May 18, 2013 • By Dennis Beaver
While lots of attorneys in California are looking for work, San Joaquin College of Law graduate Paul Denni considers himself fortunate in his choice of legal specialties.
Throughout Southern California, Denni handles traffic defense cases, including red light camera, speed violations, exhibition of speed, DUI and driving on a suspended license.
In our last two columns, he provided a great deal of useful advice on handling red light camera tickets, and this time he offers money-saving advice for anyone who has gotten a moving violation.
Fines are insanely expensive: Don’t just roll over!
“For many traffic tickets, fines can go into the hundreds — and at times, thousands — of dollars. They are pure revenue for states, cities and counties and have turned traffic officers into giant, guaranteed-pay slot machines. Many of these officers object to tremendous pressure on them to increase their output of tickets. California has seen an increase of 200,000 tickets when compared with earlier years, generating more than an additional $50 million a year.
“They had always been seen as a little sting — calling attention to a driver’s behavior which needed correcting — but not so punitive and expensive as to put other daily expenses at risk of not being paid or insurance rates going way up.
“You have nothing to lose in contesting a ticket,” Denni said.
“But many people are not inclined to fight tickets because they do not want to go to court. Hire a lawyer or fight it yourself, it is always best to appear, especially if you failed to take care of a ticket and it became a misdemeanor failure to appear which could result in arrest and/or impoundment of your car is pulled over.
“However, the court will often dismiss the FTA when you come to court, and I have even seen judges simply reward honesty, especially if there is a valid reason you could not appear.
“Acceptable reasons are being in the military, hospitalized or when the person with the FTA is incarcerated. While not technically a way out, a doctor’s note will often help, explaining why you could not come to court even if you were not in the hospital.”
Set the trial far out; the officer might not appear
“Let’s say you appear in court, ask for a trial and the clerk will give you a date. When set out as far as possible, the officer’s memory gets hazy. You want it set well beyond 45 days. Some officers make good notes, others do not, come to court and admit that they cannot recall the details and your case will be dismissed.
“But often the officers simply do not show. Out of a 100 traffic trials, about 40 to 50 percent of the time they are a no-show usually entitling you to a dismissal. A local police or sheriff’s officer is less likely to appear, as they are out handling real crime. But the highway patrol usually will be in court, as issuing tickets is almost all they do.”
Correct behavior and dress will reward you
“The way you dress for court and how you act is critically important. For men there is no need to wear a suit, but please, tuck in your shirt and wear a long-sleeved shirt, especially if you have tattoos.
“Show respect for the court and do not come in with a chip on your shoulder no matter how unfair you believe the ticket to be. Do not say, ‘I plead guilty with an explanation,’ because there is no such thing and this drives judges crazy, which is something you don’t want for obvious reasons.
“It is a very good idea to spend time in court a few days before your appearance and just observe. This will make the entire process seem less confusing. Always follow the bailiff’s instructions and remember that being polite is always a nice gesture for the people around us.
And speaking of being polite, there is indeed a way to avoid a ticket in the first place, and here’s how:
• Be respectful to the officer and pull over immediately when safe.
• Have your license and registration ready before he comes to your car.
• Be compliant. Use “sir” or “ma’am.”
• You are not a mind reader. If asked, ‘Do you know why I pulled you over?’ reply that you do not know why. Do not say why you thought he pulled you over.
• Don’t have a bad case of “misdemeanor bad-mouth, or say, ‘I did it! Just write me a ticket!’ Being rude = you just won a ticket and he will be in court.
Denni’s website is www.DUIandTrafficAttorney.com. It’s an excellent read.
Dennis Beaver practices law in Bakersfield and enjoys hearing from his readers. Contact Dennis Beaver.