Why Contest My Ticket?
The only way to keep the ticket off your record is to challenge it through a contested hearing (checking box #3 on the back of the ticket). Other options, like paying the ticket or having a mitigation hearing, will cause the ticket to go on your record and will probably result in increased insurance rates.
But I’m Guilty. Should I Contest the Ticket?
Just because you believe that you committed the infraction doesn’t mean the state can prove their case. For example, a ticket has to be filed within 5 days (excluding weekends) of when it was written. If the police don’t turn the ticket in on time but you just pay it, you have relieved the state of their burden of proof and have paid a ticket that should have been dismissed. The only way to protect your rights and make sure the state has followed the rules is to challenge the ticket, even if you think you are guilty.
Why Should I Hire a Lawyer, Especially When the Lawyer Charges More Than the Ticket?
The costs of a ticket are a lot more than the amount of the fine. If you haven’t had a ticket for a while, you are probably getting a “good driver” discount from your insurance company (perhaps 10-20%). Even one ticket can cause that discount to disappear. If it is your second or third ticket, your rates are almost guaranteed to rise another 20%, 30% or more for the next 3 years.
If you fight the ticket on your own, you will have to go to court, probably missing work or school. You will probably spend time on the internet searching for all the latest defenses to tickets (all of which the judge will have heard). You will walk into court with a number of other people and watch the defendants with lawyers get their tickets dismissed on “technicalities” while all of the people representing themselves will make their arguments and lose. You will probably leave court frustrated.
In the end, using an experienced traffic ticket lawyer like Scott Leist saves money, time and aggravation.
Can I Fight the Ticket Myself?
Absolutely, but without knowledge of the traffic laws and the evidence and procedural rules, you are at a disadvantage. Every court has different preferences and characteristics. For example, tickets are more difficult to win in Seattle Municipal Court than Seattle District Court because prosecutors are present in the municipal court. Arguments that work in Redmond Municipal Court may not result in dismissal in Pierce County. An experienced traffic ticket lawyer who regularly appears in these courts will know the law, the rules, the judges, the prosecutors and which arguments will work.
Do I Have To Come To Court?
Generally, no. Scott can make all of the procedural and evidentiary arguments without you present. That said, there are times when having you in court to present evidence will help your case. In a few courts around the state, the court actually requires the defendant to appear. Scott will contact you in advance to discuss whether you need to be at the hearing.
Should I Do A Contested Hearing By Mail?
No. Some courts allow you to contest an infraction by sending in a written statement instead of appearing in court. This is a bad idea. First, there might be defenses to the ticket that would only be apparent if you came to court. Second, written statements are simply not as convincing or compelling as in-person testimony. Finally, your written report will be compared to the written report of the officer (a trained report writer). In most cases, a judge will believe the officer over you.
What Happens At a Contested Hearing?
A contested hearing is a small scale trial. First, the prosecutor and your lawyer will make motions and arguments to the court about the evidence and court process. Your lawyer might argue that the radar certificate is invalid or that the ticket was not filed on time. Often these motions result in the ticket being dismissed.
If those motions are unsuccessful, a hearing is conducted. Because the plaintiff (the state, county or city) has the burden of proof, they present evidence to try to show that you committed the infraction. Sometimes they rely on the officer’s statement, sometimes they have the officer appear and testify. The defendant (you) can then testify and present your own evidence. After the parties make final arguments, the judge decides, by a preponderance of the evidence (over 50% likely), whether you committed the infraction.
What is a Mitigation Hearing?
If you request a mitigation hearing (box #2 on the back of the ticket), you admit that you committed the infraction but want an opportunity to explain the circumstances. The judge might reduce your fine, but the infraction will still go on your record and likely cause increased insurance rates.
I Already Requested a Mitigation Hearing. Is It Too Late To Contest the Ticket?
In most cases, a scheduled mitigation hearing can be changed to a contested hearing as long as the request is made before the scheduled hearing. If you checked the “mitigation” box and want to fight the ticket, contact Washington Traffic Defense right away.
What Is a Deferred Finding?
Under RCW 46.63.070, if you have a clean driving record, the judge may allow you to “defer” your ticket. Although every judge has different criteria, if you have not have a deferred ticket in the past 7 years and are not a commercial driver, you might be eligible. If you are eligible and decide to defer a ticket, you pay an administrative fee (usually between $100 and $200) and the verdict on the ticket is deferred for anywhere from 6-12 months. If you don’t get another ticket during that time, your infraction is dismissed and doesn’t go on your record. If, on the other hand, you get another ticket during that time, the first ticket goes on your record automatically. You can’t go back and contest it.
For that reason, Scott recommends to his clients to defer a ticket only as a last resort and never for your first ticket. Tickets tend to come in bunches and people often defer a ticket thinking, “I have not had a ticket in years, I won’t get another one.” Then they get another one right away and, not only have they used their deferral, if they contest the second ticket and lose, they end up with 2 tickets on their record.
What Are the Chances the Ticket Will Be Dismissed?
Some attorneys advertise “success rates” that lead people to think that they have a certain percentage chance of success. Those statistics are misleading. The success of any challenge to a ticket depends on the type of ticket, how well the officer documented the infraction, how the court handled it and what judge is on the bench at the time of the hearing. There is no way to predict your percentage chance of success.
Nonetheless, most people that challenge their tickets with the help of a lawyer are successful in having the ticket dismissed or reduced (to a non-reportable violation that will not be reported to your insurance company). Tickets are complicated, officers and courts handle thousands of them daily, and they are rarely done perfectly.
How Long Will a Ticket Stay On My Record?
A committed infraction will stay “on” your driving record forever, but will only be visible to insurance companies for 3 years.