October 24, 2015 • By Dennis Beaver
If you’ve just received a traffic ticket that you’d like to fight and unsure about representing yourself or hiring a traffic ticket attorney, we’ll give our recommendation in a moment.
But first, by the time you read this article, the end of a “pay to play” unconstitutional traffic court racket should be fully implemented, state-wide, preventing many people from losing their driver’s license for lack of money to get into traffic court.
As we reported in early October, the California Judicial Council – judges who supervise our court system – told all counties in the state, with some exceptions, to stop requiring drivers to pay fines before they were found guilty.
For many years, access to traffic court depended on having the money to pre-pay fines and “penalty assessments,” creating two classes of defendants: those with the money to post “bail” thereby having their day in court, and others who chose feeding their children over what has been referred to as “state-sponsored extortion.”
Traffic court was the only place where you could be innocent, yet not get into court in the first place without, financially “doing the time” before being found guilty.
“This change in procedure could be significant,” says attorney Paul Harman — who handles traffic cases throughout Central and Southern California. When drivers in California realize they no longer have to post several hundred dollars in bail to challenge a traffic ticket, more will likely decide to contest their citations rather than simply admitting guilt and paying the fine.
“There’s really no downside to contesting a ticket. If you lose, your fines will generally be about the same as if you had plead guilty. But, if you win your case on the merits or if the officer doesn’t come to court, you will save hundreds of dollars. That’s a huge incentive to fight the ticket.”
There is an important consideration for anyone who is thinking about representing themselves in traffic court and has no idea how to proceed. From the results we have seen traffic ticket attorneys obtain with very difficult –license threatening situations — in our opinion it is often well worth the expense of hiring a lawyer who concentrates on motor vehicle law.
What can a lawyer do for me that I cannot do for myself?
Lawyers who specialize in traffic citations are often miracle workers for drivers facing increased insurance premiums or the loss of their license. This is a highly technical area of the law, and, at the same time, one where a lawyer’s people skills — establishing a trusting relationship among traffic officers and judges — greatly benefits clients.
We asked, “What can a traffic attorney do for me that I likely cannot do for myself?” The list is a long one and begins with a significant savings of time, as Harmon outlined:
“One main advantage of hiring a traffic attorney is that we can make all appearances for you, so taking time off of work or away from family will not be necessary.” In addition, he listed the following benefits of hiring an experienced traffic attorney:
- Traffic attorneys know which violations affect insurance rates and which ones do not.
- Traffic attorneys are often able to negotiate a reduction to a non-point violation so no points will be assessed one’s license.
- Traffic attorneys know the traffic officers and how they are likely to testify. They also know when it is possible to negotiate a resolution that is time saving and a win for everyone.
- Appearing in court frequently facilitates relationship building with officers and court staff that enables creative solutions that benefit clients.
- Knowing the technicalities of challenging calibration of radar or Lidar equipment and, if successful, results in that evidence being excluded, which often gets the ticket dismissed as well.
- Traffic attorneys also know that what looks like a great deal on the surface, could spell real trouble later. For example, if a commercial truck driver receives a speeding or a lane violation ticket, a judge or even the issuing traffic officer might suggest pleading to Vehicle Code Section 21710, coasting, which carries a fine but no point count.
“That’s great if you have a California commercial license. But, many other states assess points for a coasting violation. Traffic attorneys are familiar with these types of details and thereby help to protect your license by avoiding such pitfalls,” Harman concludes.
Finally, you want an experienced lawyer who has been doing this type of law for years, not someone fresh out of law school. Also, a local lawyer – or one who has a real presence in a nearby community — is important. Do your homework and research before your agree to hire anyone.
Dennis Beaver practices law in Bakersfield and enjoys hearing from his readers. Contact Dennis Beaver.