HEY, I got a ticket! – A guide on what to do…

Disclaimer: I archived this from wherever it was that I originally found this…now lost to the sands of time.

Oh boy, you got a ticket. Believe me when I tell you that tickets are no big deal. Yes, you can get out of them. I’ve had over 60 myself in 15 years of driving. A police officer pulling me over doesn’t even raise my heart rate any more, I’m just impatient and ready to get back on the road – can’t he tell I’m in a hurry? Have I ever had my license suspended? No. Have I ever been in serious trouble over my tickets? No. Have I gotten out of all of them? No, but I have gotten out of all but a very small handful, maybe five or six. Almost all of those were before I realized how to fight. I have not had a ticket go on my record since 1996, and it’s not because I stopped getting them.

This is an accounting of all of my knowledge about getting out of tickets. Why am I doing this? Because I’m tired of people asking me for advice. I’m tired of telling people how to get out of their tickets. I’m tired of having typed this up three dozen times. Read this, and you’ll know how to get out of your tickets. This is everything I know. However, you should also know that I am not a lawyer, and my experience is only with courts in the state of Texas. Your laws may differ, and your mileage may vary. I am not responsible if these tricks do not work for you.

First things first, you must understand what traffic ticketing is really all about – revenue generation. If you don’t understand this fact, and really believe that tickets are all about right and wrong, you will lose. You will attempt to play a game that doesn’t actually exist, and you will be unprepared for the game you are being forced to play. This was my mistake in many of my first tickets, and one of the tickets I got nailed for was one of the few I wasn’t guilty of. The speed limits are consistently set artificially low, and everyone breaks them knowing they are loosely enforced. Then, when the police need to make a little bit of extra money, they have a huge pool of “criminals” to pick from. Think about it this way, how many people do you know that have never broken the speed limit? Do you really think that 35 mph is a reasonable speed for a dry five lane road at 3am? Conditions change, and most people drive a reasonable speed considering the conditions. Studies have shown that speed limits have little effect on how fast the average driver travels, but they do cause a greater disparity of speed – which is actually what’s dangerous. It’s not so bad to drive 80 mph on the freeway when everyone else is driving 80 mph, but it’s quite another if four cars are traveling at 35 mph. This isn’t the only decision that’s made in the interest of revenue generation and against your safety – in many places where red light cameras are installed, the yellow light time is decreased. Why? Because that causes more people to run the red light. Some run it out of indecision, they can’t figure out what the correct action should be, but the vast majority is stuck in a zone where they can neither stop safely nor clear the intersection before the light is red. Longer yellows are safer for the motorist, but they don’t generate nearly as much revenue. Guess which one usually wins? I’ll get off my soapbox now, but I really want you to understand that the vast majority of tickets are not about safety, and they are not about right and wrong, they are simply a means for police departments to generate revenue.

Now that you understand the concept of your ticket, you are better prepared to fight it. The first thing you should do is come to the realization that since this is about revenue generation, this is probably going to cost you some money and some time. Our object here is to keep the hurt to a minimum. The sooner you come to this realization, the closer you are to beating your ticket. During my glory days of speeding, I often called this my “speeding tax”. I would typically get about six tickets a year, if I drove as fast as wanted where ever and whenever I wanted. Those six tickets would cost me, on average, about $150. So, for the cost of about $900 a year, I could speed with impunity. Think about that for a while. For a long time, it was worth it to me, and had the economy not taken such a downturn, I’d probably still be doing it today.

Second, you need to understand that it’s not so much the court’s fine that stings, it’s the insurance and points hit you’ll accrue if you just pay the ticket outright. Even if insurance just raises your rates $15 a month for a ticket, that’s $180 a year for the next three years. If you have a run of bad luck (and remember, everyone speeds) and rack up two or three during that time, you’ll be placed in a high-risk pool. Forget about reasonable rates, your rate will at least double or triple. Then, there’s the points to worry about. If you collect enough of these, they’ll take your license and you’ll be walking. Or driving without a license. So, when we talk about minimizing damage, the primary goal is to keep the ticket off our record. Our secondary goal is to decrease our court costs – but we should never compromise the success of our primary goal in the pursuit of our secondary one.

Third, you need to figure out what kind of ticket you’ve got. A “fix-it” ticket is very different from a generic moving violation, which is different from a DUI or reckless driving ticket or street racing ticket. If you got one of the latter tickets, you need to stop reading now and go get a lawyer. Those types of tickets carry heavy penalties and possibly jail time and vehicle confiscation. They are not to be hosed with, regardless of your innocence. You need a lawyer.

If you got a fix it ticket, you’re pretty much almost home. Luckily, these don’t go on your record, insurance never finds out, and they don’t usually cost all that much – if you fix the violation. So, go get the problem fixed (which you should probably fix anyway), prove to the court it’s fixed, and pay the reduced fine, usually something trivial, like $10. If it’s truly something stupid, like a front license plate violation, then fix it just long enough for the court to verify things are cool, then change it back.

If you got a moving violation (or perhaps a fix-it ticket you just can’t fix), then things get a lot more complex. Understand that at this point, you still have a lot of options available, but not all of them are good ones, and there’s not a single option that will work every time. You must be flexible and willing to work within the system. You must also be dynamic and intelligent and willing to change course when the situation demands it.

The easiest course of action is just to hire a traffic attorney. For anywhere between $50-150, they will do everything for you that I’m about to outline below. You might have to make a token court appearance and maybe pay a small fine to the court, but other than that, the ticket just disappears. I did this for a long time, and that’s how I learned the majority of the tricks detailed below. I will still do it if I get stuck with a really large ticket, like the 105 in a 55 I got four years ago. On a ticket that large, your options are limited and a lawyer can be of great assistance. For your run of the mill speeding ticket (25 over or less), it’s not really necessary, but if you are that worried, the extra insurance can be nice.

If you’re 25 over or less, a common option is to take a driver’s safety course. In Texas, it’s called defensive driving. Typically, you will not be (initially, at least) offered this option if you’re over 25 mph over the speed limit. I highly recommend that you don’t take it. Again, you’re going to ask me why. My reasoning for this is that this is your ‘get out of jail free’ card. It’s better to save it for when you really need it, and it’s nice to know that the entire time you’re negotiating, you’ve got an ace in the hole. If you have this option, at any time you feel that you just can’t win, you can opt out and take the course. It’s a powerful negotiating chip, but you only get one per year here in Texas. At one time, it was one every three years. Are you absolutely sure that you won’t get another ticket in a year? Remember, some courts are easier to work with than others, maybe it’s best to save that thing for when a court just won’t play ball.

Now, we get the meat of the matter. You’re actually going to fight the ticket yourself rather than take the easy options. Good for you. If more people did this, there wouldn’t be any money in the system and we’d stop getting bullshit tickets and bullshit traffic laws. Let’s first clear up some misconceptions, urban legends, and myths.

Number one, if the information on the ticket is wrong, then the ticket will be thrown out. Maybe. Probably not. When you’ve had over 60 tickets, just about anything that can be written down wrong has probably been written down wrong on one of those tickets. I have never had a ticket dismissed because of erroneous information. Not one time. You have to realize that a ticket is not a strict legal, binding document. It is simply an accusation. This is why they tell you that signing it isn’t a admission of guilt. The officer is simply recording the facts as he saw them, and in lieu of him taking you to jail, you’re agreeing that you are aware that he has accused you of wrong doing and that you will show up to the court to settle the matter. That’s all it is. If there’s erroneous information on it, he can certainly amend or change the ticket. He doesn’t even have to do this before it arrives in the courtroom for your trial. If you choose to go this route, and I highly, highly, highly recommend that you don’t, because it’s a gamble, this is your only shot – dispute the information in court. What you’ll need to do is get him to verify under oath the information on the ticket as true to the best of his recollection, then you will have to prove that the information on the ticket is incorrect. If it’s really an egregious error, then you might cast enough doubt on his testimony to get the ticket dismissed. If he can’t remember what color car you were driving, or what the license plate number was, or what road you were on, then maybe he was so incompetent at the time of the citation that he couldn’t reasonably be sure you were speeding. Again, it’s a gamble, and a pretty high stakes one.

Number two, if the officer doesn’t show, the ticket will be dismissed. True. But don’t ever count on this. I’ve had exactly two tickets dismissed because the officer didn’t show. I’ve seen very few dismissed for the same reason, with one notable exception – when the traffic ticket requires the verification of a third individual. There is a court near my home town that loves to write tickets for cutting in the ferry line. Usually, the officer does not see the violation, another individual brings it to his attention. If this third individual does not show up for court, then it is impossible to verify that the violation ever took place, and the ticket is dismissed. People do not usually show up for these, because it’s such a pain in the rear end to show up in court for something that no longer really concerns you.

Number three, you should just walk in, plead guilty and throw yourself at the mercy of the court. No. Never, ever, do this. This is such a gamble. Certainly, there are judges who will take pity on you, and will reduce your fine or give you a break. It’s happened to me, more than once, and that’s how I used to fight tickets before I knew better. But here’s the problem, if the judge doesn’t take pity on you, for whatever reason, you’ve just said you were guilty! Under oath in a court of law! You have no more options! You’re guilty! Good luck appealing, or using your defensive driving or anything else, you’ve just eliminated a good majority of your options by saying you did it. Believe me, there are many more judges who will nail your rear end to the wall for pleading guilty than will save it. It’s very likely you’ll get the maximum punishment, in which case you should have just paid the fine and saved yourself some time. I know you’re wondering why the judge is going to nail you to the wall, so I’ll tell you – you’re wasting the court’s time. Traffic court is very boring and takes much longer than it should, because everyone wants to go up and give an excuse for doing something that was against the law, which isn’t a defense anyway, all the while claiming they are guilty of the crime. If you don’t have a defense, why the gently caress are you in a courtroom?

Number four, the officer wouldn’t show me the reading on the gun (or some other “proof” of the violation), therefore, he shouldn’t have written me the ticket. Nope. He can write you a ticket just because he thinks you were speeding. He doesn’t have to prove anything until it goes to court.

Number five, I’m innocent, so I should get off. No, no, no, a thousand times now. Go back and read the first part of this article, specifically, the part about this not being about rights and wrongs and guilt and innocence. I hate to break it to you, it matters not that you are innocent or guilty. Your road is just as hard either way, and it is probably in your best interests to understand now that it is going to cost you some money. Remember, we’re just trying to minimize that. Yes, I’ve gotten tickets I shouldn’t have gotten. I got convicted on them too – most of the time, it’s your word (or you and your friend’s) against that of the officer and prosecuting attorney. It is very hard to prove that the officer is lying or mistaken, even if he is. If you can indeed prove this, it’s probably better to prove it to the prosecuting attorney (detailed below) and get the ticket dismissed outright.

Now that you’re actually going to fight, let’s detail your first court experience. There should be a court date somewhere on your ticket. Actually, this isn’t even a court date, per se, it’s just the time by which you have to contact the court, either over the phone or in person to settle the accusations against you. Don’t bother calling for the first week or so after your ticket – they won’t have any record of it yet, and you’re just wasting your time and the court’s time, and showing you have no understanding of how the game is played.

Usually, about a week before the due date, I call the court. Most of the time, you can make your initial plea over the phone, but sometimes, you’ll have to go down to the court in person to do it. Your options are: guilty, not guilty, or nolo contendere (no contest). The first and last options are bad. I’ve explained why the first is bad, even if you get to give an explanation, and the last is simply another way of stating the first – I’m guilty, but I don’t want to say I’m guilty, so I won’t contest the accusations against me. The only one that should interest you is, “not guilty”.

Once you make this plea, you will be assigned a court date to formally make your plea. This is an arraignment, not a trial. However, be prepared that if you in person to make your plea, you may proceed directly to arraignment, and if you go for arraignment, it’s possible (though not usual) for a trial to immediately follow. It is best if you ask the court about these things, and it is in your best interest to show up prepared and dressed properly, even if you do not expect a trial today.
On that note, let me address the issue of dress. Most of the people who fight tickets are the dregs of society. They can’t afford the ticket, so they go to court to fight it, hoping either to get their fine reduced or an extended payment plan. Go to the supermarket in the worst area of town, pick out the ten people dressed the worst, and you will see the kind of people who make up 90% of the people you’ll see in court. They come to court wearing the worst things, so bad in fact, that there is usually a sign stating inappropriate attire. These are usually things you should know not to wear, like flip flops and shorts, but people do it anyway (and get thrown out of court). Some wear clothes that have visible holes, some look like they haven’t bathed in a year. I’m not saying not to feel sorry for them, but I am saying that you don’t want to look like them. These are the average person the judge sees every day, and every one of them wants a special break because they are poor, and they don’t have a good defense, and they are guilty, and they won’t be able to feed their kids, and on and on and on and on. Notice something? They are wasting the court’s time. Judges hate that. If you dress like that, he will assume you’re there to waste the court’s time like everyone else. Every once in a while, these people will show up in a button up shirt and tie. That’s not bad, but it’s obvious you still don’t know how to dress for court. Look around you. Everyone who does real business in this arena wears a suit. If you want to be respected, then you also need to wear a suit. It doesn’t have to be a $2000 Armani designer suit, but it should be nice. This will tell the court that you understand how the game is played, you respect the court, and even though everyone else is here to waste the court’s time, you are here to make an argument. Even if you’re not. You’d be surprised how many people forget or overlook this very simple and very effective tool.

Now, let’s make our plea. The first thing we want to do is plead not guilty. The second thing we want to do is ask for a trial. Texas offers you the option of a jury or judge trial, I highly recommend taking the jury. Your state may not offer this option, but if it does, take it. After you’ve done this, you need to go back and remember our goals. Remember, our primary goal is minimizing damage, specifically keeping this ticket off your record and out of the eyes of the insurance company. Even though we’ve asked for a trial, we are going to do everything we can to avoid actually going to trial. Trial is risky. Sure, you might win, but you also might lose. Losing sucks, and it causes us to not achieve the primary goal. So, if we have to sacrifice a few secondary goals to ensure that we achieve our primary goal, it’s worth it. However, you must make the appearance of being willing to go all the way to trial, or the court will call your bluff. It’s very much like a poker game. The idea is to make all your opponents fold long before the river card comes out. Even if you’ve got an incredible hand, it can still be beaten, and it’s better to win a small amount of money than it is to lose big.

After you made your plea, remember that we have to go to arraignment to formally make our plea to the court. This is a very good time to bargain, and I’m usually not in court past this point, unless the court just won’t deal. Before you actually make your plea to the judge, you’ll probably meet with the prosecuting attorney. Funny how no one ever mentions him, but he’s the one that pulls all the strings. He gets to decide if your case ever even sees the inside of a courtroom. He’s not your friend, but he is someone to negotiate with. Typically, this is a very informal meeting. His primary concern is figuring out why you’re fighting this ticket and how to keep it out of the courtroom. Remember how I told you we want to keep it from going to trial? Well, he really doesn’t want it to go to trial either. It’s a risk for him to take it to trial, particularly if it’s a jury trial. Number one, it’s going to cost the court time and money to prosecute, meaning that less money goes into the general coffers. Number two, there’s a decent chance he could loose, especially with a jury trial (and those cost even more money). He doesn’t know who will show up for jury duty that day, and maybe one of those people is like me, and just won’t convict on a minor traffic violation, no matter how much evidence there is. Remember, it’s all about revenue generation, not right and wrong, and going to court is a huge wildcard and always costs money. This is a huge bargaining chip for you, and you need to fully realize it. You also need to realize that this isn’t the last time you’ll see the prosecuting attorney.

So, his first question will attempt to determine why you’re there. Be honest, but don’t reveal too much. Don’t talk about your guilt or your innocence, or even about the case. Just tell him that the ticket isn’t the real issue, you just don’t want the points or insurance to find out about it (your primary goal). Now, this is like gold to the prosecuting attorney. You’re telling him, without saying so much, that you don’t care if the court gets your money, you just don’t want anyone else to get any of it. This gives him a lot of options to keep it out of court, because ultimately, the court will get their money. Now, every once in a while, you’ll get a PA who is either too greedy or too concerned with right and wrong to fully comprehend the game that’s being played. This happens, and is more likely in a small court than a large one. This is where you have to be flexible.

At this point, one of several things will happen. He may press to see how serious you are about fighting. This is where you might present any evidence you might have, and try to convince him that the case really has no merit. I had a friend get out of a seatbelt ticket just last week by showing the PA that he had photos showing that it was impossible under the conditions for the officer to determine if his seatbelt was fastened (it was, incidentally) or not. No trial, no court, no nothing. Just dismissed. Your concern here is convincing the PA that you actually are serious, and you’ll go all the way to trial if you have to.

The attorney may also offer you a deal. If it’s a good deal, take it. To me, a good deal is a reduced fine, no points, no record, no insurance hit. Sometimes they may not reduce the fine, or they may require you to take a driving class, or some other crap. This is always open to negotiation, and feel free to ask for anything you think you might can get. What you will have to keep in mind is that if you can’t reach a deal here, it is going to at least cost you more time. The deal you will accept may depend on how valuable your time is to you. I have accepted some pretty mediocre deals just to keep the ticket off my record and keep me from spending any more time.

Sometimes, the PA won’t deal, or won’t make a deal that you can live with. In this case, he’ll set a trial date for you. This is not the end of the world, even though we don’t really want to go to court. At this point, you may wish to reconsider your driver’s education class, or you might want to get some more evidence, or you might want to go to court. These are all options you’ll have to weigh and validate for yourself. Every court and every case is different.

On the subject of evidence, I’ll just say this: I usually don’t bother gathering any, though I bring a briefcase to court to make it look like I have some. Remember, for me, this is all just a bluff to get out of the ticket. The last place I want to be is in front of a judge and jury – and I’ve only been there a couple of times. Often these cases will come down to the officer’s word against your word, and we all know how that comes out, right? Now, if you’re serious about going all the way to trial with this, you might want to contact the court and do a public records request and make sure that the officer is current with his calibrations and certifications. The paynofine pdf goes into that in a lot of detail, so I’ll refer you to that document if you want to pursue that route. Be aware that many officers do keep their calibrations and certifications current, or at the very least, make sure to make it look like they do.

The next thing that will happen is your trial date will come up, usually sometime in the moderately distant future. You will meet with the PA again before your trial. This is when your bargaining power is at its highest. He really doesn’t want a trial any more than you do, and he’s going to try to cut his losses. He does have a few hole cards though, he knows if the officer has shown up today, and he knows how solid (or not solid) his evidence against you is. If you have gotten to this point, now is the time to ask for the sun, the moon, and the stars. Chances are extremely good that you will get it.

If you don’t get it, you will proceed to trial. Scary, huh? Don’t sweat it so much. Pick the best jury you can, and make the prosecution prove their case. Don’t even worry so much about your evidence, or even if you can prove anything. Even if you lose, this is still far from over.

Remember that 105 in a 55 I mentioned above? The one I had to get a lawyer for? Well, it happened in the smallest of small towns, and the judge and PA didn’t want to deal. We went through all the steps above, and they were unyielding. Even the public records request was no help. To be fair, what I had done was a fairly serious crime, and I don’t blame them for wanting to nail my nuts to the wall over it. I know I deserved it. We went all the way to trial, picked a jury, went through trial, and lost. End of the world, game over, right?

Wrong. We immediately appealed the decision. This cost me a little bit of money, as I had to put up a bond equal to the amount of the ticket – which was not a small amount. This kicked my case up to the county level. Understand, county is a huge court, and they don’t normally deal with traffic tickets. They have ‘real crime’ to deal with, and much more serious things than a speeding ticket. They took one look at my case and said, “what in the hell is this doing clogging up my court?” Well, I assume that, because they were pissed when it came up. Note that they were not pissed at me, they were pissed at the lower court for not handling the case and keeping out of their hair. Regardless of the guilt, it was such a minor thing in the eyes of the county court that the lower court should have bargained with me so that it didn’t get to this level. But it did, and now it was wasting their time. Remember again, judges hate to have the court’s time wasted – only in this case, they saw it not as my fault, but the lower court’s fault. They were so mad, they knocked my fine down to a trivial amount and changed the ticket to an equipment violation, meaning no points, no record, and insurance never found out.

All that said, it is better to avoid getting a ticket in the first place. Always be alert, attentive, and use your radar detector. If you do manage to get stopped, be kind and courteous and try your best to negotiate a warning rather than a ticket.