How to Fight Traffic Tickets, Five Strategies that Work
This article lays out five strategies that many have found useful in fighting traffic tickets they received. These tickets range from speeding tickets, to tickets for running red lights captured by a red light camera.
1. Dispute the Police Officer's Personal Opinion
Police officers often cite drivers for making unsafe turns or driving unsafely down a road. These tickets require the officer to put down his personal opinion and come to a subjective conclusion about what happened. If you have received a ticket where the officer needed to exercise some sort of personal judgment about the situation, you may be able to challenge that judgment.
For example, suppose you were cited with an unsafe lane change while driving on the highway. If you show up to fight the ticket, you can argue that your lane change was safe given the weather and traffic conditions at that time. To further support your argument, you could point out that the police officer was in front of you during the lane change, and that, due to the heavy traffic conditions, the officer most likely was paying more attention to the road in front of him rather than a car changing lanes behind him.
Subjective tickets are also issued in some states that have leave it up to the police officer to determine whether a driver is driving at a safe speed. These speeding tickets are often challenged by those who are cited. In states that have such laws, the posted speed limit is not the clear-cut law, and a driver has the discretion to travel at a speed that is safe given the traffic conditions. If you have received a speeding ticket for going above the posted speed limit in such a state, you may be able to challenge the officer's opinion by proving that your speed was safe given the conditions.
As an example, if an officer cites you for going 75 mph in a posted 65 mph zone, you may argue that your speed was safe because all of the cars in your lane were also traveling at 75 mph, and thus, it would be unsafe to drive at or below 65 mph.
2. Dispute the Police Officer's Presentation of Evidence
There are yet other types of tickets where the police officer's judgment cannot be called into question. These tickets generally have to do with tickets that are clear cut, like running through a stop sign or making an illegal U-turn. Here, challenging a ticket involves challenging whether or not the officer saw you perform the ticketed action. The results of these types of cases will generally boil down to who the judge believes, and you, as the driver, will often have a high burden to overcome. However, there are certain types of arguments and evidence that you can present that may help your case by calling into question the officer's observations.
Some of the best arguments and evidence to present in such a situation are:
- Eyewitness statements from passengers, other drivers on the road or pedestrians that will confirm your story.
- Diagrams, diagrams, diagrams. The more clearly you can show where your car was in relation to the officer's car at the time of the citation, the more robust an argument you can make. For instance, a great diagram would show that the officer could not have seen you run a red light because he was trailing you too far behind to see whether or not your car was in the intersection at the time the light turned red.
- Photographs of the scene of the alleged traffic violation. Photographs can help you if, for example, they demonstrate your claim that a stop sign was obscured by an overhanging limb, or show that a traffic light was out of power at a certain time of day.
3. Present Evidence that the Traffic Violation was a "Mistake of Fact"
In most jurisdictions, the judge hearing your case will be allowed to come to their own decision regarding the traffic ticket if presented with the right evidence. For certain types of tickets, like running a stop sign, you may be allowed to present evidence that you should not be required to pay the ticket because you made a "mistake of fact."
Mistakes of fact are mistakes made by drivers about the situation. To clarify, it helps to look at a few examples. First, it would be a mistake of fact if you were driving in two lanes because the lane markers were so worn down by use that you could not see them. Second, it would be a mistake of fact to make an illegal right turn because wind had recently blown down the no right turn sign.
Often, a judge will toss out a ticket that has been issued against you if you can show that you had inadequate notice. For example, if you regularly drive a stretch of road everyday and one day are ticketed for running a stop sign that was installed the previous day, you can argue that you had insufficient notice about the new sign, and that you made a mistake of fact. However, if the stop sign was up long enough for you to be aware of it, or if you never drove that stretch of road before, or if you were driving recklessly and failed to see the sign, you would probably not win this argument.
4. Argue that Your Driving Was Justified
Another way to fight traffic tickets is not to deny or point out mistakes in the ticketing process, but rather to admit to the illegal driving but present another fact that makes the illegal driving justified and allowable. This is a great way to fight a ticket because you do not have to dispute the officer's statement or the charge in the ticket, but rather show circumstances that necessitated your driving.
For instance, if you were ticketed for driving too quickly on the highway, you may present evidence that you were passing a car that you thought had a drunk driver. In this situation, your speeding may be warranted as you were trying to prevent an accident that may have caused a multi-car pile up. However, this defense would be negated if the officer could prove that you kept your high speed even after passing the other vehicle on the road.
As another example, if you are ticketed for changing lanes recklessly and stopping on a highway, you may be able to fight the ticket by showing that you felt waves of dizziness and felt like fainting while driving. You pulled over your car and stopped as soon as you could so as to avoid passing out while driving. A judge could very well agree that your conduct was legally justified and throw out the ticket.
5. Argue that Your Ticketed Driving Was Necessary to Prevent Harm
This defense is much like the one above in that you are trying to show that your ticketed driving was necessary in order to prevent immediate harm to you or others. Speeding on the highway in order to prevent an accident is a prime example. Another example is swerving dangerously in order to prevent hitting a pedestrian who has fallen off a sidewalk and into the lane you are driving in. The key to this argument is to show a judge that, if you had not taken the action you did, someone would have been seriously hurt.
Get Professional Help When Fighting a Traffic Ticket
There are very few circumstances when you'll need to retain a lawyer to help take care of a traffic ticket. But, like most legal decisions, it comes down to the stakes involved. If a ticket will significantly increase your auto insurance or lead to a license suspension, you may want to speak with a traffic law attorney for guidance.
See FindLaw's How to Fight a Ticket section for additional articles and resources.
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