What makes traffic tickets different than other areas of criminal law?
First, traffic tickets cannot result in jail time, whatsoever. This, in some circumstances, can be a double-edged sword. Obviously, not having to worry about having to go to jail is a great thing. The downside, however, is that unlike misdemeanors and felonies, you are NOT entitled to court-appointed assistance from a lawyer if you cannot afford to hire your own.
Another big difference in traffic cases is that many types of tickets can have a negative impact on your driving record, known as points. The DMV is informed from the court of the infraction, and then contacts your insurance company, who may increase your premium. There are ways to avoid having this negative impact. First, pleading guilty or no contest and requesting traffic school will mask the point. You can only attend traffic school once every 16 months. If you are ineligible for traffic school, you may want to talk to an attorney.
When Should I Hire an Attorney
As mentioned above, sometimes traffic school may not be an option. If this is the case, an attorney may be able to assist you, even if there are no defenses to your case. Attorneys can extend the ticket far in to the future, which may make you eligible again. Otherwise, they may be able to get the citing officer to agree to reduce the charge to a non-moving violation, which does not require traffic school.
Another situation that people may want to hire an attorney is when they are a commercially licensed driver. A commercially licensed driver is never eligible for traffic school. Additionally, since driving is their livelihood, any negative impact on their record should be addressed.
One other common situation that an attorney may be able to assist with is when there is a factual or legal defense to the charge. These issues can range from whether or not the officer's equipment was functioning properly to identification issues in red light camera cases.
What Should I Look For in a Traffic Attorney
When shopping for an attorney, I generally advise that the old adage rings true: If something seems too good to be true, it usually is. With attorneys, this applies when blanket promises are made ("It's an open and shut case," or "I can guarantee a reduction or dismissal"). Even the best attorney with a very good case should always make it clear that nothing is a certainty.
Look for experience in criminal defense or prosecution, and ask the attorney how many times they've been to trial, and how many traffic tickets they've handled. Also, make sure that they are comfortable with the courthouse where your ticket will be handled. Just because someone is experienced doesn't mean they'll know the ins and outs of a particular geographic region. Always check an attorneys record with the state bar.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, make sure the attorney is upfront about their cost. Make sure that their fee is explained thoroughly, with description of what exactly is covered.
You don't always need to have an attorney for traffic offenses. However, if you do, hopefully this guide will assist in making an informed decision.
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