Many drivers assume they cannot fight a traffic ticket because the court system often appears stacked in favor of the police department. The word of the officer who issued the traffic ticket would be given significant weight during a trial, and traffic court judges rarely entertain lengthy defenses. To successfuly fight a ticket, you'll need gathering evidence, interview witnesses, review official documents and take uncompensated time from work. But a number of legal experts say that a driver who can clearly present a compelling argument should make an effort to fight traffic tickets in court.
During a traffic stop, a driver should remain courteous but alert. This is not the time to protest the unfairness of the officer's decision or to debate the specific details of the alleged violation. The ticket itself should provide enough information on when to appear in traffic court and what the standard fine would be if the driver chose to waive all rights to a trial. Some legal experts strongly discourage cited drivers from mailing in the ticket along with a check for the fine. The amount of the fine printed on the ticket is often a maximum amount, so if the driver decides to fight a traffic ticket and still loses, the judge may be inclined to order a lower fine.
There are essentially two different types of traffic violations, so it is important to understand the severity of the charge(s) listed on the ticket. Violations which would only result in fines or penalty points on a driver's license are considered civil infractions. Unless a driver has a very compelling defense, it is almost always better to consult the prosecutor or court clerk's office to plead out of a civil infraction. If a driver is most likely guilty of committing a minor civil infraction, such as failure to signal a lane change or making a rolling stop, there isn't really much reason to fight a traffic ticket in court.
The second classification of traffic violations, however, could be a different story. More serious moving violations or speeding offenses are considered to be traffic misdemeanors, a designation that adds a criminal court element to the proceedings. If a driver is cited for a traffic misdemeanor, it may be worth the effort to fight the ticket in court. The advice, if not not necessarily the court presence, of a professional attorney could prove very useful when charged with a traffic misdemeanor. The charges could be reduced to a civil infraction, which would be a much better result than jail time or loss of driving privileges.
Legal experts suggest that a driver who plans to fight a traffic ticket should take the time to photograph the scene of the stop from the vantage point of the driver and police officer, as well as provide an accurate diagram of the scene. Hazards such as fallen branches or potholes should also be documented. It is possible to argue that a driver's actions were justified under the circumstances, such as swerving to avoid road debris or speeding to avoid a collision. The officer's viewpoint of the alleged violation can also be challenged. If the officer's view was obstructed by another vehicle, for example, the driver could argue that the officer could not see a turn signal or a hazard in the road.
There is also the possibility that the officer might not appear in traffic court to provide testimony. In a number of courts, the judge may dismiss the charges entirely if the prosecutor cannot produce a witness. A driver who decides to fight a ticket, especially a more serious traffic misdemeanor, should not anticipate such an absence. In some cases, a case can be continued or carried over to another date, which does increase the chances that the officer will have other obligations on that new date. A driver should also not rely on a police officer's selective memory about the incident. Even if the officer cannot provide complete details about the alleged violation, he or she is still viewed by the court as an objective witness, whereas the driver has sufficient motivation to bend the truth or manipulate the facts.
In short, a driver who has been cited for a moving violation or other traffic offense does have the right to fight a traffic ticket in court, but the court system does not make the process very easy. Drivers with clean driving records may choose to fight their first traffic tickets, since the judge and prosecutor cannot use prior bad acts as leverage. If the driver does have previous tickets or cannot present a very assertive defense, it might be better to simply pay the fine or work out a plea agreement with the prosecutor.