Minor Traffic Ticket involving Accident? Fight it - Don't Prepay!
If you are involving in a traffic accident and the police officer gives you a summons for violating a minor traffic law, like failure to yield right of way, or following too close, I know you might feel a strong temptation to pay off the ticket. It's a pain to take time off to go to court, and what's the point if the judge will find you guilty anyway? If those thoughts are going through your mind, you should think again and read on!
The correct answer: You should go to court and fight the ticket. If you pay the ticket in advance or if you plead guilty to the charge in court, the fact that you pled guilty can be used against you in a civil lawsuit if you are sued by the other driver. Years ago, the law changed on the issue of appearing in court. Before the law changed, you had to appear in court for any traffic charges if an accident was involved. Now, you can elect to pay the ticket in advance to avoid going to court. The potential repercussions from admitting fault far outweigh the inconvenience of going to court. Even if you are found guilty, as long as you pled not guilty, the traffic charge against you can not be used as evidence in a lawsuit against you for the accident.
There are many traffic charges you can receive that you can pay off in advance to avoid having to go to court. There are a few serious offences that you can not pay in advance and you must appear on the return date. Theses include reckless driving, driving on a suspended or revoked license, leaving the scene of an accident, driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, and eluding the police. These offenses are serious enough that you are entitled to have an attorney to represent you in court. If you can not afford an attorney, the judge appoint a public defender to represent you in court.
If you are thinking of paying a fine for a minor traffic charge in advance of court, consider the following. When you pre-pay a traffic fine, the advantage is, you do not have to take time out of your schedule to go to court. Sometimes, court can take the better part of a day. The problem is that when you pre-pay, you have no chance of having the charge reduced or dismissed. For example, if you are charged with a speeding ticket, a judge might reduce or dismiss a case if you can show you have a good driving record and/or prove that your speedometer was defective. Whenever I represent someone for a speeding charge, I show the judge my client's DMV abstract if my client has a good driving record. Sometimes the judge will dismiss or reduce the charge after seeing a long driving history with no convictions. I might also present the judge with a speedometer calibration showing my client's speedometer was defective. Sometimes, the judge will reduce the speeding ticket to defective equipment when a calibration shows my client's speedometer was off by a significant amount. Defective equipment is not considered a moving violation and carries no negative points with the DMV. The bottom line is, there are several reasons why a judge will reduce or dismiss a charge. If you do not go to court, however, you have no chance of having the charge reduced or dismissed.
In a case involving an accident, chances are, the police officer did not see the accident occur. The officer will need a witness to testify in court about what you did illegally that led the officer to write you a summons. Sometimes witnesses don't show up to court. Without a witness, the officer's sometimes have a very difficult proving you violated the law. Bottom line: If you don't show up to fight, you will never know!