Can you guess which topic lawyers get asked about by friends and family most often?
If you guessed “speeding tickets,” you are correct!
When you receive a speeding ticket, usually the quickest and easiest thing to do is to admit guilt and pay the citation online or by mail.
But what if you don’t want to? What if you believe that you weren’t speeding or that you didn’t roll through that stop sign?
Most citations will tell you when and where to go for court. The first court date is usually called an “arraignment.” When the judge calls your case, you approach a podium to state your plea.
Generally, you have two options:
1. Admit fault by pleading guilty or “no contest”
2. Plead not guilty
But if you’re going to admit guilt, why not just save yourself the trouble of going to court? After all, you can pay your ticket online or by mail, remember?
Here’s why — because in many states, judges have the authority to reduce fines. So if you don’t go to court, you can’t seek a reduction.
But I also said you could plead “no contest.” No contest—or nolo contender, which is Latin for “I don’t want to dispute”—has the same effect as admitting guilt… except you’re not admitting guilt.
The benefit of a no contest plea is often—but not always—that because you didn’t admit guilt, you can avoid an admission of fault in a related civil case where someone might be trying to fault you for an auto accident.
On the other hand, pleading not guilty means you’re requesting a traffic-court trial. The judge will set a date and will subpoena the officer who gave you the ticket to come to court on that date.
Here’s a little trick: if the officer doesn’t show up for the trial, then typically, you win your case. That’s why many drivers request trials—not because they want to fight their ticket, but because they’re hoping the officer won’t come to court.
As far as trials go, traffic trials are fairly simple. But they can still present challenges for someone with no legal training, so you might want to contact a traffic attorney if you choose to go this route.
© 2023 Dan Karon. All Rights Reserved.