Knowing Your Traffic Ticket Charges

Before deciding whether or not to fight your ticket, it is important to understand what you’ve been charged with. You need to take the following into consideration before making a decision:

  • The potential fine or punishment that you face for the alleged violation of the law
  • If you were charged with a moving violation or non-moving violation
  • Whether the charge is categorized as a traffic infraction, misdemeanor, or felony
  • Any possible defenses, justifications or mitigating circumstances
  • The impact the violation will have on your driving privilege, auto insurance or your life
  • If a guilty plea will impact a claim by any people injured as a result of the incident
  • The amount of time and cost involved in disputing the allegation
  • The cost to hire an attorney to defend you and protect your rights

When you have been charged with a minor violation, you may choose to pay the fine and expedite the manner if it will not have an impact on your driving record, your insurance premiums, or impact your life in any substantial way.  If it requires simple proof that you have corrected the violation, this may be handled easily by submitting proof to the court and it may be dismissed with a small administrative fee.  Examples of these might be fixing a broken headlight or tailing, obtaining current vehicle registration, or by affixing a front license plate if one was not on the vehicle and the jurisdiction requires it.

Understanding Your Ticket

What is on Your Ticket?

A traffic ticket should have the following information on it:

  • The make, model, color and registration of the vehicle
  • The date, time and place of where the offense took place
  • Your name, address and driver’s license number
  • The statute or vehicle code that was violated
  • The name and badge number of the officer who issued the citation
  • The deadline for paying the ticket or appearing in court

Each jurisdiction has a variety of forms, so the appearance of the ticket and the information included may vary slightly.  If the officer wrote down information incorrectly, that may prove useful to your defense in court.

Legal Research: Learn about the Law You're Accused of Breaking

If you plan on contesting a ticket, it is important to be prepared by doing some research.  To obtain information regarding the specific law that was broken, you should look up the statute that was noted on your citation.  Traffic law is regulated and enforced by local, state and federal laws and legislation.

Where to do Legal Research

There are many resources available online where you can obtain information from reputable legal sources.  Many states have justice centers and projects that provide free legal assistance and information for civil legal issues. 

  • The Legal Services Corporation funds legal aid programs with offices around the nation that help low-income Americans gain access to the judicial system.
  • Lawhelp offers free legal aid and referrals for low to moderate-income families.
  • Traffic Violation Lawyers: offer a free review of your case with an attorney that specializes in traffic law within your specific jurisdiction.

Some states have self-help centers or the State Bar Association may provide a referral to an attorney for a modest fee.

Do You Have a Defense?

The burden of proof is on the state in making their case against you.  The American legal system is built on the concept that you are innocent unless the government can prove that you violated a law.  They must have direct evidence regarding speeding such as the use of radar.

By focusing on each element of the specific law noted on your citation may be the key to unlocking an effective defense.  The government is required to prove each and every element of a crime beyond a reasonable doubt before an individual may be found guilty.  If you can prove that just one element of the statute was not violated, the judge may dismiss the case.  Judges typically follow the letter of the law as it is written.

Even if you cannot challenge the law you are charged with violating, there are other factors that should be taken into consideration such as:

  • Was the officer’s view obstructed in any way?
  • Did the officer pull the right vehicle over?
  • Is all of the information correct on your citation?

If you were charged with a speeding violation, it is important to know the law in your state.  All 50 states use three basic types of speed limits, called “absolute”, “basic” and presumed”.

No matter which defense you choose to fight your case, if the officer fails to show up to court, the judge may dismiss your case.  The more serious the violation, the more likely the officer will be present.  During the summer months, no-shows are more common as officers take vacation during that time.


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