Do I Need an Attorney to Fight a Traffic Ticket?
Do I Need an Attorney to Fight a Traffic Ticket?
Like clockwork I’m asked at least once a week whether I would suggest a potential client retain my services to fight a traffic violation in court. Like everything else in life, there are no cut and dry answers to this question. However, there are some general rules of thumb as to when it’s in your interest to have a criminal defense lawyer or dui lawyer by your side in court and when it might not be the wisest financial choice.
1.) If charged with a criminal traffic offense such as Operating a Motor Vehicle While Intoxicated, Driving While Suspended, Reckless Driving, etc., it is almost always in one’s interest to have a criminal attorney by your side. Any traffic offense that can land you in jail and/or with a suspended license is one that should be handled by a criminal attorney. Depending upon the jurisdiction, too many good people make the critical mistake of thinking that a court appearance is not a big deal if it is heard in traffic court. After all, “I’m not a criminal” such people say to themselves, why do I need to retain a criminal defense lawyer? Whether one likes it or not, drunk driving, driving while suspended, reckless driving etc. are considered criminal offenses in nearly all American courtrooms.
Unfortunately, one always has to keep in mind that a traffic law prosecutor often gets promoted on the severity of the criminal sentence imposed and NOT in looking out for one accused of a driving offenses best interests. As a result, it is often imperative that one accused of such a criminal offense in traffic court not leave potential criminal penalty and/or license suspension in the hands of one assigned to prosecute you for a criminal offense. By sending a message to a prosecutor that you will not be taken advantage of, it is often only the services of a criminal attorney that can eliminate the prospect of jail and/or probation with costly impediments to your liberty and livelihood.
By finding ways to reduce criminal charges that may otherwise prevent license suspensions with costly increases in high risk insurance rates or by impressing upon a prosecutor that it will require more effort than a prosecution is worth not to resolve the case in a prompt and fair manner, an effective criminal attorney is often well worth the financial investment. Depending upon the state, it is always advisable to consult with a criminal lawyer for free as to the criminal offense charged in traffic court and a winning strategy to employ within the particular courtroom one finds themselves in.
2.) One does not need to employ a criminal defense lawyer or dui attorney if charged with a traffic “infraction” that may not result in possible jail time or possible driver’s license suspension. In most American courtrooms a traffic infraction is a traffic violation that is punishable by monetary fine and/or adverse points to your driving record.
Unless circumstances exist where too many traffic infractions accumulated may result in a license suspension by your state’s department of motor vehicles, it is usually a wiser financial move to save whatever monies would be payable to a criminal attorney and use it to pay for any potential traffic fine for the violation. Yes, a defense attorney may be willing to fight an infraction for you in court at trial. However, in good conscience there are many criminal attorneys such as myself who take the position that such actions usually do more to benefit the financial interests of the trial attorney as opposed to the client paying them.
“But the police officer was wrong to ticket me, do I not have the right to go to trial?” Yes, you have the right to trial. However, unlike a criminal case standard whereby a prosecutor must find a criminal defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt to sustain a criminal conviction, a traffic infraction is far different. To sustain a conviction for a traffic infraction, a prosecutor need only prove evidence of a driving offense by a “preponderance of the evidence,” or in plain English, “more likely than not.”
In the real world “in my opinion” too many judges are constrained in siding for those challenging traffic infractions, for to side with one challenging a ticket is to rebuke a police officer who will undoubtedly come before that same judge on a regular basis. Are there courageous and principled jurists in infraction trials, undoubtedly yes. However, weighed against the significant financial resources one must pay a criminal attorney or dui lawyer to fight such an infraction and the steep odds against the average person’s word against a police officer’s, one may find it far less costly to pay the ticket at an early stage in the proceedings without being victimized further at a later date.
Alternatively, if one’s driving record is good, it is always wise to inquire whether the local prosecutor and/or court has a traffic deferral program, safe driver program or some other program with a name touting the virtues of safe driving. Often for less than the price of paying a ticket, one with a good driving record can have their case dismissed upon payment of fine and no further traffic violation within a prescribed period of time.