When to Hire a Traffic Ticket Lawyer
From a speeding violation to forgetting to use your turn signal, even the most routine traffic stop can add up quickly; thus, sometimes, hiring a traffic ticket lawyer can make a difference—especially regarding reduced fines, keeping points off your driver's license, and avoiding increased insurance rates.
However, is contesting the ticket in court beneficial to your specific situation? Let's take a look at the important factors.
Traffic Lawyer Goals
Attorneys specialize in particular areas of the law—meaning they are well-versed in legal language and can use that knowledge and experience to identify flaws in the case brought against you (or at least lessen your penalties).
In particular, a traffic ticket attorney specializes in laws related to driving; such lawyers defend traffic court cases varying from routine moving violations (such as running a traffic light) to more serious situations (such as driving under the influence).
Regardless of the violation circumstances, a seasoned lawyer works to reduce your traffic ticket penalties, negotiate alternative penalties, and/or dismiss the ticket altogether.
Reducing Ticket Penalties
Generally, reducing ticket penalties means getting the judge to reduce or dismiss your fines and/or driver's license points.
Obviously, a reduction or elimination in fines will make your bank account happy, but understand that reducing or eliminating your driver's license points can also help you avoid various situations—from increased car insurance rates to license suspension.
Typically, in this situation, even if your attorney is able to get your points dismissed, the record of your violation will still remain on your driving history.
Negotiating Alternative Discipline
One of the most common alternatives to standard ticket penalties is attending traffic school.
Not only can traffic school help you get a ticket dismissed, but it can also remove driver's license points (or prevent points from accumulating, depending on your state's laws) and even lower your car insurance rates.
So, when a judge offers traffic school in lieu of more serious penalties (or even as a way to lessen other penalties), consider taking the opportunity.
Getting the Ticket Dismissed
Because they're familiar with the traffic laws, many traffic ticket lawyers can get a ticket dismissed if:
- The issuing officer doesn't appear in court.
- You agree to plea to another less serious non-moving violation.
- You comply with an unsupervised probationary period.
Understand that even if your ticket gets dismissed, the court still might require you to pay some or all the fines.
Attorney Costs vs. Ticket Costs
As appealing as hiring a traffic ticket lawyer sounds, you still must determine whether the attorney's fee is worth the possibility of avoiding the ticket penalties.
For the most part, lawyers don't come cheap; always ask about their fees upfront, and then— based on those fees—ask yourself:
- Is the traffic ticket fine less than the lawyer's fee?
- Can I afford points on my driver's license?
- How much will my car insurance rates increase, if at all?
- Here, you'll want to contact your insurance provider for details. If your rates will significantly increase, you might consider getting quotes from other providers.
However, some traffic lawyers waive their fees in the event they're unable to successfully fight your case; of course, you must be clear on what the lawyer considers “successful." For example, your attorney might waive your fee if he is unable to get your ticket dismissed; on the other hand, your lawyer might require you pay his fee if he's able to lessen the penalties in any way.
Public defenders, or court-appointed attorneys, are lawyers who help people who can't afford private legal defense.
Generally, drivers don't hire public defenders to contest less serious moving violations, such as running a stop sign; depending on your local government policies, a public defender might not even be an option for such cases.
However, if you can't afford a private attorney, some serious violations might warrant looking into a public defender. Such cases include reckless driving, drunk driving, or any violation that carries jail time.
If you can't afford a private attorney but feel your case is serious enough for legal representation, talk to the court about getting a public defender assigned to you. Again, depending on your government's policies, generally you'll qualify for a court-appointed attorney if you're unemployed or can prove you and/or your family are on a budget too tight for lawyer fees.
Hiring a Traffic Lawyer
Once you've weighed the pros and cons, and determined if the cost of the lawyer is worth it to you, take a look at some additional factors to consider when hiring a traffic ticket lawyer:
- Local attorneys are familiar with your area's traffic codes, and they're more likely to understand the actions of the area's police officers and judges.
- How long has the lawyer been practicing? Are you comfortable with an attorney fresh out of law school, or with one more familiar with the courtroom?
- Don't feel awkward asking the lawyer about his success rate in getting tickets dismissed, fines reduced or dropped, or any other penalties lessened or waived.
- As you talk with various attorneys, get a feel for how much they'll include you in the process. Basically, this is your personal preference. Do you want a lawyer who completely takes the reins (and any burden off you), or would you rather be more involved with your case?
Refer to our section on Traffic Ticket Attorneys to learn more about finding a skilled lawyer in your area.