Should I bother fighting my Washington traffic ticket?
Whether or not to fight a traffic ticket is a decision that only the individual driver can make, but there are some factors that every driver should consider before they make that decision. As most drivers in Washington know, the listed fine is often only the beginning of the cost of a ticket. Other factors to consider include: what effect is this going to have on my insurance rates, and for how long; what effect is this going to have on my driver's license; and if all of those costs outweigh the cost and hassle of fighting the ticket.
What effect is this ticket going to have on my insurance?
The answer varies greatly depending upon your specific circumstances, the impact might be significant, none whatsoever, or anywhere in between. In Washington, traffic tickets are broken into two different categories moving and non-moving (note: this applies only to traffic infractions, not to criminal charges, such as reckless driving that drivers often mistake for infractions.) If an infraction is a moving violation, a finding of committed or simply paying the fine will result in the infraction showing up on your driving abstract and subsequently being discoverable by your insurance company. If an infraction is a non-moving violation it will not show up on your driving abstract and, in most circumstances, it will not be discoverable by your insurance company.
You can find out if the infraction you have been accused of is moving or non-moving very simply. Non-moving violations are defined in WAC 308-104-460. Unfortunately, in this case a non-moving violation is defined as "any violation or traffic infraction in Title 46 RCW, other than those moving violations included in the following list or violations of substantially similar laws, administrative regulations, local laws, ordinances, regulations, or resolutions of a political subdivision of this state, the federal government, or any other state". In plain English, that means that if your infraction is in the list it is a moving violation, if it is not on the list it is not a moving violation.
One specific type of infraction may require additional clarification. With the growing prevalence of "camera tickets" in Washington, it is important to note that these infractions are a different type of animal entirely. In jurisdictions throughout Washington traffic laws are being enforced more and more through automated means. Despite the fact that failure to stop at a red light and speeding in a school zone are moving violations, the enabling statute for these devices specifically asserts that any infraction issued in conjunction with their use shall be treated as a parking ticket and shall not be made part of the driver's abstract. See RCW 46.63.170.
Finally, if your infraction is a moving violation it may have an effect on your insurance rates. The amount of the effect depends on factors like your driving record, any "good driver" bonuses you currently qualify for, how often your insurance company checks your driving abstract, and your insurance companies internal policies regarding rate increases. It is important to note that, for insurance and employer purposes, infractions remain on your driving abstract for a period of 3 years.
What effect will an infraction have on my driver's license?
Contrary to, what seems to be a very popular belief, Washington Department of Licensing does not assess points to driver's licenses. So, if you are worried about how many points this speeding in a school zone ticket is going to cost you, you can stop worrying. That is not to say that there aren't potentially consequences on your driver's license. In Washington the Department of Licensing only looks at how many moving violations you have had in a specific period of time. If you receive 6 moving violations in any 12 month period your license will be suspended for 60 days. If you receive 4 moving violations in 12 months or 5 moving violations in 24 months your license will be placed in a "conditional status" for 1 year. The conditional status is basically a probationary period. If you get a specific number of more moving violations during the probationary period your license will be suspended. For a complete explanation of the probationary process see the official DOL website.
How much hassle and expense is it to fight my ticket?
Usually not much. There are two ways to fight your ticket: pro se, and through counsel. There are specific advantages and draw backs to each method.
Fighting your ticket pro se just means that you are actually presenting your own defense. The bad news is that when you fight your ticket pro se, you are held to the same standard as an actual attorney. The judge expects you to know the IRLJ's (court rules for infractions), time limits, rules for courtroom decorum, rules of evidence, the difference between a contested hearing and a mitigation hearing, etc. Meeting that standard has the potential to be very time consuming. Then you have to go to court and argue your case, or in some instances you may make your argument in writing by mail. The advantage is that you can save the expense of hiring an attorney to defend your ticket.
Fighting your ticket through counsel just means that you have hired an attorney to defend your ticket for you. In most instances when you hire an attorney to defend your ticket for you, you won't need to attend the hearing yourself. Basically, all you have to do is remain in contact with your attorney and make sure you provide them with the information they need. You won't have to miss work to go to court if you don't want to and you have the advantage of working with a professional who does this everyday. The down side is that you usually have to hire a lawyer to defend your ticket, that being said, many traffic lawyers, myself included, actually have a flat fee so you know exactly what you are getting into before you get into it. Another useful resource at your disposal when making these decisions is the "free initial consultation". Many traffic lawyers, myself included, offer a free initial consultation to allow you to discuss your ticket with them.