This is an overview of what to do and what not to do when you get a ticket.
Avoiding the Ticket
Obviously, if you aren't breaking any traffic laws, you will probably not get a ticket in the first place. But then again, there are a lot of traffic laws! The next thing to remember is that yelling, cussing, or otherwise being rude to the officer will never help your case. Not only will the officer cite you for the original violation, he will probably look for more. Also, the officer may have only planned on giving you a warning, so don't give him an incentive to go ahead and write a citation. Be courteous and don't give the officer any reason to remember you.
Don't Take A Conviction
The court staff is usually knowledgeable and a good source of information. However, they are not attorneys and are not paid to look out for your interests. If you go to the window and say "I need to pay my ticket", they will most likely enter a guilty or no contest plea, take your money, and send you on your way. After three convictions (and you could have 3 or more on one ticket), you could lose your license! If not, you are still likely to face increased insurance costs and a 'surcharge' on your driver's license. Make sure you are not receiving a 'conviction' on your record.
Ask for DSC or ........
Depending on the violation and your situation, you may be entitled by law to have the ticket dismissed after taking a driver safety course (DSC). However, this has to be requested within a certain time period, so contact the court right away for information. You will have to complete the DSC (which you can do online) and return the proof to the court by a certain deadline. The biggest mistake people make is waiting until the last week to take the course and get the certificate. Take care of it promptly.
Ask for Deferred Disposition
Under a Deferred Disposition, basically you plead guilty to the offense, the Judge finds you guilty, and assesses a fine. However, that 'finding' is not entered. Instead the Judge gives you certain things to do: pay a fee to the court (the amount will be strikingly similar to the fine if you pled guilty), and go a certain number of days - often 90 - without getting another ticket. There could be additional requirements as well. For example, if you are under 25 and it is a moving violation, you must complete a DSC also. (NOTE: If you have taken a DSC course to have your ticket dismissed within the last year, you probably can not do it again. But this does NOT mean that you can not do Deferred Disposition, even if you are under 25. In this case the DSC is not what is getting your ticket dismissed, the Deferred Disposition is. The DSC is just an additional requirement.) If you fulfill all of the requirements within the time frames, then the case is dismissed and there is no conviction. If you do not, then your guilty plea is entered, you have a conviction, and you owe the fine.
Talk to the Prosecutor
If you plead not guilty, then your case will be set forward to a pre-trial or trial docket. At that time, you will most likely have the opportunity to speak to the prosecutor about your case and your options. If you plan on taking the case to trial, do not talk to the prosecutor, or at least do not give him too much information. He is not on your side and can not give you legal advice. Also, the prosecutor is not going to take your word over the police officer's. So don't waste your time trying to argue 'the cop is lying', 'he got the wrong car', etc. At trial, you and the officer will both get to tell your sides of the story and then a Judge or Jury will decide which one is true. However, you may be able to get a better deal if you talk to the prosecutor than what is available at the clerk's window or on their web page. Sometimes you don't have a 'right' to DSC or Deferred, but the Prosecutor can agree to let you do one or the other. Also, if you have multiple tickets, then you may be able to get the overall fees lowered or even one of the violations dismissed in return for entering a plea of guilty or taking a deferred on the others. Not all convictions go on your driving record. So maybe you can plead guilty to a non-moving violation and have the moving violation dismissed. One final point; Just like with the police officer, being rude - cussing, yelling, etc. - at the prosecutor will never help your case.
Going to Trial
If you are going to trial, you will probably be at a huge disadvantage. Sorry to burst your bubble, but it is true. If it is a typical traffic citation, then it will be your word against the police officer's. (I hope the severity of that last sentence is apparent to you.) Even if you have a case - and sometimes defendants do - your ability to present it is nothing compared to the prosecutor's. You should request a jury trial...not one in front of the Judge. With a Judge, the prosecutor has to convince one person; with a jury, he has to convince six people. It's simple math. Most people do not request a jury trial because they are intimidated, and they should be. Selecting a jury is confusing if you have never done it. Research the basics and be prepared. That goes for the rest of the trial too. Be prepared, know what your argument is, focus on it, and always be respectful. Go and watch a trial or two before yours. (Even if you don't have a ticket, you should go watch jury trials sometime. You will be educated, entertained, and surprised.) The Courts are open and even the Judge usually can not exclude you from the Courtroom, except for some rare situations that shouldn't apply to a traffic citation trial. In fact, the Judges sometimes like spectators as long as the spectator isn't there to cause trouble. Feel free to talk to the Judge if you have a moment, but do NOT discuss your case with the Judge.
Hiring an Attorney
Most of the time you hire an attorney, you are paying for the convenience of reducing or eliminating your trips to the court, and increasing your chance of getting your best deal. Also, the attorney has a better chance of avoiding pitfalls and mistakes. If you have only one ticket, any fine reduction will probably not be as much as the attorney's fee. The more tickets you have, the more likely the attorney can at least save you as much as what you paid the attorney. If you want to take the ticket to trial, then you would be much better off with an attorney. However, it will almost definitely cost you more than paying the ticket...probably a lot more. It is probably never worth it financially, though there could be other reasons. Consult an attorney to see what fees are involved and to make sure it is worth taking to trial.
One Cost Effective Trial Option
If you are determined to go to trial, but it is not worth it to pay hundreds of dollars to an attorney, there is a possible option. Many new attorneys want and need trial experience. Obviously, their abilities are unlikely to be as good as an experienced attorney, but very likely to be better than yours. If you can find such an attorney who wants trial experience, they make take the case at a very low charge or even free. That way, you get representation that is probably a lot better than you can do yourself. The attorney gets some trial experience. The attorney may be cautious, and may ask you to sign a document acknowledging the attorney's limited experience. But if that is a concern to you, you shouldn't even consider this option. If you do take this route, remember that the attorney still has a lot of education and training and that you are getting free legal help....don't assume that you can have all of the attorney's time or get free advice on other matters. Also, remember that there is no guarantee that an attorney - even an experienced attorney - will do a better job than you. But obviously the odds are in favor of it.
Final Thoughts and Disclaimer
As a prosecutor in municipal courts, I saw many people go to trial for many different reasons. I also saw most of them make the mistakes I mention in this guide (and many others), over and over. Almost always they went in blind or listened to what 'someone heard' about handling a ticket. Most of the time, they just didn't use common sense: be courteous, practical, respectful, etc., or just didn't prepare. Also, be careful about websites that tell you 'how to fix your ticket' or 'how to fight your ticket at trial'. Some are good, some are terrible. (That should be the Internet's motto.) Also, remember that this guide is educational and does NOT constitute legal advice or make me your attorney. You should always consult with an attorney about your specific situation whenever you have a legal issue.
Our Rating is calculated using information the lawyer has included on
their profile in addition to the information we collect from state
bar associations and other organizations that license legal
professionals. Attorneys who claim their profiles and provide Avvo
with more information tend to have a higher rating than those who do
What determines Avvo Rating?
Experience & background
Years licensed, work experience, education
Legal community recognition
Peer endorsements, associations, awards
Legal thought leadership
Publications, speaking engagements
This lawyer was disciplined by a state licensing authority in .
Disciplinary information may not be comprehensive, or updated. We recommend that you always check a lawyer's disciplinary status with their respective state bar association before hiring them.