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January 3, 2008

January 3, 2008 – Case Dismissed

                After getting tickets for years on end I’ve developed a fairly good strategy for getting out of them.  It’s nothing complicated, but there are a number of easy things that can be done to greatly increase your chances of getting out of a ticket - whether it is beating the officer in court or just reducing your fine.

1.     Don’t say anything incriminating when the officer stops you.  If he/she does come to court you’re pretty much dead in the water.

2.     Don’t just pay your ticket.  Sometimes you may be eligible for traffic school, which is good, but it guarantees that you won’t get a break on the fine, and if you don’t go to traffic school it will result as a point on your license, and your car insurance rates may go up.

3.     Go to your first court date.  (This is called an Arraignment.)  Here the judge may offer you a deal by pleading guilty and paying a reduced fine.   If this happens and you’re happy with whatever the Judge offers, take it.  Just by going to court you may be able to reduce your fine by hundreds of dollars.  It all depends on how much the ticket was and what it was for.  Most people aren’t aware of how backed up the courts are.  Ever wonder why when you get a traffic ticket they set your court date months into the future?  Sometimes the judge will not tell you what your fine is or if it will be reduced by pleading guilty and you are asked to simply enter a plea of guilty or not guilty - use your discretion.

4.     If you plead not guilty your court date will be set for a date months into the future.  This is called the trial date.  Typically police officers work a certain shift, for a few months at a time.  For arguments sake lets say that from January through April they work from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., then from May through August they work 5 p.m. to 1 a.m., and from September through December they work 1 a.m through 9 a.m.  When you go to court, plead not guilty, and are given another court date you are increasing the chances that your trial will be set on one of the days that the officer is going to be scheduled at the department.  If he is scheduled at work he won’t be able to come to court.  In some jurisdictions the prosecutor will look over the cases and decide which ones are worth the courts time.  Like I said earlier, the courts are jam packed with cases, often times trivial ones.  If the prosecutor (This person may also be called the district attorney, the states attorney and so on…) feels that the case isn’t worth the courts time they may refuse to file the ticket.  There are a number of other ways that you could have the case dismissed I would imagine.

5.     If your case is set for trial you and all of the relevant parties will be notified of the time and place that the trial will be held.  If the officer is not present your case will most likely be dismissed.  I’ve had cases where the officer didn’t show up and the judge asked whether or not I was still pleading not guilty – PLEAD NOT GUILTY!  I’ve never heard of anyone still be found guilty at this juncture if the officer never showed up.  Can’t blame them for trying though.

6.     If the officer does show up you’re probably fucked.  There’s going to be people that debate me on this but there is definitely a bias in favor of the officer at this point.  However, the court realizes that like you and me, officers are people too, and people sometimes make mistakes.  If you are genuinely not guilty, or maybe even if you have a pretty good story, feel free to give it a shot.  One thing to note – if you go through all of these proceedings and the court decides that you are in fact guilty you will have pay the entire fine typically, and quite possibly court costs.  If traffic school was on the table earlier, it probably isn’t anymore.  The advantage of making it to the trial date is to see whether or not the officer showed up.  Some courts allow you to change your plea to guilty at this point (which is sort of important for this phase of the strategy.)  Conversely, if your enter a plea of guilty you may not change your plea to not guilty at a later date.  When you plead guilty, the court imposes its judgment, and a resolution is created right then and there.  You will have to pay the fine but you are often still eligible for traffic school, and your ticket may still be lower, and you are definitely no worse off than if you had paid your fine right from the beginning.

              By the way, I’m a cab driver – not a lawyer, and none of this is meant to be construed as legal advice.  So take it with a grain of salt.

            So back to the case at hand…  I appear for my stop sign ticket that I got a few months ago and the officer is a no show.  Case dismissed.  Oh, by the way, the other driver that got a ticket that night, he won his case too.  Ralph took the officer on in court and won.  Good for him.

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