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When Is It Too Late to Challenge a Traffic Ticket?

Upset young man had a car accident
By Christopher Coble, Esq. on October 15, 2018 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

You didn't think you were speeding. You definitely had your blinker on. And there's no way you rolled through that stop sign without stopping. But here you are, pulled over on the side of the road, with an officer writing you a traffic ticket.

She's probably explaining your legal options to either pay the ticket online or by mail, appear in court, or challenge the ticket. But how long do you have to challenge a traffic ticket before it's too late?

Should I Challenge?

First things first: You need to decide whether fighting your traffic ticket is a good idea. While there are some strategies that might work even if you know you're guilty, in most cases the cost of the ticket is less than the time and expense it would take to fight it. Especially considering your offense, points, or fine might be lessened if you agree to attend traffic school or perform community service.

That is not to say that you shouldn't challenge a traffic ticket, only that you'll want to consider the risks and benefits first -- because whether and how you choose to fight a traffic ticket will affect how long you have to fight it.

When and How to Challenge

There are different ways to challenge a traffic ticket, and some that will extend your time to challenge. As an initial matter, your ticket will lay out your options as far as payment are concerned and perhaps have a deadline for payment. The ticket may also include a date to appear in court. This date may be optional if you'd like to challenge the ticket, or mandatory to see a prosecutor or a judge.

The deadline for payment or court date will vary depending on where you got the ticket, but will generally fall between 30 and 60 days. The Constitution guarantees every criminal defendant the right to a speedy trial, although states may set different deadlines and they may vary depending on the alleged offense. Some jurisdictions may also ask you to waive your right to a speedy trial -- declining to do so could be a tactic of forcing an earlier court date for your challenge or, in the alternative, a dismissal. But if you do nothing at all before these initial deadlines or fail to appear at your court date, you may forfeit your right to challenge and start racking up extra offenses and fines.

If you have proof that you didn't violate any traffic laws, you might want to challenge your ticket as soon as possible. If, however, you're angling for a dismissal based on an officer's failure to appear, requesting an extension on your court date may help. Extensions as well will depend on jurisdiction, court calendars, and officer availability.

There's a lot of speculation and misinformation out there regarding traffic tickets and challenges. To see if fighting your ticket is a good idea and to confirm your deadlines to challenge a traffic ticket, you may want to talk to an experienced traffic ticket attorney.

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