Got a ticket for a moving traffic violation? You have options.

April 1, 2015

Chances are, most drivers in Florida have received a traffic ticket or know somebody who has.  However, they might not know they have options when dealing with ‘moving’ traffic citations. Keep in mind that this article does not apply to red light camera, criminal or ‘non-moving’ citations.  Read on to learn more about your options in dealing with moving traffic tickets.

It is important that you do not admit guilt when a police officer gives you a traffic ticket. Also, be aware that you have 30 calendar days from the issuance of a ticket to decide on any one of these actions:

Option 1. Pay the fine and receive points on your license;

Option 2. Pay the fine and opt for driving school (this option does not apply to those carrying a commercial driver’s license, or if you were cited for going more than 30 miles per hour over the speed limit; also, you are generally limited to this option once in a 12-month period, or five times in your life; however, some counties like Broward and Miami Dade allow you to elect driving school twice in a twelve month period, but an eight hour course is required for the second election instead of the regular four hour course); and

Option 3. Request a hearing with a judge or hearing officer.

Like many decisions, each option has its pros and cons:

Option 1. Paying the fine and receiving points on your license, might seem quick and easy; however, this is the least beneficial option, as it would add points to your driving record which could lead to an increase in your insurance rates, aside from paying the fine.  Be wary, paying the fine constitutes an admission of guilt (for example, if you are sued civilly as the result of an accident, you will be deemed to have admitted being guilty of the charge on the ticket.)

Option 2. Taking the driving school option is the only guarantee you have of not receiving points on your license. However, you are limited to taking the driving school option five times during your lifetime, and the ticket has to be paid.

Option 3. When requesting a court date, be aware that each county has its own court procedures. In Miami-Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach counties, this is a two-step process: pre-trial conference and trial. Upon filing a request for hearing, you will receive a notice to attend a pre-trial conference.  The officer that wrote the ticket does not attend the pre-trial conference.  Depending on your driving record, and the severity of the current violation, the hearing officer may allow you to enter a no contest plea and pay the court costs while avoiding points, or you can request a trial. But, if the hearing officer states that points will be a condition of the no contest plea, you can opt to go to a trial.

Entering the no contest plea does not mean you are pleading guilty, it simply means that you are not looking to challenge the ticket. If you elect to take the ticket to trial, the pretrial phase ends and you will receive another notice with the trial date and time.  At the trial, you and the officer are called in to testify.  After the testimony, the hearing officer will find you guilty or not guilty.  If you are found guilty, in addition to a fine and court costs, you may be assessed points. If you are found not guilty, you will not have to pay any fine or receive any points.  Be aware that the majority of officers do show up at the trial; however, if the officer does not show up, the ticket may be dismissed.  Despite a popular urban myth, the judge will not allow you repeated continuances in hopes of a dismissal if the officer fails to appear at some later date. If you and the officer are in court, the trial takes place.

There is a final option, which is a hybrid of options 2 and 3; you can choose to set your case for trial in the hope that the police officer does not appear or does appear, but is not prepared to go forward (for example, if the officer does not recall the incident.) In the event the officer does appear and is prepared to go forward, you have a second chance to plead ‘no-contest’ instead of going through with the trial.   Pleading no-contest at trial, though, will usually result in a penalty that is more severe than the penalty offered at the pre-trial conference (but usually less severe than the penalty imposed if you are to go through with the trial and be found guilty.)

An attorney can advise you on these options, depending on the violation.  Also, an attorney may be able to tell you if there is a defect in the ticket that may lead to its dismissal.  If you choose to be represented by an attorney, in most cases you will not have to appear in court at all.