So, you've decided you're not going to just give up and pay your latest traffic ticket. This time, you're going to fight it in court.
Maybe you feel that your ticket is too high for the infraction, or maybe you believe it's completely unjust. Whatever your reason, as you begin to prepare your case, you probably find yourself wondering, “Can I really handle this on my own?” “When is it worth it to bring in an actual lawyer?” “Am I being stubborn? Should I just pay the darn thing?”
My goal in this article is to give you some guidelines for when it's worth it to put up a fight.
The real cost of a traffic ticket
The first step to making this decision is to understand the actual cost of paying your ticket. While at first glance you'd assume this to be the number printed on the ticket itself, there are other factors, some pretty significant, that you'll want to consider as well.
1. Points and license suspension
Points are the New York State DMV's way of identifying high risk drivers. Unlike a fine, money can't make these guys disappear. If you collect 11 of these within a year and a half, you'll very likely have your license suspended. In some cases, collecting a large amount of points in a short window can incur a fine of its own. Even when points are taken off your license, they're kept on your driving record and will likely impact your cost of insurance. Speaking of insurance…
2. Cost of insurance may go up
Moving violations (speeding, running a redlight, etc.) are recorded on your driving record, which your insurance company has access to and reviews on a frequent basis. While every insurance company is different, many will raise your rates for 1 to 3 years for something as simple as a speeding ticket.
3. Criminal record and jail time
For more serious infractions such as a DUI/DWI, a guilty charge will go on your criminal record and may result in jail time. In some cases, even some speeding violations can result in jail time.
As you can see, the cost of a ticket is often much more than you'd think. Paying a ticket is an admission of guilt and carries all the downsides listed above. Successfully fighting your ticket, on the other hand, means you don't pay the fine, you don't get the points, your insurance doesn't go up and there is no jail time or criminal record to worry about!
If you're dealing with a non-moving violation (parking, equipment malfunction, etc.) or a moving violation without points, and if the ticket cost is only a few hundred dollars, bringing a lawyer in just won't be worthwhile. I'd suggest paying the ticket, or fighting it yourself, depending on whether you'd rather spend your time or your money.
Once points become involved, or even if the fine is over a few hundred dollars, I'd strongly suggest fighting the ticket. If you want to fight it yourself, do some research and decide if you feel up to the task and time involved. I'd also suggest getting a quote from a lawyer so you know what it would cost to have someone handle the case for you.
For anything involving jail time or your criminal record, I'd absolutely bring in a lawyer, as the consequences of losing these cases carry pretty serious long-term implications.
At the risk of advocating for my own expertise a little too hard, here are two other reasons why you may want to bring in a lawyer:
- You've been accused of a crime. That can be embarrassing, stressful and even anger- inducing. Even the most level-headed will likely have trouble thinking clearly in such a scenario. It's for this reason that even America's top lawyers don't represent themselves when they need to appear in court. If you're worried about having a clear head, consider having someone else handle the negotiations for you.
- Just like the decision to fight the ticket in the first place, this is a cost-benefit analysis. For pretty much all non-criminal violations, a lawyer can appear in court on your behalf, so you can get on with your day, whether that's putting hours in at the office, going on vacation or bingeing your favorite Netflix series.
Was my advice helpful? Do you still have a question or think I missed something? Post in the comments section below.
Want some more customized guidance? Upload your traffic ticket here and I'll provide you with a quote for my involvement and then YOU can decide it's it's worth it. 🙂
Safe driving, all!