General rule: if your Maryland ticket is prepayable, such that you may avoid court, that ticket is not jailable. If you receive multiple tickets and all of them are marked as prepayable, none of them is jailable.
This is NOT a suggestion that you should pre-pay any ticket - ESPECIALLY if you do have a jailable ticket among others issued at one stop. You should definitely consult with an attorney before deciding to pay any ticket. But if you have a jailable ticket, pre-paying another ticket can damage your interests. Don't do it without talking to counsel.
If any of your tickets are jailable, hire a lawyer.
Basic rule: if the government has the power even theoretically to jail you, you need an attorney. Even if your risk of jail is low, you need a lawyer if you are facing a percentage chance of jail. Even if you avoid jail, a jailable conviction without actual jail can play havoc with your employment references, background checks, motor vehicle record or security clearance if applicable.
Examples of jailable tickets in Maryland (without limitation) include, among others:
Driving Under the Influence/While Impaired
Driving While [your motorist license is] Suspended, Cancelled, Refused or Revoked
Driving An Uninsured Vehicle
Failure To Remain At Scene/Exchange Information/Etc.
Fleeing And Eluding A Law Enforcement Officer
Driving A Rental Vehicle In Violation of a Rental Agreement
Although Maryland has a reputation as a "liberal" jurisdiction, the judiciary is probably more conservative than the electorate. In short, come prepared.
If my Maryland tickets are not jailable, should I hire a lawyer?
Yes, unless it's clear after consulting with a lawyer that you don't need one.
In general, there is a distinction between a "moving violation", such as speeding or running a red light, and a "non-moving violation" such as failing to display a license card. In some cases, the distinction is not clear. Example: driving an uninsured vehicle is jailable and carries 5 points, whereas driving an unregistered vehicle is a non-jailable non-moving violation carrying no points.
Can a judge in Maryland "give you a break"?
Yes, if you qualify and your record is pretty good. Convictions for motor vehicle offenses last three years on a driving record, and points from convictions last for two years dating back to the date of the violation. But if a judge elects to grant "probation before judgment" the conviction is technically withheld, no points are assessed and the ticket does not appear on an ordinary motorist record.
Most Maryland judges won't grant PBJ if you have any moving violations in the last three years; some are more forgiving and some are more strict. In addition, some are significantly more forgiving when the motorist has taken swift steps to mitigate harm, such as by settling an accident claim, reinstating licenses/registrations, attending remedial driving school, etc. Most judges won't withhold PBJ merely because the motorist contests the ticket, but I have seen it happen with one judge in one county.
How do I represent myself?
It's not a great idea to represent yourself in court in Maryland. You do, however, have the constitutional right to do so. I would recommend spending an entire day in traffic court to observe how judges handle self-represented defendants to get an idea of how irritated they get at amateur lawyering - some of it by licensed lawyering at times, regrettably.
If you really want to represent yourself, you should purchase an hour of a traffic attorney's time at the desk to have her or him coach you on how to handle things. A better choice is simply to hire the attorney.
What are Maryland traffic courts like?
There really are no "Maryland courts." While the Rules of Procedure state that there are no local court rules in Maryland, that Rule has unwritten exceptions that include every court in the state.
Maryland is a highly diverse state and the experience of traffic court in conservative rural ex-urban Charles County is rather different from the experience in Upper Marlboro only 25 miles away. Baltimore City judges seem to apply a different standard of "beyond a reasonable doubt" than in, say, Montgomery County. Technical arguments get warmer or colder receptions in different parts of the state and among different judges in the same courthouse. Baltimore County's courts in particular are known for the wide variety of judicial styles and perspectives among the different judges (all highly esteemed, without doubt.)
For traffic court, local counsel is best. Try to hire an attorney within 15 miles of the courthouse and hire a "frequent flyer" for that courthouse.
How much will I get fined?
For most non-jailable tickets, the maximum fine is $500.00. While most judges adhere reasonably closely to the prepayable amount on the ticket, they need not do so. In practice, most judges fine the prepayable amount , or reduce it to account for court costs of about $25.50. Some judges will occasionally reduce fines in part or in whole for good cause shown. Most judges require the entire fine to be paid by close of business on the day of trial.
How do I cross-examine a police officer in traffic court?
There is a distinction between cross-examination (asking questions) and testifying (providing your own account.) Many defendants irritate the judge by confusing these two matters. It is permissible to ask leading questions on cross-examination. A leading question is one that suggests its own answer, e.g. "I wasn't in lane one, was I?" In general, one should cross examine either quickly or not at all and get on to one's own testimony. Often lawyers regret the "one question too many" effect.
What can get me a dismissal of my ticket?
In addition to a successful presentation of reasonable doubt as to your guilt, certain procedural issues can lead to a dismissal. A failure explicitly to identify the defendant as the driver will result in a dismissal. The failure to assert venue in MD is usually fatal; under MD's Constitution a defendant has the right to be tried in the locality where the alleged offense occurred. In speeding cases, technical defenses regarding evidence of the speed device and the officer's capacity to operate the device can result in dismissals. Sometimes errors on the charging document - failure to name a crime explicitly, failure to sign, naming the wrong defendant, getting the location wrong, etc. - can result in a dismissal.
What about MD points?
Maryland is a member of an interstate compact of most U.S. states. Under the compact and the state laws passed per the compact, the DMVs of each state will not impose point sanctions for out-of-state tickets in most cases, with exceptions for a small number of severe offenses like DWI and fleeing and eluding a law enforcement officer. So out-of-state tickets will not impose MD points in most cases and vice-versa. However, any conviction will ordinarily appear without points as a line item on a Maryland driving record or that of most of other states. Your insurance carrier might penalize you for an out-of-state conviction even if the MVA of MD or another state won't.
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