Everyone has either gotten a ticket themselves or knows someone who has; it’s such a common part of everyday life that many people probably don’t even give it a second thought. You get the ticket, pay it, get it over with, and move on. But what many people don’t realize is that there are consequences to simply paying off the ticket.
Even if you’re savvy enough to elect to take traffic school rather than just paying the fine, you only have a limited number of elections permitted, and you can’t choose that option for every citation. So what do you do? Is something as simple as a speeding ticket really this complicated?
The back of the ticket you’re given (when cited for a traffic infraction) lists the various options you have to resolve the ticket. The first option, which many people elect without reading the full fine print, is to simply pay the civil penalty listed in the citation. Without reading the fine print, many don’t realize that paying the civil penalty is considered a conviction and will lead to points being assessed against your driver’s license.
A “conviction” is the basis for the collateral consequences that stem from traffic tickets: the DHSMV will assess points on your license based upon convictions, and convictions are what cause your insurance rates to increase. If you get enough points it can even cause your driver’s license to be suspended. But many people simply elect to pay the ticket and move on without realizing that it leads to a conviction.
So what do you do to avoid the dreaded points that are assessed from the conviction? In some circumstances you can elect to take a traffic school, but again you can only do that so many times. The other option is to hire an attorney to handle the traffic citation for you to ensure you receive what is called a withhold of adjudication.
A withhold of adjudication is the opposite of a conviction, and means that you are not formally considered guilty of the offense. This carries various legal implications, the main one in this context being that no points will be assessed against your license when adjudication is withheld.
Obviously, any attorney’s main goal would be to get the ticket dismissed entirely. We first look for technical defects in the citation itself that we can raise as grounds for dismissal. If there are no technical defects, we then question the officer and any other witnesses (usually only crash cases) as to what they observed to determine what their testimony would be. Based upon what we believe their testimony would be from speaking with them, we may decide to conduct a hearing.
A hearing is essentially a mini-trial in which the State is required to prove that you committed the traffic infraction for which you were cited beyond a reasonable doubt. They must also prove your identity as the driver of the vehicle, which is why we recommend our clients don’t come to court, as that would make it easier for a witness to identify them.
The problem with a hearing is that if we lose, the judge may impose an adjudication of guilt, resulting in a conviction and points. So we must make an on-the-spot assessment of the case and determine whether to go for the dismissal and risk it, or make sure we at least get the withhold of adjudication. If we do not fight it at a hearing, we are almost always able to ensure a withhold of adjudication through a negotiated resolution with the officer and the court.
Not only are we able to work out a resolution that guarantees a withhold of adjudication, but we’re also able to negotiate an amendment to the citation. For instance, if you have your Commercial Driver’s License (CDL), even a withhold of adjudication to a moving violation can affect your license status. We are able to get the citation amended to a nonmoving violation so it would not affect your CDL.
There are also certain traffic offenses that have collateral consequences even if adjudication is withheld. For example, even a withhold of adjudication to unknowingly driving with a suspended license counts as a conviction for purposes of becoming a habitual traffic offender, a status that carries with it a five year driver’s license revocation.
As you can see, even something as simple as a speeding ticket can be rather complicated and take a variety of different paths. While it may be tempting to just pay the ticket and move on, that can carry consequences not just at that time but down the road as well. That’s why it’s important that no matter what citation you receive, you contact a traffic lawyer experienced in handling traffic citations to discuss the best option for you. Our traffic lawyers have combined decades of experience in traffic court, so if you or a loved one receives a traffic citation, please don’t hesitate to reach out to ensure you take the path that is best for you. Give us a call 24/7 at 386-222-6677 to schedule your free initial consultation.