Challenging a traffic ticket--what to expect in court?

I’m in Lane County, Oregon. I’m not asking for legal advice or anything of the sort, just wanted to see if anyone has any knowledge of the proceedings–I have never been involved in any sort of legal issue, have never been inside a courtroom, and have zero idea what to expect.

The gist of it is I was issued a citation and and have a valid legal reason for challenging it. I spoke with an attorney who helped me dig up the relevant statutes and two prior court decisions to support my case. Obviously I’m not hauling legal counsel in with me over a traffic citation, so I’ll be delivering this information myself. I know this is a pretty minor issue, but I am a little panicked at the idea and feel like I’m going to look like a total idiot fumbling around with all this fancy-like legal-talk. :wink:

Can anyone give me a general idea of what to expect?

I went in once to challenge a moving violation (bicycle). It was very low key and the judge was approachable.

Most people were there to ask for some kink of reduced sentence or a reduction of points. Almost universally they were given something that they wanted—it seemed to me just for showing up.

I was given a suspended sentence (the judge said he had never heard of the specific violation I was charged with either).

My advice, if you have the time (and need the money) give it a shot–YMMV

I can’t guarantee it, but you may be given the opportunity to talk to the town attorney or county attorney (the one who’ll be prosecuting you) in hopes of reaching a settlement. It is entirely up to you whether you choose to speak with him/her or not.

Traffic court is full of people that don’t know what they’re doing and the judge and the DA know that. For most people this is likely the only time they’ll ever be in the court room outside of jury duty.

So don’t feel like you need to walk in there and be James Spader.

FWIW, I was going to challenge a ticket here in Texas and was told (at court) that if I challenged it and lost, I’d have to pay court costs. That would mean paying the original ticket + about $700, so I grumbled, paid the ticket, left.

Just talk to the judge respectfully and clearly in plain English, don’t try to sound like a lawyer, and you’ll be fine. Keep in mind that it won’t get any worse than it is now – the judge won’t levy MORE fines or points. In my experience there’s a good chance you will get fines or points reduced just by having a good attitude, even if the judge doesn’t buy your rationale.

It varies widely by location. I dunno about “state of confusion” :rolleyes: but in most CA areas, your mani hope is that the cop is a no-show, for a “not-guilty” verdict. For reducing the fine or getting traffic school, pleading 'guilty with an explanation" often works.

In Nevada, it works like this: You go to court. You can plead not guilty. If you do, they schedual you to go talk to the DA. (see below) If you plead guilty, you pay your fine (often less than the ticket, because the judge lets you give a lame excuse) and leave.

You come back with your story to the DA. Pretty much immediatly, he reduces the fine and tries to badger you into paying. Buck up! He’s fresh out of University of Phoenix Law School! Tell em you wanna see Da Judge! He’ll go further…

Usually thats where it ends. They will reduce it to a point where it isn’t worth your time to fight it further.

BUT IF YOU DO… They schedual another date, the copper has to show (round here, they always do) and you take your chance. If you have a legitimate beef, you might win, but you usually don’t. The court takes the cops word 99% of the time. Your stuck with the original fine, plus maybe more. I don’t know for sure, I’ve never taken them that far.

I always take the DA’s low-ball offer. I’ve done this 3 times, and never paid a cent, no points on the license. The DA eventually offers what they call “delayed prosecution” or something like that, where, if you don’t get another ticket in 90 days, they dismiss the ticket. No fines, nothing. Only time spent messin’ round. I’ve got nothing left but time, so it works for me.

Oregon? Who knows what happens in that Pot-haven! Hell! They won’t even let you pump yer own damn gas!

My only experience has been in Philadelphia (x3). There, most folks have a fistful of tickets and have been “booted”. Showing up with a lone ticket is usually “dismissable”. I am 3-3 in fighting various infractions (e.g., expired meters and once parking in a no-parking zone) with no statutes or legal foundations to back me up.

As far as “what to expect”, around here, you walk in, are told who the “official is” but you are in an office with one person. The turn on the tape recorder, ask if you promise to be truthful, repeat the offense, and ask you to give your explanation. They then rule on the spot. Be respectful, speak slow and clear (it is being recorded), be truthful, and be prepared to pay if it doesn’t go your way.

That’s what my experience in NYC was.

I was fighting a parking ticket. I kept things polite and respectful, but short and to the point. I showed the judge my evidence–I had a photo of the fact that the no parking sign was halfway down the block and hidden by scaffolding. She told me that that was not really a good excuse, but reduced the ticket by half anyway. Yeah, they’re really tough on parking issues in NYC, but like others have suggested, she seemed to have given me a break just for showing up and being reasonable.

As someone above said, nobody expected me to know what I was doing. They walked me through it and were all very nice.

I forgot to say–I think that the advice I’ve gotten from attorneys before I’ve given depositions or, in one case, was interviewed by the federal labor board about alleged payroll abuses by my employer (!) will serve you well in any situation like this: Be truthful. Answer only the question that is asked. Be concise. Stick to the facts. Don’t offer opinions unless you are specifically asked, and even then, make sure your opinions are based on things that you have personally observed.

I’ve read about, and heard from other folks about, negotiating the cost of a ticket downward. Here in NC, my impression is that this all happens before court: you get your lawyer to call the police or DA (or you call them yourself), explain your situation, and everything happens ahead of time. I’ve never been in the situation, so I’m not sure how it works; does this sound familiar to anyone else?


That’s sort of what I figured, but it hadn’t even occurred to me that I might have to pay court costs. I want to challenge the thing because I didn’t do it, and I just don’t want the points on my license, but if it’s going to cost me an arm and a leg to argue the issue, well… that sucks, but I hate the idea of paying the city $265 and having a record for something I didn’t do, even something as stupid as this. I guess I should call the municipal court on Monday and ask what happens if I lose.

:rolleyes: yourself, bucko. I stated my exact location in the first sentence of the OP!

Actually, that’s one thing I was concerned about–that no matter what my reasoning, the cop wrote me a ticket and therefore if he shows up, he wins. I do expect him to show up, because the note I got that confirmed the trial date said they arranged trial dates according to the officers’ schedules.
As far as reducing the fine goes, I did plead “guilty with (a lame) explanation” to a speeding ticket years ago, having been told that that usually reduces the fine. In my case, and the two others who went before me, we all got a PSA style lecture on the evils and dangers of speeding and a fine reduction of $2.


Every court is different. Even within your state and county they may run things a bit different. My advice to you would be to go to the court before your date. You can sit and watch the proceedings and get a feel for how things are run.

In the court in my jurisdiction it goes like this. You plead not guilty by phone and they send you a court date. On the court date you show up and check in. You can get a chance to talk to the prosecutor either before the judge addresses the court or after. The prosecutor gives you a choice of pleading to a lesser charge (no points/more fine), pleading guilty to the original charge (points/lesser fines) or a trial. If it is a busy day he will probably be very abrupt, lots of people behind you. If it is a busy day you may have to come back on another day for a trial. In my jurisdiction you will not get your case dismissed if the officer is not there. I was deployed for a year. My cases were not dismissed.

At the trial it will be you, the judge, the prosecutor and the officer. You can call any witness you want. You have the opportunity to testify but you are not compelled to. If you do testify you can be cross examined. Since there is no lawyer questioning you during your testimony the judge may ask you questions directly. If you believe that you have a point of law that may help your case then just calmly present it to the judge. Don’t treat it like an “Aha!” moment on Perry Mason. Don’t be too disappointed if you are found guilty. Your arguments may not be valid in your case. I know it is hard to believe but you may actually be guilty. If you don’t agree with the judges decision then you can appeal. Just remember that you can’t appeal because you don’t think he reached the right decision based on the facts of the case. Thats a judgement call and they call them judges for a reason. You can only appeal if you feel he was incorrect on a point of law or procedure.

YMMV blah blah

Hey, don’t talk down to me. I’m not going in there pretending I’m Matlock, and if I’m wrong in my reasoning, I’m wrong. My attorney didn’t think so, or I would just take the slap, pay the stupid thing and be done with it. I know police officers believe anything they say and do when it comes to disciplining civilians is the end-all be-all, but sometimes they’re wrong, too.
See how offensive it is when someone else assumes they know your motivations?
Anyway, point of snarkiness aside, I really do appreciate your input on the procedure, thanks.

Sorry, I know you did, it’s just that the whole “joke location” thing annoys me. :smack:

Anyway,it all depends on how they pick their traffic judges. Out here, they are mostly lawyers bucking for a real Judge job, so they bend over for the police.

Still, showing up, being respectful and politely explaining your side gives you a better than even chance of at least a significant reduction in fine.

Not talking down to you. You asked for advice. I have seen many people go into court thinking they have the one piece of information that will destroy the state’s case. They present it with a flourish and expect the judge to bang the gavel and immediately dismiss the charge. When that doesn’t happen you can see them deflate. Then they got nothing. I have seen this happen many times. You have not. I am telling you don’t do it that way. Since you have decided not to post the particulars of your case or why you believe you are right than there is no reason to assume that you are right or that your lawyer is competent.

Wow the cops get to pick your judges? Interesting. Here it has more to do with how much you give the Democratic Party but I guess your system works too.

Not literally. But if you don’t have the support of the system and the police union, you have no real chance of winning an election or appointment.

Well, thanks for your input. I wouldn’t mind posting the particulars if you think I’d get some good feedback–I’d love to hear your input. I just thought I wasn’t supposed to!