My practice exists in a bi-state area and consequently I get to see two side of one important issue when it comes to traffic tickets. That issue is self-representation. In Missouri prosecutor’s usually will not speak to an unrepresented defendant. This means drivers who get a Missouri ticket don’t have the opportunity to try to negotiate their own plea agreement. Kansas is opposite. In most Kansas cities and counties, the prosecutor will speak to an unrepresented defendant and tell them if they are eligible for diversion or some other sort of plea offer.
This sounds great for those who have received a ticket in Kansas, but I want those with more serious tickets to be wary about representing themselves. For simple tickets, like speeding, first time offenders are usually eligible for diversion in Kansas. Local prosecutor’s offices even have applications for diversion online so that you can apply before going to court. In these cases, your options are pretty straightforward. For a modest fee, the prosecutor’s office will dismiss its case against you if you do not commit a similar offense within the next year.
I think this a good route to go for simple tickets, because the defendant knows what the consequences will be. However, for more serious tickets like driving with a suspended license, defendants may not know what they are getting into. I had a potential client call a few weeks ago. She has is a Missouri resident who was pulled over in Kansas for driving while suspended. She was afraid of jail time and was happy to find out that she could talk to the prosecutor about her options for the ticket. She worked out a deal with the prosecutor, to plead guilty to the driving while suspended ticket, and to pay a fine. She was relieved to avoid jail, but soon learned that her license in Missouri was going to be suspended for another 12 months.
She called because she didn’t know what her options were. No one told her that when she pled guilty it would results in 12 points going on her Missouri license and an automatic one-year suspension. That’s the trap you are getting into when negotiating your own plea. Do you know all of the consequences? Of course you can ask when speaking with the prosecutor what the effect of the plea will be on your driving record, but if you are licensed in one state and ticketed in another, that prosecutor might not know what the effect will be in your home state.
Had this particular woman hired a lawyer, she most likely would have avoided jail time, paid a fine, and plead to a lesser offense that would not have resulted in 12 points going against her Missouri license. She would have known all of the consequences of her plea before she took the deal. Now her only option is to request a hardship license, and hope the State grants it or hire an attorney to withdraw her previous guilty plea and make things right – albeit at a much higher cost.