Take a Cost-Benefit Analysis When Deciding How to Handle Your Traffic Ticket

I’ve gotten more than the usual amount of callers this week who want to fight their traffic ticket by pleading not guilty and asking for a trial.  I usually advise people that it is not worth it to hire an attorney for a traffic ticket trial because your chances of winning are relatively low.  No, I don’t’ have a break down of the numbers, but I want drivers to try to take a step back and consider the risks and benefits of their course of action. 

I know, when you get pulled over and you are hopping mad about getting a ticket, it’s difficult to set your emotions aside and decide what you should do.  Here’s my advice — when you were pulled over, it was not personal, that officer is doing his or her job and it is very unlikely they were targeting you specifically. 

Poor Excuses

The following excuses will not hold up in traffic court:

1) I was going with the flow of traffic.  This is never a good defense, the speed limit is the speed limit, it doesn’t matter how many others were speeding along with you.

2) I was unfairly targeted by police.  Maybe you were, but in a court of law, will the judge care?  Probably not.  It’s a harsh reality, but it’s the world we live in.

3) I was speeding because of an emergency.  Never a good excuse and can rarely be proven.  Trust me, that officer has heard it all, and even if you weren’t lying when you said that your granny is in the emergency room, the officer won’t care and neither will the judge.

Here are your options when you get a ticket.  1.  You can plead guilty by paying your ticket by mail or in person.  2.  You can plead guilty by appearing at your court date and pleading guilty, in which case you will most likely also be responsible for court costs.  2.  You can ask for a trial, try to defend yourself – you may be found not guilty, you may not.  3.  You can hire a lawyer to represent you. 

If you hire a lawyer to represent you, that lawyer can defend you at trial or negotiate a plea bargain.  I estimate that about 99% of traffic cases that lawyers handle are plea bargained.  Why?  Because the risk of being found guilty, along with cost of an attorney, and fines and court costs you will most likely have to pay after you are found guilty are not worth it.  Furthermore, you are going to be really angry with that attorney for not getting you off after you paid lots of money to be defended.  I don’t mean to sound harsh, but most people who are ticketed, are guilty.  It’s a traffic ticket, not a capital murder case.

Advantages to Hiring a Lawyer

1.  Missouri Points and Kansas Moving Violations:  in most plea bargain situations, a Missouri driver gets to avoid points on his license or a Kansas driver gets to avoid having a moving violation appear on her record.

2.  Certainty: you get to know what will happen with your ticket, there is no risk of an unexpected outcome.

3.  Reduced Costs: paying a lawyer for a plea bargain is much cheaper than paying for a trial.

4. Convenience: when you hire a lawyer, in most cases you will not have to appear in court, your ticket can be handled over the phone or by mail. 

5. Avoid Added Costs: if you just pay that ticket or are found guilty, you will receive points or a moving violation, which will appear on your driving record.  Having an unclean driving record can increase your car insurance rates and can threaten your ability to work if a clean driving history is required for your job.

Going For It

When should I go for it and plead not guilty?  I think the best situation to plead not guilty and ask for a trial are those rare occasions where the ticket was not justified.  Mistakes happen, but remember they are rare.  The second situation is accident tickets, if you are issued a ticket from a traffic accident that was not your fault, do not plead guilty to that ticket.  There is a lot more on the line in these cases than a fine and your driving record. 

Remember these are just my opinions, and shouldn’t be construed as legal advice.  You should always consult an attorney about your specific case and that attorney can advise you of your rights and the options for your ticket.

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