How to Appeal a Traffic Violation

by Mardi Link

No one likes a traffic ticket, but they are especially vexing when you believe that you did nothing wrong. Police officers do make mistakes, and sometimes you can fight your ticket and have it dismissed or the fines reduced. Here's how to get started.

Begin by understanding what traffic rule you have been charged with violating. Check your ticket for the traffic violation code and match it to the code listing on the bottom or back. Each of these codes has a corresponding rule or ordinance, and if it is checked or written in the "violation" box on the ticket, that's your charge. A civil violation charges you a fine and records points on your driver's license. A criminal violation, whether misdemeanor or felony, charges you with a crime and could result in higher fees, an arrest, and even jail time.

If the alleged violation is listed as civil, most jurisdictions will allow you to enter your plea by mail. Sometimes there is the opportunity to plead "guilty with an explanation." Choose the option that is most likely to attract favorable attention from the judge or magistrate, and then return the ticket before the deadline. Consider revisiting the site of the violation to take photographs, measure the area if necessary and make sketches. These could come in handy if you have a hearing.

If you incurred the violation while traveling and are unable to return to the community where the alleged violation occurred, consider hiring an attorney. Most traffic courts allow attorneys to appeal the ticket for you, and you do not have to be present for the hearing.

Attend your hearing if necessary, and be on time. Plan a fact-based defense. Traffic violations can often be a matter of the police officer's subjective opinion. Use your own observations and any facts that the judge or magistrate will deem relevant in your defense. Remain polite and to the point. Use your photographs and sketches to back up your defense.

Be aware of the possible outcomes. These include guilty, dismissed on costs, under advisement or innocent and violation fines and points dismissed. If you are found guilty of the violation, you're liable for all costs, fines and points on your license. If the ticket is taken under advisement, it will eventually be dismissed if you incur no additional violations within a specified period of time. If dismissed on costs, the violation is dismissed and no points are incurred as long as you pay the fine. If dismissed, you owe nothing and your appeal was worth the effort.

Warning

  • close Prepare to be disappointed in the outcome of your appeal. Many judges and magistrates give police officers the benefit of the doubt if it is your word against theirs. Your satisfaction comes in knowing you voiced your opinion in court.

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About the Author

Mardi Link is a former police reporter, covering crime and law for five years. She has two true crime books, When Evil Came to Good Hart and Isadore's Secret (University of Michigan Press). Her articles appear in The Detroit Free Press, ForeWord, and TC Business News. She lives in northern Michigan.