Tips for winning in traffic court

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Traffic court

Waiting in line at traffic court. These defendants should have worn suits. Image: ericrichardson/Flickr/CC BY

How a motorist acts at a traffic stop can help avoid or minimize the impact of a traffic ticket. But if a ticket was issued, and you feel it was unfairly imposed, then you may want to go to traffic court and challenge it. Following the tips below may help you to achieve the best resolution if you have a strong case.

Attorney alternative

Usually the stakes are so low in traffic court that it doesn’t warrant hiring legal counsel. But if the charges are serious enough to possibly warrant jail time or the loss of a license, by all means, lawyer up. To not do so would, as the old adage goes, make you a counselor with a fool for a client.

Most of the time, though, going it solo is the only real option to avoid going into debt. So, here are some guidelines to use in approaching your traffic court appearance.

Be prepared

Do your homework. Go to the DMV and purchase a copy of the Vehicle Code, or find a copy in your local library. Look up the violation you were cited for. Knowing the exact wording of the law will help to know what angles you can and cannot approach for a defense. For instance, the law may include a statement that keeping up with faster traffic is not a defense against exceeding the speed limit. That rules out one possible argument.

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Examine ticket carefully

Mistakes serious enough to make a ticket inadmissible in court appear on these documents more often than you might think — about one time in 25, according to Traffic Ticket Secrets. Identify them, if any, and present them in court.

Supporting evidence

If you feel you have a strong case, be sure to present any supporting evidence you can. Photographs, witness statements and diagrams will all help communicate your position to the court.

Dress to impress

You are going into a court of law, where you will be under close scrutiny. You want the judge, prosecutors and other court officials to view you as upstanding, responsible and prepared. Being well-groomed and wearing a nice business suit can only help with those all-important first impressions.

Follow respect protocol

Showing respect is important in a court of law. Arrive on time, and always address the judge as “your honor.” If you are wearing a hat or sunglasses, make sure they come off before entering the courtroom.

Traffic school

Some offenses can be written off if you attend a traffic safety class. If this is an option for your offense, it probably won’t save you money upfront — you have to pay for the class — but it will save you the ding on your driving record and keep insurance premiums down.

Trial by mail

Many legal jurisdictions will allow plaintiffs to argue their cases by mail if requested. There are two advantages to going this route. First, you have time to sit and calmly reason out what you will say without the pressure of being under the courtroom spotlight. Secondly, if the case is lost you can still request a physical trial, giving you another shot at your defense.

Plea bargaining

If you feel the ticketing officer has a strong case that would be hard to fight, you may try for a plea bargain to lower the impact of the hit. Call the court clerk’s office and ask to speak with the prosecutor. Perhaps a deal can be struck.


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Traffic Ticket Secrets 

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