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Do I need a traffic ticket lawyer?

You might be surprised what traffic ticket lawyers can do for you, even if you've received only your first ticket. Depending on the offense, a single ticket can have significant financial consequences. Some insurance companies will raise your rates after speeding ticket, for example. For drivers who have recently received traffic citations, find out if a traffic ticket attorney can help you.

Understanding a traffic ticket

There are two types of traffic stops: moving violations and nonmoving violations. Moving violations are offenses that occur when the car is in motion, such as speeding or failing to signal a turn. Nonmoving violations include parking in front of a fire hydrant or having expired tags. From this point, traffic violations fall into one of the following 3 categories:

Statutory or "petty" infractions

These minor violations can be resolved with a fine of $80 to $400 and possibly mandatory time in traffic school. They carry no possibility of jail time, but may result in negative points against your driving record. Examples of statutory offenses include running a red light, driving over the speed limit, or making an illegal lane change.

Misdemeanor violations

These more serious charges carry potential criminal penalties, such as up to 1 year in jail and fines of up to $1,000 or $2,000, depending on the state where you live. In addition, most misdemeanor violations put your driving privileges in jeopardy for a time, usually between 3 and 6 months. If you are convicted of a misdemeanor traffic violation, you may have trouble getting car insurance, and your premiums will be much higher when you find a policy. Examples of misdemeanor violations include driving under the influence, driving without a valid license, and reckless driving. Most people facing a misdemeanor violation should contact experienced traffic ticket lawyers.

Felony violations

If you're charged with a felony, you should seek legal representation. The most serious violations carry the potential of more than a year in prison, steep fines, and a criminal record. Felony violations include hit-and-run incidents, vehicular homicide, and, in many states, repeat DUI offenses.

Understanding the potential consequences of a traffic ticket

Traffic tickets and driving record

Even a minor traffic violation can lead to negative consequences, especially if you have had 1 or more tickets in the past 1 to 3 years. The state assigns negative points to your driving record for each traffic conviction. Each state has its own rules about the number of points you can accumulate before your driving privileges are in jeopardy, but in general, states use 1 of the following formulas:

  • Each petty violation counts as 1 point, but speeding above a certain level counts as 2. Your license is suspended when you accumulate 4 points in 1 year, 6 points in 2 years, or 8 points in 3 years.

  • Petty violations count for 2 points, with more serious violations counting for 3 to 5. Your license is suspended if you reach 12 points in 3 years.

If you are approaching these limits, fighting your ticket is essential. If this is your first ticket for a minor offense, you may be tempted to pay the fine and be done with the issue, but you always have the right to fight your ticket in court, no matter how minor the violation.

Fighting a traffic ticket in court

In most states, if you choose to argue your case in court, you will have the right to state your version of events and challenge the charging officer's version. In a few states, the officer is not required to appear in court for minor violations, making shedding doubt on the officer's version difficult. In many states, you or your lawyer will be able to question the officer, who must be present at your hearing.

If you are successful in your challenge, the traffic ticket could be dismissed entirely, and no record of the event will appear on your driving record. Alternatively, if you pay the fine, you are essentially admitting that you are guilty of the offense, and that offense will appear on your driving record for up to 5 years, which could affect your insurance rates for the future.

What traffic ticket lawyers can do for you

In addition to preparing a defense against misdemeanor and felony traffic violations, a traffic ticket lawyer can help you improve your outcome on less serious offenses in several of the following ways:

  • Many times, experienced traffic ticket attorneys can negotiate your ticket down to a lesser charge, reduce your fine, or secure probation before judgment or other program that clears the offense off your record.

  • Some violations require a court appearance. If your offense occurred in a distant city or state, your lawyer can represent you in court, saving you the time and cost associated with returning to the jurisdiction where the ticket was originally issued.

  • An attorney can consult with and advise you even if you want to represent yourself in traffic court. The attorney can analyze your position and coach you on preparing your own defense.

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