When and How to Fight a Ticket in Court and Win

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 112,000 people receive a speeding ticket every day on average. Your chances of getting a speeding ticket or a traffic ticket in your lifetime are pretty high. A traffic ticket can be an expensive mistake. In addition to the cost of the ticket itself, your insurance rates will certainly see a hike. Fortunately, you have the opportunity to contest your ticket in court if you think it was issued erroneously. Getting a traffic ticket dismissed in court isn’t always easy, but it’s certainly possible if you know when and how to go about it.

When to Fight a Ticket

If your license may get suspended. Most states have a point system that assigns points to certain traffic violations. After your record accumulates a certain number of points in a given period of time, your license could be suspended.

If you don’t want your insurance to increase. When a traffic ticket goes on your record, the question is how much—not if—your insurance premiums will go up.

If your job is in jeopardy. If you have a commercial driver license (CDL), even one ticket could cost you your job.

In some cases, it’s easier to just pay the fine and accept the consequences. If you legitimately deserved the ticket and it would be difficult to prove otherwise, going to court may not be in your best interest. Instead, look for traffic schools in your area. Many states will remove the ticket from your record once you complete the course.

How to Fight a Ticket

If you decide to go to court to fight your ticket, these four suggestions can help you win.

  • Think twice before changing the date.

When you contest a ticket in court, the officer who issued the ticket must be present. If he’s not, your ticket will likely be dismissed. Some recommend postponing the court date with the hopes the officer won’t show, especially if the officer has multiple traffic cases on one day.

“Not all jurisdictions operate this way,” former police officer Kip Kowalski said. “Often, officers are assigned a date and usually have just one case on that date. Changing the date won’t have much bearing on the case.”

  • Look for extenuating circumstances.

A judge may dismiss a ticket if you can show you made a mistake based on circumstances beyond your control. For example, a tree knocked over a stop sign or graffiti changed the numbers on a speed limit sign. This is called a mistake of fact. Photos of the scene can help you with your case.

  • Do your homework.

Don’t expect to win your case just by showing up and arguing that your ticket wasn’t fair. A judge doesn’t want to hear that the officer was lying, you were in a hurry, or any other excuse. Instead, be prepared to fight your ticket with facts.

“Research the statute you were cited for to ensure you met every element of that particular statute,” Kowalski said. “If not, find evidence to support that you did not.”

For example, let’s say you received a ticket for speeding in a school zone at 7:30 p.m. You research the statute in your state and find out that school zone limits are only in effect until 7 p.m. This information can help you get your ticket dismissed.

  • Review the citation.

Pay close attention to what the officer wrote on the citation and look for mistakes.

“If you find mistakes, make sure you can verify them with evidence,” Kowalski said. “Another witness or photographs of the scene could help solidify your case.”

Do you need a lawyer?

In some cases, you’ll pay more for a lawyer’s services than the cost of the ticket. Unless your ticket will result in excessive fines or cause you to lose your job, hiring a lawyer to help you fight a traffic ticket is typically not necessary.

Successfully contesting a ticket in court can end up saving you a great deal of money in fines and insurance fees. By thoroughly researching your statute and being prepared, you can increase your odds of keeping your ticket off your record.

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