Top 10 Things You Must Know Before Going to Traffic Court

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Many drivers get traffic tickets, but most of them have no idea what to do in order to prepare for their traffic court appearance or what to do when they show up. To make matters worse, there are tons of people willing to give unsolicited “advice” that is mostly based on half-truths and only serves to hurt most peoples’ cases.

To help clear up some of the misinformation circulating around the internet, and to provide you with a lawyer’s perspective on the issue, we put together a list of the top 10 things you need to know before you go to traffic court.

1. Dress Appropriately

You wouldn’t go on a date in your gym clothes, so don’t show up to court in them either. Many drivers fail to understand just how important it is to dress nicely to court. They think that dressing up is the job of the lawyer, so they can get away with wearing a t-shirt and jeans. This couldn’t be further from the truth.

Whether we like it or not, our clothing makes an impression on prosecutors and judges. It can subtly say, “I took the time to put on a tie because this matters to me.” On the contrary, it can scream out, “Let’s get this over with already! I am too busy to take this seriously!” We have found that a well-dressed driver will be taken more seriously when presenting his case, whether before a prosecutor in order to try to get a favorable plea bargain (if applicable) or to a judge if pleading not guilty.

Although a suit is certainly not necessary, business casual attire is recommended.

2. Be Respectful

It is extremely important to be cordial and respectful to everyone you encounter in the courthouse. This applies to everyone you meet, not just the judge and prosecutor. Whether you are checking in with a receptionist or speaking with the security officer by the metal detector, make sure to talk only with the utmost respect. Besides the fact that this is simply good manners, it actually could impact the outcome of your case.

Remember, municipal courthouses are not that large. Only a few staff members, prosecutors, judges, security officers, and receptionists work there. As a result, they generally will all interact with one another on a regular basis and share stories about their day.

This means that there is a high likelihood that anything disrespectful that you say or do will bounce around the courthouse without you even knowing it. It might even make its way to the judge.The last thing you want is to make a bad first impression before you even approach the counsel table. Therefore, err on the side of caution and be respectful to everyone. It also goes without saying that you should never be gruff, argumentative, or nasty to a prosecutor or judge since you may be asking them for a courtesy at some point.

3. Be Prepared

To put it bluntly, being unprepared will kill your chances of getting a favorable plea bargain and winning your case.

If you are in NYC, your case will likely go to trial since there is no way to negotiate. You or your attorney will have to be prepared to question or “cross examine” an experienced police officer and make legal arguments about sufficiency of proof (for example) to the judge. You should bring any evidence you have (a dashcam video, for example) that you think will support your case. An experienced lawyer can help evaluate that evidence in advance.

If you are outside NYC, either you, or your attorney (if you have one) will meet with the prosecutor to discuss a potential settlement or “plea bargain.” A prosecutor will give you literally three minutes of his time. They have a knack for picking out those who are lying, making excuses, and just plain unprepared. However, they also have a keen ability to pick out those who know what they are talking about, can concisely articulate a cogent point, and brought their “A” game. Usually, instead of dealing with the latter group of people at trial, the prosecutor will cut them a deal. Make sure you are in this category.

In the event you or your lawyer do not get a favorable plea bargain offer, you must be ready to take your case to a hearing (or “trial”) in front of a judge. No matter how much you think “Law and Order” has prepared you for this moment, real life is nothing like what happens on television. Trials move along rapidly and in all likelihood you may feel it’s over before it even starts. As above, here’s where an experienced trial lawyer can make a big difference.

4. Show Up Early

The biggest complaint that we hear from drivers is that they had to wait in an extremely long line. Some say they waited all day and missed work.

However, one of the best kept secrets is that coming early can help secure an early spot in line and in the court proceedings. Most (but not all) courts hear cases in the order people check in. Additionally, attorney cases usually get called first – so here’s another advantage to hiring an attorney. He may be able to get you out of court hours earlier that you would otherwise, and in most NY courts you can avoid coming to court altogether by sending in your lawyer as your legal representative (rules vary state to state).

5. Be Honest

If you try to pull a fast one in traffic court, you will not get very far. Prosecutors and Judges are trained to see through liars and will ask questions that even the best hustler couldn’t answer. Thus, it is always best to be honest, truthful, and straightforward. Sometimes what we think is detrimental actually turns out to be harmless. That doesn’t mean you have to take the stand and admit guilt, but if you do choose to testify you will be questioned by the prosecutor, police officer and/or judge.

6. Expect the Unexpected

Sometimes your traffic court date will inexplicably be changed, the room that you are supposed to show up doesn’t seem to exist, or you are first in line and then five attorneys cut you. No matter what happens, keep cool and try to expect the unexpected. Doing anything else will cause you unnecessary stress that will not allow you to focus on the task at hand: getting a good result on your traffic ticket case. If you have an attorney just remember that the unexpected probably won’t come as a surprise to him and he will help you navigate any unanticipated situations.

7. Listen to Other Cases

Time to listen up. Hearing other cases that come before yours will allow you to do a number of things to help improve your chance of success. First, it allows you to get a feel for the judge’s personality. Is he more sympathetic to certain arguments? Is he relaxed, reserved, etc.? Knowing this ahead of time will be able to save you the hassle of finding out when it’s too late. Second, it allows you to see what the process is like, which is invaluable for decreasing your nervousness.

8. Turn Off Your Cell Phone

Although this should be a no-brainer, you might be surprised. In this high-paced, digitally connected world, certain people might as well glue their phones to their ears! Make sure not to be one of these individuals. Not only is it rude to the other people around you in the courthouse, but they are also prohibited in the courtroom. Unplug. It will do you and others a world of good.

9. Call the Judge “Your Honor”

Although it might not seem like it, this is a formal proceeding where a judge, who deserves our respect, is presiding over your case. Do not say “Mr.” or “Mrs.” Make sure to say “Your Honor.” Not only is this more respectful, but it also makes you sound more eloquent.

10. Hire a Lawyer

We can’t stress this enough: don’t try to be a hero. The old saying goes, “the person that represents himself in court has a fool for a client.” Though they may seem simple, traffic court cases can get very complicated, and unanticipated things can occur, and it is best to hire a well-trained traffic ticket attorney who can help you every step of the way.

The price of hiring an experienced traffic ticket attorney is well worth the peace of mind that comes with having someone with significant experience navigate the often choppy waters of traffic court.

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This post was written by Adam Rosenblum


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20 Comments

  • Emilee Bell
    October 30, 2018

    Hello. I was traveling west bound in a left straight lane heading towards McDonald’s in Springboro, OH. I signaled my left turn signal and started shifting lanes into the center lane to make my left turn and I saw a lady start pulling left out of McDonald’s looking to her right into oncoming traffic. I slowed down to complete my left turn (having 3/4 of my car in the center lane) and she crashed into my back left bumper. The police sited me and gave me a ticket for driving within lanes. My court date is tomorrow morning and I’m not sure how this works or if it’s worth my time to fight it. She (the lady that hit me) claimed I was on my phone (I was making a phone call through my car stereo but I wasn’t looking at it or holding it) and she also claimed she was in the center lane and I was in the left straight lane and cut her off to make a left, that I hit her which isn’t true. I’m not sure what to do. My ticket is $220. Thank you.

    • Ronen Cohen
      November 1, 2018

      Emilee – as we are not licensed to practice law in Ohio – we would recommend contacting an attorney in that State.

  • Kelvin
    October 23, 2018

    Hi so i have a question. I was given a ticket in ny long island for speeding on the highway. Speed limit was 55 and i was going 88mph. Also there were smaller tickets with it. Like inproper lane change and moved from lane unsafely, improper passing and following to closely. Now my reason was this. I was rushing to get my girlfriend and son back to a shelter in queens coming from riverhead. We were runing late. She had a curfew she had to be back by. Other wise we run the risk of them kicking her out on the street with my son who is 9 months old. I told the officer i have to get them back to the shelter on time or the shelter may kick them out . He didnt believe me and i feel like stalled us on purpose and took forever to come back to the car. Qe made it to the shelter at 930. 30 minutes after the time. We have not yet heard any qord on punishment from the shelter becaus eof that but we are scared something may come of it. But what can i do in the courts with this story ?

    • Ronen Cohen
      October 29, 2018

      Kelvin – unfortunately, speeding is a strict liability offense. Thus, as sympathetic as the reason may be, there is effectively no legal defense to speeding. What must be done in court, therefore, is to illustrate that the officer was not able to meet the appropriate burden of proof – clear and convincing evidence – when testifying in the trial.

  • Nicole
    October 21, 2018

    I’m 17 and I have only had my license for 12 weeks or so and two weeks back I was making a left hand turn onto a one lane road in a four way intersection and mid-turn a car on the opposite side of the road appeared and tried to turn into the same lane that I was turning into. I stopped and he managed to squeeze by but he had a little dent at the bottom of his door while he took off my entire front bumper. (Neither of our airbags went off) The man kept driving but then stopped after a bit and I got out of my car to go ask him if he was okay, etc. When I went over he had his phone out and was recording me and I apologized to him and told him that the passenger was calling the police and that I would do the same but he kept yelling at me which was frazzling. He ended up leaving in an ambulance for a broken pinky finger and had his car towed. I was never ticketed though so I’m not sure what to expect. But I know that its just supposed to be my father and I in the room with the judge. I was wondering what the possible outcomes may be and how I should prepare for the trial.

    • Ronen Cohen
      October 22, 2018

      Nicole – please clarify the reason you will be attending a court hearing?

  • Courtney
    October 9, 2018

    Hello,
    I received a ticket for an improper right turn after I followed the car in front of me taking a right on red at an intersection with a light up right on red sign that is nearly never lit up (this time, naturally it was). As luck would have it an unmarked cop car happened to be in the intersection and pulled myself and the car in front of me over. Just curious was the fines and points would be and if it would be worth going to court to see if I could plea it down. This is in Albany County New York. Thanks for any info you can provide.

    -Courtney

    • Ronen Cohen
      October 12, 2018

      Courtney – this court does allow for plea bargaining. I would advise you to only accept an offer if you are certain of its ramifications.

  • Jon
    June 28, 2018

    I received a ticket for cellphone use and failure to maintain lane in Lincoln Park New Jersey. It’s me first for getting either and my first ticket in over 7 years. What can I expect to happen? I was honest and respectful to the officer that pulled me over if that helps

    • Ronen Cohen
      July 11, 2018

      While NJ does not assess points for the first two cell phone violations, we generally advise drivers to contest these tickets to protect their record and assure their insurance rates are not impacted. This is particularly true as you are facing multiple violations.

  • Josey
    June 27, 2018

    I was wrongfully convicted of criminally speeding at 100 in a 75 in Arizona and I am 17. The officer said he had been following me for 15 minutes going 103 (meaning he waited 25 miles to stop me for some reason) . There is no evidence besides his word that I was going 100. I cannot afford a lawyer but feel confident that I have a good grip on speaking confidently, quickly, and with maturity. I’m planning on cross examining and getting the officer or whoever I question to say how many miles he was pacing me because that would determine if the pacing was right (18-21 miles would mean I wasn’t speeding or just a civil speeding ticket). I don’t know what much more a lawyer could offer me that would be worth it. I want to be an EMT and really don’t want this to affect my future. Any advice?

    • Ronen Cohen
      July 11, 2018

      We do not handle tickets in Arizona. I wish you the best of luck!

  • H G
    June 7, 2018

    Hi never went to court before so I don’t know how this works but I got a speeding ticket and my hearing date is coming up. Do I just go in and wait on time that they gave me? What do I have to take and expect? I’m going in because of speeding ticket, and reason why I’m going is because of my insurance might increase. What do I have to do?

    • Ronen Cohen
      June 20, 2018

      H.G. – please advise us of the location of this incident. Each court system handles tickets differently, and as such, the procedure would be different among jurisdictions.

  • Jeffrey Shireman
    May 5, 2018

    Hi so I was turning left and me and this other person collided, damages were not very bad on my vehicle not sure about his, I didnt have my wallet on me so i panicked and fled the scene. I got 2 citations for failing to yield left and fleeing the scene of an accident. Im 17, in florida, never been arrested and before this accident never had any citations. I have traffic court i believe on the 16th. Any information you can give me on what to expect or anything? Im a mess i can barely sleep over this. What are the chances i could just pay a fine rather then anything major? Thanks for your time

    • Ronen Cohen
      May 7, 2018

      In order to provide further information, we need additional details. Most importantly, I need the name of the court that has jurisdiction over your case.

  • g
    January 19, 2018

    hi, i was 31 over the limit (65) in guilderland. what do i have to expect?

    • RLF Attorneys
      January 26, 2018

      You are facing an 8 point ticket, that has fines of $600, fees of $93, and assessment penalties of $450. Furthermore, your insurance rates will likely increase significantly due to this violation. There, I strongly suggest that you contest this ticket to avoid and/or mitigate these consequences.

  • shoaib
    April 17, 2017

    Hi do you have a branch in Fayetteville NC because I have a traffic ticket from their

    • RLF Attorneys
      April 21, 2017

      We only handle NY & NJ tickets.