You just received a traffic ticket and do not know what to do. Your first inclination is to simply pay it and avoid the hassles that come with having to appear in court. Do not follow that inclination. The wiser approach to the situation would be to carefully weigh all of the factors involved and then you can decide what to do.
The following are a series of questions that can help you in your decision to plea or fight a traffic ticket:
Did you commit the offense?
If you did not commit the offense that you have been ticketed with, then it runs contrary to reason to simply assert that you are guilty in order to get out of going to court. Our American court system is the envy of countries across the globe. Unlike many other countries, you are presumed innocent in an American court. That includes municipal court as well.
Do extenuating circumstances exist?
Even if you committed the motor vehicle offense, which you are charged with, extenuating circumstances may exist that would afford you with a successful defense to the charge at court. For example, recently I represented a senior citizen who had received a violation for failing to wear a seatbelt. Upon meeting with her for a consultation, I learned that week before she had just undergone successful hip surgery. I learned from my client that the reason why she had not used the seatbelt on the day that she received the ticket was due to the fact that it was very painful for her to use a seatbelt. Thereafter, I communicated with her surgeon and was able to secure a medical note from him. On the trial date, I presented the medical note to the municipal prosecutor and was successful in getting the ticket administratively dismissed.
Was there an accident?
If you received a ticket where there was an accident involved, then simply pleading guilty to the ticket may have negative repercussions if you are later sued in a personal injury lawsuit. A finding of guilty or a plea bargain by a municipal judge may be introduced in a subsequent civil jury trial. If that happens, a jury might find you responsible because you did not fight the ticket. An experienced municipal court litigator will know what to do to protect your rights and may even be able to keep out a plea of guilty.
Are points involved?
Depending on the magnitude of the ticket, by pleading guilty, you can be assessed points against your license. If you have accumulated 12 or more points within a two-year period, then the Division of Motor Vehicles will suspend your license to drive. See N.J.A.C. 13:19-10.2. Many insurance companies also use points to assess whether or not they want to continue automobile insurance coverage or whether to raise your insurance premiums.
Can you go to jail by pleading to the offense?
Some offenses, like reckless driving, give the municipal court judge the discretion to incarcerate an individual guilty of the charge with up to 60 days in the County Workhouse. Other tickets allow for imprisonment on the second or third offense. A seasoned attorney will be able to provide you with information all of the possible penalties that come with the offense that you have been charged with and guidance and advice as to how to handle the situation.
Did the law enforcement officer violate any of your constitutional rights in stopping and/or searching you?
All law enforcement officers are limited in their powers by the Bill of Rights contained in the Federal Constitution. For example, a police officer cannot simply stop a person driving a motor vehicle without a legitimate reason. It is vital that you know what limits our Courts have placed on the powers of police officers, so that you can protect your Constitutional rights and, hopefully, present the municipal court with a legitimate defense to any motor vehicle or criminal offense that arose out of the unlawful stop.
Before you plead guilty and face potentially thousands of dollars in fees and surcharges, speak with a municipal court attorney who is knowledgeable in handling these matters.