Traffic Ticket – Lawyer or not?

One of the most frequent questions that people ask is whether or not they should hire an attorney to handle a traffic ticket, from a seat belt ticket to a speeding charge.  The short answer is yes, but the real question is why?

Traffic offenses bring three different entities into play: the court system, the insurance company and the Dept. of Motor Vehicles.  One single ticket affects your driving future in different ways.

  1. The Court System: In most cases, dealing with a ticket, such as a seatbelt ticket, a speeding ticket, or a ticket involving registration or inspection violations is easily handled.  However, every jurisdiction in NC deals with tickets slightly differently.  Therefore what may work in your hometown may not be as successful in another part of the state.  This brings us to the first reason to hire a local attorney – they know the procedures and processes necessary to bring about the most reasonable outcome for a ticket.  Additionally, an attorney is in a position to understand exactly how the outcome of your ticket can affect your insurance and your driver’s license, something the District Attorney’s Office and the judge cannot tell you.  In North Carolina there are a number of potential outcomes to a traffic ticket including, but not limited to: a dismissal, a reduction in speed, a modification of the original charge, an improper equipment, and “prayer for judgment,” to name a few.  A lawyer is in the best position to assist in determining which, if any of the above, are right for you.
  2. Trial: If you choose to have your ticket tried, then a lawyer is an absolute necessity.  There are particular elements for every charge, including traffic tickets, something the average person isn’t aware of.  Additionally, the average person isn’t familiar with how a trial unfolds – no matter what you have seen on TV.  Between the evidence needed to prove a defendant guilty by the State, to the format of the trial, to the expectation that anyone representing themselves is expected to conduct their defense as a lawyer would, a trial brings a world of challenges that the average person doesn’t know.  In over 10 years of trial experience, I have NEVER seen a pro se defendant successfully win a traffic offense case.  Reason number 2 to hire an attorney.
  3. Insurance: If I had to pick the question asked most often, it is this: “How will this ticket affect my insurance?”  Every traffic offense carries points on your insurance with the exception of an improper equipment or “prayer for judgment.” The question is how many points and how much your insurance could be raised if the ticket is not handled properly.  This is an extremely individualized question, as every insurance policy, no matter the provider, is different.  Obviously your driving history is one factor, but factors can also include other drivers on your policy, their ages, their driving histories, etc. There is no “one size fits all solution” regarding insurance impacts – Reason number 3 to hire an attorney to make sure that you get the best outcome for your case.  I have never met anyone who wanted to pay MORE to their insurance company than they currently do.
  4. DMV: Just as tickets have an impact on your insurance, they have an impact on your driver’s license.  Obviously, the fewer tickets you have had, the less risk you have in losing your driver’s license.  However, certain tickets can automatically suspend your license, no matter your history, such as a Reckless Driving ticket or speeding in excess of 15 mph over the speed limit AND driving faster than 55 mph.  Multiple tickets can result in a suspension as well.  Teenage drivers are particularly at risk, because simply being pulled for certain tickets can suspend their licenses before they ever get to court.  Again, this extremely individualized to your ticket and circumstances, and again, no District Attorney or judge can help you determine what is right for your situation.  Reason number 4 to hire an attorney.

Unfortunately, even after all of the above, people often handle tickets themselves.  The main reason is usually cost.  While an attorney can be an upfront cost in handling your ticket, the money saved in insurance fees over the course of several years will generally outweigh whatever your attorney charges.  Additionally, if your ticket is not handled correctly the first time, the costs in cleaning up the mess can far exceed any fees a lawyer may charge upfront.  For example, the “failure to appear” fee charged by NC Courts is $200 before fines and court costs, and a reinstatement fee from DMV starts at $50 if your license is suspended.  Reason number 5 to hire a lawyer for a “simple traffic ticket.”

If you are faced with a traffic ticket, please seek legal assistance.  Your wallet will thank you.