Tell me about fighting a traffic ticket

I did a search, and found some information, but not quite what I’m looking for. I should also add, I am not looking for advice on doing something illegal.

I was pulled over last night for driving an unregistered car. Lo and behold, my registration did, in fact, expire at the end of May. I never got a reminder from the RMV, and although I know that it is ultimately my responsibility, it never entered my consciousness.

The officer gave me a ticket (100 bucks), and told me to just go and park the car and not drive it until I renewed. He also suggested that I renew online or in person ASAP, then appeal the ticket. his exact words were “Tell them it slipped your mind, and that you took care of it right away.”

Why should they care? I was driving an unregistered car, so it’s not like I can claim that the ticket was unwarranted. I was really too rattled to ask him further questions, and he might not have been able or willing to give me more explicit suggestions on dodging the ticket. However, I’d love to get out of not only the hundred bucks, but the surcharge it will add to my already high Massachusetts car insurance.

Any experience with fighting this type of ticket?

I have not fought this type of ticket (but I did contest a traffic ticket recently) but I believe the officer was pointing out correctly, that traffic courts and prosecutors, have a good deal of latitude in deciding to throw citations out.

It sounds like the officer had his hands tied in not having any leeway in issuing the ticket but was telling you, in a friendly way, that it can be fought.

Look at the ticket and see how to go about contesting it. Usually you indicate you want to contest on the ticket and then return it to the district court presiding over traffic cases. They will issue you a court time and date and you appear. You may meet with the prosecutor before actually appearing before the judge. The prosecutor could offer alternative solutions (dropping it being one) at which point, if you agree, then you sign a document indicating how the ticket will be resolved and then you appear before the judge.

Here in Washington it costs nothing to contest a ticket. Other locations may charge court costs.

If you show up for the hearing with a valid registration, you’ll likely be charged court costs and that’s all. The charge shouldn’t cause an increase in insurance rates since it is not considered a moving violation as such in most states (Mass could be different and it wouldn’t be the first time). Of course, insurance companies are taking any excuse they can find to raise rates these days.

IANAL but I used to be a traffic cop and I’ve been on the receiving end of a couple dozen citations, nearly all of which were adjudicated without a conviction. YMMV.

This is not legal advice, I’m not licensed in your jurisdiction and have no idea what the laws are there, I am not your lawyer and you are not my client.

What the officer was suggesting is that you essentially ask for what we would call leniency (or I like to think of as flinging yourself on the mercy of the court). Because failing to register your car isn’t necessarily dangerous (like driving with broken headlights would be), he was suggesting that you correct your oversight, then ask the court for mercy. Yes, you are at fault for not registering your vehicle, but unless you’re a habitual offender, the court may have mercy on you.

You would need to explain to the court your oversight: you never got the renewal and with everything else going on in your life (job is busy, kids summer vacation coming, whatever the truth is), you had not noticed the expiration. You will take steps (including writing it on your calendar every year) to ensure that this oversight will not happen again. Yada, yada.

Nine times out of ten (unless you’re a lawyer), the court will forgive the ticket. If you’re a lawyer, you’ll have to pay the ticket plus listen to a lecture from the judge. Or so I’ve heard. :wink:

Is your birthday in May? I’m pretty sure in Illinois, they have your registration expire in the month of the registered owner’s birthday.

And, yes, leniency is pretty common. I have a court date next week under similar circumstances. I had an earlier court date and made arrangements with the State’s Attorney such that if I do xy&z (fixing what lead to the offense), they will dismiss the charge.

I’ve heard this is common for equipment violations, too. If you have a taillight out or a cracked windshield, but provide proof of the repairs by the time you have your day in court, they usually ‘let you off’ with supervision or a reduced fine or something.

Having an otherwise clean record probably helps, too.

If you’re a solo practitioner, just tell the court you a small business owner (consulting).


I had that happen to me once.

My plates were expired (6 months!), and I took care of the whole fine by faxing an apology to the court, & going to my County & paying my current & back fees.

No problemo. :cool:

I’ve heard that called a “fix-it ticket”. The goal is not to hammer you for making a mistake, but ensuring that you actually get the mistake fixed. They could just give you a stern warning to fix the problem, but there is no guarantee of any sort that you will. An easily dismissable ticket allows you to show good faith, and gets the problem solved without anybody getting screwed in the process.

I got a ticket once for not registering my car at my new address after I moved to a new state. I registered it before my court date and the ticket was dismissed when I showed it was done. Similarly, my sister had a headlight out and when she showed she’d fixed it, the ticket was dismissed.


I used to drive a car owned by my dad (I was like 18 years old - living at home etc). In Ohio, you have to renew registration at the end of the month of your birthday. Since it wasn’t up to me to remember this stuff, it never occurred to me to “nag” him to renew.

I got pulled over in December. I told the cop it wasn’t my car, don’t give me a ticket, etc etc. He said tough shit, you’re driving it. get it fixed.

I think my dad got renewed in a day or two. I don’t think he had to pay the ticket. Cheesesteak is right - they have a duty to fine you for not following the law but really it’s just to get you to do what you are supposed to legally have done. Take the officer’s advice, renew ASAP and you should be good to go.

IAAL in Ohio, but with the standard disclaimers, I think vehicle registration technically has to be renewed by the owner’s birthdate, and not by the end of the month of your birthday.

I’m somewhat surprised that you got ticketted. Here in the U.K., there’s generally two weeks leeway given to cover the “it’s in the post, officer” defence. And yes, our post can be that bad.

I got a ticket for not displaying my registration and for not having insurance. I had to go to court for the insurance one (it was a $750 ticket and I WAS insured, I just didn’t have my card with me), but figured I would just pay the ticket for not displaying my registration.

I went up to the judge and showed him my insurance card, dated for the time I got the ticket. Then I said “I was also registered, but I didn’t put the sticker on my car. I don’t have an excuse for that, so I’ll just pay that other ticket.” The judge asked if I put my sticker on my cr after the ticket. I told him I had. He wrote off both tickets for me.

Not too shabby, if you ask me. It would have been a perfect day except that I had a parking ticket on my car when I got out of court. I paid it without complaining. Much.

Thanks for the advice, all.
To clarify, in Massachusetts, your registration begins and expires with the month when you first purchase/register a new vehicle. No tricks such as birthdate to help jog your memory.

Except that big number ‘5’ on the windshield in front of your face. :smiley:

Don’t mock me!
And, actually, you’re wrong. There was some snafu with my car inspection a couple of years back involving the service station putting the wrong date into the computer system, and I ended up having to get inspected twice in one year, so I now have a January inspection sticker.
Is it any wonder I’m confused?

To follow up on my earlier post in this thread, I had my day in court this morning.
My driving on a suspended DL (due to emissions) was dismissed when I showed that I had taken steps to unsuspend the licence, ie trips to the Secretary of State DMV and Illinois EPA correspondence.

Isn’t car renewal every other year in MA? So the month doesn’t help. Especially because most people’s inspection stickers tend to “drift” a bit over the years as you let the inspection slide over to the next month.

I once tried the “RMV sent the renewal to my old address” argument. It was true, but ultimately futile. I still got the fine. Doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t try renewing and appealing it though. I note that you were actually very, very lucky in your choice of police officers. Most of the time they make you pull to the side of the road and tow your vehicle.

I also point out that all police cars now have computers connected to the RMV and (f the software existed) it would be a matter of seconds for them to take your credit card number and issue you a temporary registration, but that would be too easy for everyone concerned.