Every day, people across the great state of Florida are stopped, detained, and ticketed by law enforcement for allegedly committing traffic infractions. While most people decide to pay their ticket and move on with their lives, some choose to fight the ticket in court. Of these people, a great majority retain a criminal lawyer to act in their place and handle the tickets for them. However, a select few decide to handle the case themselves and set a hearing to fight the charge.
This article is for the people handling the cases themselves in Tampa, FL, and other areas of Florida. Good for you! It can be an eye-opening experience to go to Court and represent yourself on a traffic ticket. When I try cases, I always feel that the potential jurors who have gone to court to fight a traffic ticket have a better understanding and appreciation for the civic duty of serving on a jury. Perhaps because going to court has been a genuine experience for them.
First, the requisite warning: if you have the ability, consider hiring a professional to handle your ticket. After all, the police officer who issued you your citation has been the traffic court hundreds if not thousands of times. The hearing officer who will preside over your hearing is likely an attorney who is skilled in the rules of evidence, and who has likewise heard hundreds if not thousands of cases just like yours. Not to mention, a traffic ticket attorney will be familiar with the statutes and case law governing your particular violation. For example, a traffic ticket attorney will likely understand how to examine and officer’s radar log to look for grounds to dismiss the case when dealing with the speeding ticket.
Second, another requisite warning: while the person writing this article is a criminal lawyer, this is not to be construed as legal advice on your particular case. The author is trying to paint a general picture of what happens in a traffic court room. Realize all situations are different. If you are in need of legal advice as it applies to your particular situation, please contact an attorney in your jurisdiction.
With that said, this article is dedicated to those citizens who believe the traffic ticket was unjust and unfair. This is for the citizens who want to fight the ticket themselves in court. Without further ado, here are five important things for you to remember when you head into court. Hopefully, this article will help you get your case dismissed, or at least have the points withheld from your records.
- If the Law Enforcement officer does not show up to the hearing, “move the court” to dismiss your case.
It can really be that simple. Unlike the traditional criminal case, where the prosecutor is the person that is bringing the action against you, in a traffic ticket case the officer that wrote the ticket against you is the person that is bringing the action. Many times, the hearing officer will dismiss the case if the officer does not show up. The thought being, if it’s not important enough to the officer, then it is not important to the hearing officer. Each jurisdiction is different, however. In some jurisdictions, hearing officers will flat dismiss the case with no officer, no questions asked. Most hearing officers, however, will grant the continuance on behalf of the officer if he contacts the court ahead of time and asked for a continuance.
What to do: when you go to court, check-in with the clerk. She is often the lady that is sitting beside the judge. Ask if the officer has checked in. Otherwise, look around the room! Do you see the officer who wrote you the ticket there? If not, then when you are called to the podium informed the judge that you do not see the officer present, and tell him that you are moving to dismiss the citation. With any luck, judge or hearing officer will grant your motion, and dismiss the case.
- If you have a just reason, asked the officer if he will dismiss your case.
Remember, the officer is the person bringing the action against you. Accordingly, the officer has the power to dismiss the action against you. If you have a real, legitimate reason that you think justifies the officer dismissing the case, don’t be afraid to tell him. It truly can’t hurt.
Along the same vein, if your main concern is the points on your record, asked the officer if he has any objection to a withhold of adjudication. A withhold of adjudication by the hearing officer of you traffic ticket will keep points off your record. Most of the time, when evaluating your case, the hearing officer will ask the cop what he thinks. If you can tell the hearing officer that the arresting officer does not object to a withhold of adjudication, then you will have a better shot in front of the judge of keeping the points on your record.
- Money Matters: Ask the Hearing Officer for a lesser fine in exchange for a plea
The courtroom in many ways is like the rest of the world: everything is negotiable. If you are going to plea to your traffic ticket, consider asking the judge if he would be willing to lower the fine for you. Try to have a good reason. While this tactic doesn’t work in every jurisdiction, it is always worth a shot.
- Money matters: if you truly cannot have points on your record, offered to pay an enhanced fine in exchange for a withhold of adjudication.
Alternatively, if your goal is to keep points off your driver’s license record, considering offering the judge paying an enhanced fine in exchange for withholding adjudication. This does not always work either. However as the courts become more strapped for cash, money now talks more than ever.
An important point: when trying to work out a deal with the hearing officer, such as seeking a reduced fine or negotiating a withhold of adjudication, try not to also tell the hearing officer why you are not guilty in the first place. That rarely goes over well. You need to go one way or the other. Either you didn’t do it and you’re fighting the ticket, or you didn’t do it and you just want to work out the best resolution possible.
- Learn the Law Before You Go Into the Courtroom
Every ticket the Officer writes is based on a corresponding law in the Statute book. Take the time to learn the law. Stop at the local law library to look for any case law that interprets your statute. You may find a legal defense that will help you get your case dismissed.
Hopefully, this article will help those who wish to fight their traffic tickets themselves without a criminal lawyer in Tampa FL do so successfully. While traffic tickets are just this civil matter, they can still be very intimidating going into a courtroom and representing yourself. After all, the hearing officer and police officers are pros at this sort of thing. But if you understand the process and the possible results that you can achieve, then you have a good chance of obtaining a favorable outcome.