Judges place a lot of weight on your prior conduct. You should obtain your driving record at the DMV well ahead of your court date. A first time offender is eligible for the most lenient sentence. The strongest mitigation in a case is a record that supports the notion that your violation was an isolated incident; unlikely to repeat. The judge may ask you about prior traffic stops before deciding on a sentence. Be honest in your response and be aware that prosecutors print out driving records for every defendant and will not hesitate to recite your priors to the judge.
Your Actions When Arrested or Stopped
The judge is interested in knowing how you acted the day you were pulled over. Did you tell the officer the truth? Were you respectful and cooperative during the traffic stop? The judge may ask for the officer's recollection of your actions and statements. Does your attitude in court match your attitude the day of the incident? At sentencing, the judge is observing you to see if you have honestly represented your position before he decides on your sentence.
Your Actions in Court
Judges observe the defendant closely to determine your attitude and demeanor. Are you remorseful about your actions? The judge will also notice if you are disrespectful or rude to the court staff. In a crowded court call, you are advised to quietly blend in and wait your turn before the judge. If you come across as a loud and uncooperative trouble maker, you have diminished the dignity of the court and substantially hurt your chances for a favorable sentence. Become familiar with your judge and be ready to answer his/her questions honestly.
The Nature of the Charge
Depending on your state, some types of infractions carry minimum mandatory fines and have a bad effect on your driver's license. Charges that are safety related carry closer consideration and stricter punishment. For example passing a school bus, speeding in a school zone or violations a rail road crossing will result in a mandatory suspension of your drivers license. Suspended drivers for DUI face minimum jail sentences. In such cases, judges do not have the authority to change or amend the sentence, the fines or subsequent effect on your driving record. You should consult with an experienced attorney to explore possible defenses in your case before pleading guilty.
Pursuing A Bench Trial in Traffic Court
Most judges have a policy to not give supervision (guilty with a deferred sentence in IL) after a finding of guilty at trial for a traffic case. If you are found guilty, and the facts reveal you did not have a case in the first place, the judge will not give you the same consideration he/she gives a person who pleads guilty. This result is commonly referred to as a trial tax. To avoid a trial tax, invest in a knowledgeable attorney who will advise you on the likelihood of winning your trial and then if needed, to help you identify your best option for sentencing.
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