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How to Handle a Traffic Ticket
One of the complaints commonly heard about cyclists is that they never get ticketed for breaking the law. In fact, this is not at all true. Like motorists, cyclists get ticketed too. Sometimes, the cyclist was breaking the law and got caught. Sometimes the cyclist was not breaking the law, but a police officer made a mistake and the cyclist got ticketed. And sometimes, the cyclist was in a grey area somewhere in between. In each of these instances, the cyclist is often faced with questions about what to do.
The Traffic Stop
When the Cop Says Stop
Gather all the evidence you will need at trial
Speaking of lying…
So you just got a ticket
Now what do you do? Should you fight the ticket? Or should you just pay the ticket and move on? The answer to that depends on a number of factors. Consider the following questions: Were you caught red-handed breaking some traffic law? Did you break the law, but feel that there are some extenuating circumstances that would help a judge understand what happened? Did the officer make a mistake? Were you involved in a collision with another vehicle?
So should you just pay your fine if you know you are guilty? That is a decision that only you can make. However, you have other options, and there are a couple of reasons you may want to go to trial, which I will discuss below.
The Next Step: How to handle your traffic ticket
Now let’s talk about how to handle your traffic ticket. When the officer writes a ticket, he is making a “non-custodial arrest.” This means that instead of placing you under arrest and taking you to jail, the officer is giving you a summons (the citation or “ticket”) to appear in court and answer the charge against you. In some jurisdictions, the officer may have the authority to actually place you under arrest and take you to jail for a traffic violation, or give you a ticket in lieu of taking you to jail, at the officer’s discretion. In other jurisdictions, the officer may only have the authority to cite you (write a citation or “ticket”) for a traffic violation. But regardless of the officer’s authority, the ticket is your summons to appear in court, and your signature is your promise to appear in court and answer the charge against you (and that is why you are required to sign the ticket). The ticket does NOT mean that you are guilty. But it does mean that you must appear in court. Therefore, if you do not respond to the ticket, or if you do schedule a court date but you skip your court appearance, a bench warrant will be issued; later, if you are stopped for another violation, this bench warrant will appear when the officer searches your record, and you will likely be arrested. So you do not want to ignore the ticket. Once you’ve been ticketed, you need to respond to it, either by paying the ticket, or by appearing in court to contest the charge against you.
But what if you do want to fight your ticket?
Both of these scenarios are examples of a “mistake of fact” defense—a “reasonable explanation” for why you broke the law. Now let’s take a look at an explanation that will NOT be considered reasonable, and will NOT work as a “mistake of fact” defense. Suppose that you run a stop sign, get ticketed, and explain in court that you don’t believe that cyclists should have to stop at stop signs, that you safely ran the stop sign, and that the “Idaho Law” should be the law in your state. Although you might consider that to be a reasonable explanation of what happened, the court will not. After listening to as much of your defense as it cares to, the court will find you guilty, and order you to pay the fine. The lesson here is that a “reasonable explanation” of what happened is not what you consider to be reasonable, but what the court will consider to be reasonable.
Appearing in court
Is this the case of the century, or just another traffic ticket?
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