983, or email roadlaw@att.net.

This column is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the opinions of Land Line Magazine or its publisher. Please remember everyone's legal situation is different. Consult with an attorney for specific advice on your situation.