Should I Just Pay the Ticket or Hire an Attorney?

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In 2006, there were a total of 1,240,280 traffic tickets filed by the State of Washington. Approximately 17% of those traffic tickets were either dismissed or found not committed. A majority of those tickets were found to be dismissed or not committed because an attorney defended the ticket at a contested hearing.

How do I contest the ticket? When you receive a traffic ticket in the State of Washington, you have three options on the ticket from which to choose: Pay, Mitigate, or Contest. Paying the ticket means you admit to the alleged violation and you would like to pay the fine. Mitigating the ticket means you admit to the alleged violation, but you would like to explain the circumstances in an effort to reduce the amount of the fine. Contesting the ticket means you do not admit to the alleged violation, and you want to fight your traffic ticket.

Why contest the ticket? A contested hearing says you want to fight the ticket, but it keeps all of your options open. Even on the day of the hearing, you can always change your mind and decide to mitigate the ticket, or pay the fine. Having all available choices open is always the best position to be in.

Can I contest a ticket without a traffic ticket attorney? Of course, but your chances of winning decrease dramatically. Traffic tickets are dismissed or found not committed due to a combination of knowledge of the particular court, and knowing the right arguments to make in front of a particular judge. Many people get lucky and win, but it is a risky proposition for the most part, especially for those that have a Commercial Driver’s License, where a traffic ticket violation could be fatal to their livelihood.

Advantages of Hiring a Lawyer

  • You don’t have to go to traffic court and you don’t have to keep track of court dates. In most situations, your presence is not required at a contested hearing. The attorney will appear on your behalf and keep track of all court dates.
  • Prevent against raising your insurance premium. Many people think that hiring an attorney is too costly because most times, the cost of hiring an attorney is more than the face value of the traffic ticket. But this cost is far less than the cost to your insurance and your driving record if you admit to the violation and pay the fine.
  • Knowledge and expertise. A great number of tickets and officer reports are written up imperfectly. Since a certain amount of gamesmanship is involved in defending a traffic ticket, an attorney is always in the best position to look at the evidence and determine the best legal or technical arguments to make in front of a particular judge in a particular court. An attorney will know which errors or omissions on the traffic ticket or officer’s report will be fatal to the state or city’s case.

If I hire an attorney, what are the chances my traffic ticket will get dismissed? No attorney can guarantee results, but the chances of a traffic ticket dismissal are much greater with an attorney representing you.

Are there other possible outcomes besides an dismissal? As budgets continue to tighten, cities and counties will prosecute traffic tickets more aggressively. As a result, due to the facts and circumstances of the case, as well as the dynamic of the court, an outright dismissal may not always be possible. The following are extremely positive alternatives to a dismissal:

  • Reduction to a non-moving violation: Most tickets written up are considered moving violations that will increase insurance premiums. Based on evidentiary considerations, an attorney can request the ticket be reduced to a non-moving violation, such as No Seat Belt or Expired Vehicle License Tabs. There is a fine attached to these violations, but hiring an attorney and paying the fine on a reduced charge is still cheaper than the insurance increase over the ensuing years.
  • Reduction to Inattentive Driving or Driver Inattention: Due to evidential considerations, an attorney can also get a ticket reduced to Inattentive Driving. Inattentive Driving is a creature of city municipal codes. As such, it will not show up on a three year Abstract Driving Record which is viewed by insurance companies. There is a fine attached, but again, it is still much less than the potential insurance increases.
  • Stipulated Order of Continuance (SOC): Many courts, especially city courts, offer what is called a Stipulated Order of Continuance (SOC). The SOC can last anywhere from 6 to 12 months, and with payment of court costs (typically $100 to $150), the case would be dismissed if there are no further traffic violations. This is not an outright ticket dismissal, but certainly much, much better than the alternative.

As a criminal defense and traffic ticket attorney, one of the more frequently asked questions is: Should I just pay the ticket or hire an attorney? My answer to that question is always: To make sure all of your rights are preserved, contest the ticket. It is your choice whether you decided to hire an attorney to assist you, but hiring an attorney puts you in the best position to make sure your rights are defended.


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