Learn something new every day
More Info... by email
A traffic court is a judicial institution that mainly handles traffic laws. In some cases, the traffic court may be housed in an entirely separate facility from the regular court. This is often the case in larger cities. In other cases, it may be a certain day or courtroom where a judge handles nothing but traffic cases. Most of the cases involve routine matters, such as simple traffic tickets, which is why it may also be referred to as traffic ticket court.
Most of the matters handled in traffic court are what are known as scheduled offenses. This means the penalties are set by state code, according to a certain "schedule." Often, the penalty assessed will be based on how severe the violation was, whether it caused an accident, and if the driver has any previous violations. In the vast majority of cases, the penalty includes a fine, plus some court costs. There is very little room for judges to waiver from the prescribed penalties.
Accused violators who are ticketed usually will not have to appear in traffic court unless they want to contest the charge. Like any other court, the accuser, usually referred to as the "state," has the burden of proof. Traffic court violations, if the accuser insists, must be processed like any other civil case. In the United States, this could mean a jury trial. Most accused drivers do not go to this length, because of the time and expense involved, as well as the fact that the penalties are usually relatively small. Even if a person takes their own case to court without a lawyer, there could be significant court costs incurred if the individual loses the case.
The most common interaction with a traffic court most people will have is using it as a place to pay any fines. The individual may either send the fine by mail, or may go in person to pay. Clerks will process payments and provide a receipt. Most of those going to such a court to pay a fine may only do so because they have waited until the last minute to pay, and do not trust the mail to get it there on time. They will never go before a judge, or see the inside of an actual courtroom.
There are times when a traffic court may handle more serious cases as well. This applies mainly to charges of driving under the influence, or vehicular manslaughter. Whether this will be handled in the traffic court division, or higher court is largely dependent on the administrative law procedures in the jurisdiction. If the case rises to the level of a felony, which is possible for repeat offenders, it is normally handled in a higher court.
I went to traffic ticket court one time, simply because I believed the officer was ticketing the wrong vehicle for speeding. There was a long line of traffic coming out of a concert, and the car ahead of me was the one that hit the accelerator. The officer pulled me over instead, since I was a little easier to catch.
I argued my case in front of the judge, and the officer admitted that he wasn't completely sure I was speeding. His radar gun beeped when the first car sped by him, but he wasn't watching the traffic at the time. He looked up and saw my vehicle in that same area and assumed I was the speeder that tripped the radar. My ticket was thrown out.
I have never set foot in a traffic court, but I have gotten my share of traffic tickets over the years. I've always found it easier to just waive my right to a traffic ticket court appearance and pay the fines. Even if I disagree with the officer's opinion, I figure I'm not going to argue my way out of most tickets.
I suppose if I had to go to traffic court for speeding or other serious charges, though, I might take my chances. Those fines and penalties can be severe, especially if the charge is reckless driving or DUI.
One of our editors will review your suggestion and make changes if warranted. Note that depending on the number of suggestions we receive, this can take anywhere from a few hours to a few days. Thank you for helping to improve wiseGEEK!