When you see the flashing red and blue lights behind you, a sense of dread often fills the pit of your stomach as you pull over and roll down your window. The best you can often hope for when you get a traffic ticket is for a dismissal of the charges.
A dismissal of a traffic ticket basically just means that your ticket can no longer affect your driving record, cause you to face criminal charges, or run up your insurance rates. Whether a ticket will be dismissed or not varies based on a number of factors but it is not a clear cut kind of scenario.
Let’s look at what can happen and what you can do about it if you get the dreaded ticket or are facing criminal driving charges.
Your Driving Record
Your driving record has the largest impact on the amount of your yearly insurance premium. Insurance points are charged for at-fault accidents and for convictions for moving violations that occur up to three years before your policy begins. The NC Consumer Guide to Auto Insurance sheds more light on how insurance goes up according to the type of offense.
There are many different ways you can rack up points under the insurance system in NC and have to pay higher insurance premiums. NC Safe Driver Incentive Plan (SDIP) was created to help NC drivers to commit to driving safely. The more SDIP points you have, the more you pay in insurance premiums each year. For a complete list of the SDIP points system, see the chart at “It Pays to Be a Safe Driver”.
When you just go ahead and pay the ticket, you are admitting to guilt for the offense listed. If it is a parking ticket or something minor that will not be reported to the insurance company, that might be a good option.
The court system reports the final conviction to the DMV in whatever state you reside in. The DMV then takes action on your driver’s license if you are guilty for a traffic violation. Depending on the violation, you can lose your license, pay fines, or even serve jail time. You can check out the NC Driver’s Handbook for more information on violations that come with automatic driver’s license suspension when you receive a guilty verdict.
There are many types of tickets that you do not have to appear in court for. These are called “Waivable Offenses”. For a list of waivable offenses, see NCCourts.gov site.
If you choose to pay a waivable offense without contesting it, you are admitting guilt. Some of these offenses do carry penalties such as insurance rates rising or loss of driver’s license so consider carefully before paying a citation. It may be in your best interest to hire an attorney and make an appearance in court for your case. Many waivable offenses can be dismissed in court depending on the situation and the judge.
Non-waivable offenses are any kind of offense where a court appearance is mandatory. If you do not want to plead “guilty”, you are choosing to have a non-waivable offense. Anytime you want to contest an offense or ask for leniency of the court, you must appear in court. For a list of offenses that require a court appearance regardless of guilt, see NCCourts.gov site.
Non-moving violations are often not reported to insurance companies and often also carry no penalty other than a small fine. Examples range from a ticket for parking in a handicapped space to having inappropriate dealer plates.
Some non-moving violations do happen while the car is moving, such as not carrying your driver’s license with you while driving. Some non-moving violations are reported to insurance companies while some are not.
For certain speeding offenses, the District Attorney’s office may agree to process an online reduction of the charge to a less serious offense. For certain “correctable” traffic offenses (for example, an expired inspection), the District Attorney’s office may agree to process an online dismissal of the charge upon receiving proof that you have corrected the problem.
Plead “Not Guilty”
If you received a ticket and are not guilty of the offense, you may wish to enter a “not guilty” plea and hope to have the ticket dismissed. To enter a “not guilty” plea, you have to attend court on the day of your hearing to contest your citation and schedule a trial date when the officer can be present in court. At that time you or your attorney will present evidence to the judge who is hearing your case. Doing so without an attorney is not advisable unless you know and understand NC law and also how to speak with the judge and prosecutor using the proper procedure of the courtroom
Plead Guilty in Court
Traffic tickets in North Carolina are handled by a prosecutor. Trials and pleas of guilty are heard by the district court judge. In larger counties, you or your attorney will speak to the prosecutor or assistant district attorney about the possibility of a reduced charge. In smaller counties, you may deal directly with the judge.
If the judge decides to rule with a reduced charge, this could mean that you are charged for going 10 over the speed limit versus 15 over. Or perhaps you could be charged for unintentional littering versus intentional.
Prayer for Judgment
You can also ask for a Prayer for Judgment (also called a Deferral) once every 3 years. A PJC is granted by a judge and keeps you from facing judgment unless you have another offense within a 3 year period. If that happens, both offenses are charged to your driving record and your insurance goes up accordingly. If you don’t have another offense during the 3 years, the charge never goes onto your record.
Even if you are charged in court for your offense and it is not reduced, your attorney may be able to ask for a lighter sentence based on any number of factors. Your judge may decide to be lenient. Perhaps you could do community service or take a driving course to get your charge reduced at some point in the future.
Ask for an Extension
You can always ask for a continuance for your case while you decide what to do and how to handle your situation. If you have to be out of town or have a prior commitment, a financial hardship, or need more time to prepare, request an extension. If you are looking at a future trial date, you may need to ask for more time.
What We Can Do
An attorney can advise you on your best course of action, negotiate with the ADA, and represent you in traffic court or a trial if needed. If you are facing criminal charges, contact the knowledgeable and experienced attorneys at Hopler, Wilms, & Hanna. We fight for your rights inside and out of the courtroom and understand the complexities involved in these types of criminal traffic cases. We will do everything in our power to help you fight any injustices you may be facing.