If you’ve gotten a speeding ticket you are not alone. A study from Princeton Survey Research Associates International found that within a five-year period 20% of drivers get moving violation traffic tickets. Speeding is by far the most common reason for getting ticketed.
In most situations, drivers pay the ticket and are happy to be done with the ordeal. Hopefully, that speeding ticket is your first offense and an online defensive driving course can lower or forgive your fines. But there are times when drivers feel it’s best to fight the ticket. If you’re going to traffic court, you’ll need to be prepared.
Here’s what to do before your day in court.
What Should I Expect in Traffic Court?
Procedures for traffic court are fairly routine. They aren’t anything like what you see on TV with a jury. You will go before a judge who will hear the arguments for the case. This is not a closed proceeding. Others will be there as an audience waiting for their cases to be heard. Luckily the trials happen very quickly.
The rundown below will give you a good idea of what to expect from the moment you arrive:
You appear at court on the date of your subpoena.
Everyone will be sworn in as a group.
The clerk will call your name, usually saying "The State vs. (Your Name)" or "The People vs. (Your Name)".
Rise and go to the witness box or one of two tables that face the judge.
Follow the questions and instructions by all court officers and the judge.
The judge will indicate when it is your turn to speak.
Present your case stating the facts and any evidence you have to support your statements.
If your case is complicated or it’s a serious ticket, you may want to seek legal counsel. This is sometimes necessary if you’ve had several speeding tickets in a short amount of time or you were stopped in a special zone with higher fees.
Another instance that warrants a lawyer is when you get a speeding ticket in another county or state and you can’t travel to the hearing. If you can’t afford any more points on your license you may want to consider hiring a traffic ticket lawyer who can negotiate to have them reduced.
However, most traffic court tickets, from speeding to jaywalking, are standard procedures that many drivers can handle on their own.
4 Must-Know Tips for Traffic Court
Sometimes you can give yourself an edge in the courtroom by simply knowing how to act once you get there. Follow these tips for traffic court to maximize your chances of getting a speeding ticket dropped.
Dress the Part
First impressions are everything. Despite trying not to judge a book by its cover, that’s exactly what we humans do subconsciously. What you wear also sends a message about your professionalism and that you take the matter seriously.
When you select an outfit for court keep these things in mind. Wearing your Sunday best is a way to show respect to the judge and make a good first impression. That means as clean-cut as possible with wrinkle-free clothing. No baseball caps, chewing gum, etc.
Mind Your Manners
Never interrupt the judge, insult the officers or show disdain for the law. It’s the quickest way to lose, your case. This should be a no-brainer, but emotions can be high when fighting costly tickets, but they must be kept in check.
Always call the judge, "your honor."
Call officers of the court "sir" or "ma'am".
Follow all directions.
Wait until you are spoken to speak.
Do not speak or make noise while in the gallery (seating area).
Being cordial is the way to go. People are more likely to help you out and give you leniency if you are likable. That said, avoid being the class clown because no one has time for disruptions.
Show Up Early
Traffic court is a long day with people lined up to go before the judge. Showing up early can help you get a seat closer to the front so that your case gets heard sooner rather than later in the day. Plus, if the courtroom doors close, you may be turned away. That’s not good.
Opting for court instead of paying a ticket does not mean you can change your mind. No-shows at court can result in serious consequences, and it’s definitely going to result in a guilty verdict. Wages can be garnished. Court time can be fined to you in addition to your ticket. And, your license can be suspended.
There’s nothing worse than waiting in a line forever only to have the person up front wasting time because they aren’t prepared. In traffic court, it annoys everyone - the judge, the officers and the other defendants.
The high volume of people that appear before a judge in a busy traffic court is overwhelming. They have heard all the excuses, and don’t want to hear them again. If you are going to fight a speeding ticket or other lesser charge, be prepared when it’s your turn.
When your name is called, you will be asked to step forward to face charges. You will already have been sworn in so this part goes fast. If you have evidence, get it out and ready while you are waiting. Review all of your notes when there are just a few cases ahead of you so that everything is fresh on your mind.
You don’t have to give a grand, compelling argument to fight a speeding ticket. But it does help tremendously to be prepared with the facts.
What About Officer Non-Appearance or Fault?
Lots of people go to traffic court expecting to square off against the officer that issued the ticket, but sometimes there’s no one at the other table. This is what’s known as non-appearance. The officer did not show, so you win. Right? Nope. It still depends on the court ruling.
Also, police officers are generally trusted by the courts. They are often given the benefit of the doubt that they gave the ticket for a valid reason. Accusing them of lying, unfair treatment or otherwise being suspect is never looked upon favorably.
Traffic Court Cheatsheet
Dress in your Sunday best - and no hats
Never interrupt and speak only when spoken to
Use "your honor" to address the judge
Address court officers as "sir" or "ma'am"
Silence cell phones and be quiet in the gallery
Be nice. Do not be antagonistic, no matter how high your emotions run.
*This article was updated on 6/24/2020.