We all know how it feels the moment you see those flashing blue and red lights behind your car. Your heart sinks, your blood pressure skyrockets, and your palms begin to dampen the steering wheel. You may get lucky and get off with a warning, but you’re getting pulled over you’re likely about to be given a traffic ticket.
In 2019, people driving in Miami-Dade County received 707,910 tickets. That’s more than 25% of the county’s population! Most people choose to pay for their tickets rather than contesting them, admitting that they are guilty of what the officer is claiming they did.
However, as we covered in our guide to traffic violations, the consequences for admitting guilt go far beyond the cost of the ticket itself. Even a single speeding ticket can result in a significant financial burden – especially if your insurance company decides to raise their premiums.
You should almost always contest your traffic ticket. Whether you believe you’re guilty or not, we’re here to help you improve your chances of getting it dismissed. In this post we will cover:
- What you should do when you’re getting pulled over
- The consequences of paying a traffic ticket
- How to contest your traffic ticket
- What to look for in a traffic tickets lawyer
From the moment you see those flashing lights or find a ticket on your windshield, here’s what you should do…
When You’re Getting Pulled Over
The first thing you need to do when you see a police vehicle’s flashing lights behind you is to find a place to safely pull over to a complete stop. You’re not admitting guilt by pulling over. You are simply following the law and recognizing that something caught a police officer’s attention.
It’s the little things during this interaction that can have a huge impact on whether or not you’ll receive a ticket and, if you do receive one, how likely it is that you can get it dismissed or reduced. Once you’ve pulled over you should turn off your engine. Roll down your window all the way, and put your hands on the steering wheel. If you’re smoking a cigarette or chewing gum, now is the time to discard it. If it’s dark, turn on your interior light so that the officer can more easily see you and others in the car. This will put the officer at ease, knowing that the chances of an incident happening at this traffic-stop are less likely. You want this engagement to go as smoothly and as stress-free as possible.
When beginning your interaction with an officer, you’ll learn what traffic laws you may have violated and where. When you’re contesting your ticket later, this is vital information to have.
Also, you need to know your rights.
What to Say, and What Not to Say
Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law.
Keep those words in mind when you’re speaking with the police officer. Be polite, be respectful, and don’t admit to doing what you’ve been pulled over for. Admitting to speeding, running a red light, or to any other reason as to why you were pulled over can be used against you in court. If the officer asks you to provide details about the traffic violation they claim you’ve committed, you can respectfully say that you do not wish to answer the question.
Do not argue with an officer. If you believe that the police officer was wrong to pull you over, don’t tell them that. Starting any kind of conflict with an officer of the law will only make things worse. Follow their orders. You can contest your ticket later.
There are only four pieces of information that you’re required to give the officer. Your:
- Full name
- Driver’s license
- Insurance card
You shouldn’t make any sudden movements. Police officers are trained to be cautious, so before you do something like reach into your glove box to grab your registration, let them know that’s what you’re doing.
Can Your Vehicle Be Searched?
Under the Fourth Amendment, police officers can’t unlawfully search your car. However, the “automobile exception” gives them permission to do so if there are public safety concerns, such as reckless driving. An officer can search your car under the following circumstances:
- You have consented
- The officer has a valid search warrant
- The officer reasonably believes a search is necessary for their protection (e.g. they are led to believe that there’s a hidden weapon in the vehicle)
- You have been arrested and the search is related to that arrest
- The officer has probable cause to believe there is evidence of a crime in your vehicle
Depending on what the officer accuses you of doing and how you interact with them, you may be lucky enough to get off with a warning. If not, by following these steps, you at least haven’t made the situation any worse.
The Consequences of Paying a Traffic Ticket
As we mentioned before, paying a traffic ticket is an admission of guilt. Even if you actually committed the offense, you don’t have to plead guilty to it. Lawyers get tickets dismissed all the time based on a variety of circumstances and regardless of guilt. For example, if a police officer had no legal grounds to pull you over, that knowledge may be enough to get your case thrown out.
When you receive a traffic ticket, you usually have one of three choices to make. You can:
- Pay the ticket
- Go to traffic school
- Contest it
Paying the Ticket
When you pay your traffic ticket, you will receive point demerits on your license. You’ll also risk an increase in your insurance premiums.
The point system in Florida is a graduated scale that assigns relative values to convictions. If you accumulated too many points over a specified period of time, your license may get suspended.
- 12 points within 12 months = 30-day suspension
- 18 points within 18 months = three-month suspension
- 24 points within 36 months = one-year suspension.
Here are some of the most common traffic violations and their point values:
|Failure to obey a traffic control signal||4|
|Failure to yield right-of-way to a pedestrian||3|
|Leaving the scene of a crash without giving information for more than $50 worth of damage||6|
The Florida Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles (FLHSMV) website has an extensive list of violations and their point values.
In addition to points on your license, your car insurance rates may increase after receiving a ticket. Let’s say that you’re spending $2,352 a year on auto insurance – the average amount in Florida for drivers that haven’t recently been at-fault in an accident. If you receive and pay a ticket for going 11-15mph over the speed limit, your insurance premium could increase by 27%, or $635. If you’re going 16-29mph over, your premium jumps 31%, or $729, and if you’re going 30mph or more over the limit, your premium could spike up to 46% or an additional $1,082 per year.
Your second option is going to traffic school, where you’ll take basic driver or driver improvement courses. These courses can help you dismiss ticket points and decrease or eliminate the chance of your insurance increasing. However, you’re still admitting guilt and you have to pay for the course. Depending on the course you’re required to take, you will also have to set aside four, eight, or twelve hours to do it.
Your third option, contesting the ticket, is usually the best option.
Contesting Your Traffic Ticket
We strongly recommend hiring a traffic tickets lawyer when contesting your traffic ticket. Why? Because the process involves multiple factors, and some of which aren’t in your control. These factors include:
- The type of ticket
- The officer who gave you the ticket and the judge hearing your case
- Your driving history
- Your representation
Type of Ticket
Depending on the type of ticket you receive, you will either have to go to traffic or criminal court. Traffic court handles infractions: if you’re being accused of something that’s prohibited by law but isn’t a crime. If you’ve received a parking ticket, failed to yield, or ran a red light, you’re going to traffic court. If you’re accused of committing a felony or misdemeanor, you’re going to criminal court.
In traffic court, usually the worst that can happen is you having to pay a fine. In criminal court, you also run the risk of jail time. To be found guilty in the state of Florida in either court, the prosecution’s burden of proof is beyond a reasonable doubt. This means that the prosecution must convince a judge or jury that there is no other reasonable explanation that can come from the evidence presented. In order words, they must be virtually certain of your guilt.
Courtroom By Zoom
COVID-19 and social distancing practices have changed the courtroom environment. As a result, traffic tickets lawyers are now able to handle both traffic and criminal cases over Zoom. Not only save you the trouble of having to go to a physical courthouse, but now lawyers can represent clients from all over the state of Florida, as opposed to in their area.
The Officer and the Judge
Remember your interaction with the officer? Here’s where it matters most. If you admitted guilt when you were first pulled over, the officer is all but guaranteed to say so in court (assuming they’re there). If you were rude or unruly, they will let the judge know.
Judges are supposed to be impartial and strive to properly interpret the meaning, significance, and implications of the law. However, nobody’s perfect, and if you are disrespectful or ill-prepared, the ruling may not go in your favor.
Your Driving History
If the judge has decided not to dismiss your case, they will factor in your driving history when determining the severity of your penalty. The better your record is, the lower the penalty may be. While having a clean record works in your favor, you will no longer have a clean record if you’re found guilty.
If you are defending yourself and you don’t know the law, you’re at an immediate disadvantage. If you do know the law but lack experience in court, you’re still at a disadvantage. Save yourself the unnecessary stress and trouble by hiring a lawyer instead.
What to Look for in a Traffic Tickets Lawyer
Do your research when you’re looking to hire a traffic tickets lawyer. Their ability to get your ticket dismissed or penalties reduced can save you money and heartache in perpetuity. The lawyer you hire need to be experienced at what they do. Defending you in court should be as easy and routine for them as ordering their morning coffee.
Your traffic tickets lawyer shouldn’t be breaking your bank. Instead, they should be able to clearly articulate how their services can save you time, money, your driving rights, and prevent point demerits on your record. They should also be listening to you carefully, ask specific questions about your case, and fully comprehend the circumstances involving your ticket. Your first interaction with their should leave you feeling confident in their ability to defend you and, more importantly, should make you feel more at ease.
If you’re unsure of where to start, here are a few questions you should ask your prospective lawyer:
- How long have you been contesting traffic tickets?
- How many traffic cases have you successfully handled?
- What would you consider a successful outcome?
- How much do you charge?
No one likes to be pulled over. However, by understanding how the process works, knowing the consequences, and hiring the right lawyer, you’ll be much better prepared than most.
Q. Are traffic tickets civil or criminal?
- Most traffic tickets, such as failing to yield to right-of-way or speeding are infractions, and therefore civil. However, if you’re leaving the scene of an accident where someone is seriously injured or deceased, or you’ve repeatedly driven while under the influence or with a suspended license, you will likely face criminal charges.
Q. Are traffic tickets public record?
- Due to the Freedom of Information Act, which was enacted in 1966, traffic citations are considered public records. This means that any can access this information either online or through their local sheriff’s department.
Q. Can they affect your credit?
- Traffic tickets are just like any other bill. If you wait too long without paying them, and they end up in collections, they may adversely impact your credit.
Q. Can traffic tickets turn into warrants?
- If you fail to pay your ticket by its due date and fail to appear in court to fight it, a judge can issue a bench warrant for your arrest. Also, if you’re found guilty of failing to appear in court, you can be ordered to pay additional fees or be sentenced to jail time.
Q. Will my traffic ticket show up on a background check?
- If you receive a criminal citation, it will show up as a felony or misdemeanor offense in a background check. If a potential employer is specifically checking your driving records, they can find infractions, but otherwise, those traffic citations shouldn’t show up on a background check.