Receiving a Citation

Contents

An appearance in traffic court begins with the issuance of a ticket. A police officer writes the ticket based on a traffic violation he has witnessed. The face of the ticket sets out the violation, location, date and time of the offense and the officer's name and badge number. If any of these items vary from the actual offense, the ticket will be dismissed.

Example: If you are cited for driving 45 mph in a 30 mph zone but the legal speed limit is really 25 mph, the ticket is dismissed.

The ticket acts as a legal notice to the person who has been cited of the following:

  • the specific traffic violation
  • the amount of the fine
  • the deadline for paying the fine
  • the procedure for making a guilty plea
  • the deadline for entering a guilty plea

If you do not understand the information on the ticket, call the court clerk at the telephone number listed on the ticket. You may also be able to access your city's traffic court Web site, which may provide answers to your questions. If the Web site is not listed on the ticket, ask the clerk if there is one and request the Internet address.

Do I have to sign the speeding ticket I am being issued?

No, but you will likely be arrested and taken into custody if you do not. Signing the ticket is an acknowledgment that you have received notice to appear before a judge at a certain time and date. By signing, you are not taken into custody on the theory that you are free on your own recognizance until the court date.

If I sign a traffic ticket, am I admitting guilt?

No. You are acknowledging that you have been notified of the charge against you and a pending court date.

I received a speeding ticket and signed it. What do I do now?

Immediately write down the circumstances of the traffic stop: what you said to the officer; what she said to you; where you were going; the weather and details about the charge (speed, yellow light, obstructed stop sign).

Before the date requiring you to appear in front of the judge, you must decide whether you want to fight the ticket, simply pay the fine or work out a compromise (e.g., taking a defensive driving course).

Should I pay the fine with cash?

It is simple to pay the fine or penalty you owe as shown on the ticket. Although you can mail it in, plan to pay in person at the traffic or municipal court building. Make sure you obtain a receipt. If you can, pay with a personal check, as this is further proof of payment of the fact that you paid the ticket if payment is ever disputed.

TIP: The court can issue an arrest warrant if your ticket is not paid and you have not appeared to plead guilty or not guilty. After you pay the fine, mark your calendar or use your e-mail program to remind you to check with the clerk 30 days after payment. Verify with the clerk that your payment has been entered into their computer system and that an arrest warrant has not been mistakenly issued.

Does paying the fine have any consequences?

Although it is the easiest alternative, paying the fine can have severe consequences. At the very least, a traffic offense on your driving record will increase your automobile insurance. If you have had citations in the past, you may be close to having your license suspended. Some states use a point system to determine whether to suspend your license. If you live in a point system state, call the clerk at the traffic court to find out how many points you have and how many will be added if you pay the fine on the current citation. Do not pay if you will incur enough points for the state to suspend your license.

Can I pay my fine out over time?

Yes, if the prosecutor or judge agrees to accept partial payments. If the fine is large, ask if you can spread out the payment over 3 or 4 months when you appear at your court date.

TIP: You can also request an extension of time to pay. For example, you might agree to pay the fine in 2 weeks when you receive your paycheck.

Sidebar: Always check the deadline for payment. You may be required to pay the fine (or appear in court) in as little as 7 days. Do not miss the deadline by mailing the fine too late.

Can I pay the fine by mail?

Yes. Most fines can be sent directly to the city traffic court or municipal clerk. Look for instructions and an address on the ticket. If mailing the fine is not mentioned on the ticket, call the telephone number and ask what to do.

TIP: Do not send a personal check if the citation indicates that only cash or money orders will be accepted.

Do I need to hire an attorney?

If you have had previous citations, think seriously about hiring a local attorney specializing in traffic tickets. These attorneys spend a good part of their day at traffic court working out deals favorable to their clients with prosecutors. Although a lawyer can never ethically guarantee a result, the attorney who regularly deals with traffic offenses will have a good idea of what you can expect, depending on the offense and your driving record. Be prepared to pay at least $50 for representation on a first citation for speeding, for instance. You may be charged several hundred dollars for a more serious or a repeat offense.

The attorney does not make the ticket "go away." Tickets are only dismissed if they are defective or you fight the ticket and win. The traffic ticket attorney typically obtains deferred adjudication for his client. The term refers to the possibility of dismissal of the ticket after a period of time during which you must remain free of further citations.

I received my first traffic ticket in years and want to fight it. Do I need to hire an attorney?

No. If your citation is relatively common (speeding, for instance), you have a good driving record and a valid basis for fighting the ticket, you can probably defend the ticket yourself.

TIP: If your ticket is for reckless driving, for driving significantly over the speed limit or driving while intoxicated, it is highly recommended that you speak with an attorney.

I want to fight a traffic ticket I received, but if I lose the case my license can be suspended. Should I hire an attorney?

Yes. The suspension of your license is a serious matter-for example, you might be unable to get to work. A lawyer may be able to plea bargain with the prosecutor and avoid a suspended license.

I received a ticket while traveling in another state. Do I have to travel back there for my court date?

No, not if you hire a lawyer. A lawyer may be worth the cost in this situation. She can represent you and save you travel time and expenses.

What is deferred adjudication?

Deferred adjudication is common in traffic court cases because it is an efficient way for prosecutors to dispose of the caseload. You get the advantage of avoiding a citation on your driving record. However, obtaining deferred adjudication is neither free nor cheap. Generally, after deferred adjudication is granted, courts assess approximately $100 or more in fines. The court could also require you to attend defensive driving school, which is another expense you will occur. Once a period of time has passed-90 days is a typical time period-and the conditions of deferred adjudication are met, the ticket is dismissed. Check with the court clerk on the steps necessary to confirm that your deferred adjudication is completed and that your ticket has, in fact, been dismissed.

TIP: You do not need an attorney to obtain deferred adjudication for yourself. It is perfectly acceptable for you to request it yourself from either the prosecutor or judge.

TIP: If you received a citation in another city, call the clerk listed on the ticket and ask how you can obtain deferred adjudication. She will tell you if it is possible. You may be required to write a letter to the judge formally requesting deferred adjudication with a check enclosed to cover the fees. If it is granted, it is common for the court to order you to attend driving school and send the certificate of completion to the clerk within 90 days.

Is deferred adjudication a type of probation?

Deferred adjudication is probation. You are on probation for a number of months, and if you maintain a good driving record during those months (plus any other conditions of probation), your ticket will be dismissed.

Deferred adjudication is going to cost more than paying the fine. Why not just pay the fine?

By paying the fine, the offense stays on your driving record. Your insurance could be affected, and in some states, points are added to your driving record that could result in a suspension.

The court clerk told me I do not qualify for deferred adjudication. Why not?

You have too many past citations, are unable to show proof of insurance, were cited for speeds over a certain limit or have taken a driving course in the past 12 months (if the course if required as part of deferred adjudication).

Sidebar: If you hold a commercial driver's license, you may not qualify for deferred adjudication even if you were driving your personal vehicle.

I received tickets for both speeding and unsafe driving at the same traffic stop. Will deferred adjudication take care of both charges?

No. Typically, one of the conditions of deferred adjudication is taking a driver safety or defensive driving course. However, completing the course only satisfies the requirements for one charge, and you cannot take more than one course in a 12-month period. Unless you can get the judge to agree not to impose a driver safety course as a condition of one of the charges, you will have to fight that ticket or plead "guilty/no contest."

TIP: You must take the course from a state certified driving safety school. If the course you choose is not certified, your attendance will not satisfy the requirements of deferred adjudication.

Can I call the judge to ask for deferred adjudication?

No. The judge will only speak to you regarding the matter in open court. You must appear at your court date or set the ticket for trial.

TIP: You can ask the court clerk or prosecutor if you qualify for deferred adjudication.

Can I plead "not guilty" and receive deferred adjudication?

No. You must be "convicted" in order to receive a sentence. In this case, your sentence is probation. You must plead guilty or no contest.

I did not complete my driver's safety course as required by deferred adjudication. What are the consequences?

Your probation is revoked and a warrant may be issued for your arrest.

After my probationary period is up, do I need to do anything else to satisfy deferred adjudication requirements?

Yes. You will be required to present the court clerk with a copy of your driving record from the Department of Motor Vehicles (showing no new citations) and a certificate of completion for a driver's safety course (if that was required).

Is there a deadline for providing the court with a copy of my driving record and completion certificate?

Yes. You must present the required paperwork on or before the date your probationary time period expires.

TIP: Deferred adjudication is usually a 90-day probationary period. You should immediately enroll in a driver's safety course once deferred adjudication is granted. It can take up to a month to receive the completion certificate. You must factor the delay into the time you have to satisfy the requirements of deferred adjudication.

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