Hiring a lawyer for traffic court may seem like an expensive way to handle traffic court. After all, for a simple speeding ticket, you can simply prepay the ticket and avoid missing work, going to court, and avoid spending additional money on a lawyer. However, this decision is not as easy as it seems due to the consequences of a conviction for the varying traffic offenses.
Traffic Ticket Points
Each traffic violation carries either points (a moving-violation) or no points (a non-moving violation). The points, called DMV demerit points, are set by the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles. The demerit points range from 3 points, 4 points, and 6 points depending on the charge. For example, failure to obey a highway sign is 3 points and a conviction will result in the individual's driving record point balance being reduced by 3 points. An example of a 6 point offense is speeding at 20 mph or more above the speed limit. A conviction of that speeding ticket would result in 6 points being deducted from the individual's driving record. Note: Prepayment of the fine is a guilty plea and a conviction of the charge. Please see the Virginia DMV website at http://www.dmv.virginia.gov/drivers#points_assess.asp for more information on specific point balances and for further information.
Rapid Point Accumulation and License Suspension
If too many points are accumulated in a short period of time, the DMV may suspend your license. As of this writing, if at least 8 points is accumulated in 12 months or 12 points is accumulated in 24 months, DMV will send an advisory letter. If 12 points to 17 points is accumulated in 12 months, the DMV will require completion of a DMV-approved driver-improvement course within 90 days or the individual will face a license suspension. (§46.2-498) In addition, anyone required to complete a driver-improvement program by the DMV will be placed on probation for six months. (§46.2-499) Following completion of probation, a driver-control period is set for 18 months. Any demerit points during that time period will result in the individual being placed back on probation for six months followed by the control-period. (§46.2-500) Note: Any demerit points accumulated during the probationary period will result in a suspension of the individual's driver's license for a period of time depending on the point-severity of the traffic offense.
Traffic Offenses and Insurance Rates
Every insurance company is different in how they assess insurance rate increases. We always advise our clients to call their insurance carrier, anonymously if possible, to see how they assess insurance rates for traffic violations. We do frequently receive calls from people who simply prepaid their tickets previously and later find their insurance rates have increased.
Accident cases are ripe with issues that need to be addressed. For example, the charging officer generally did not personally see the accident and showed up after the fact. As a result, many people are improperly charged with causing the accident and are ticketed. Upon a conviction, there is the double-hit of the points and liability for the accident. A lawyer is important for traffic cases to both fight the ticket or, in the alternative, for damage control to mitigate the points and/or liability of the offending driver.
If you are charged with a non-moving violation, such as defective equipment, there is generally no need to have a lawyer unless it is an accident case. These types of violations carry no points and the county codes (such as 82-4-24) do not even appear on your driving record. Prepaying these type of offenses and avoiding traffic court is generally not an issue.
Misdemeanor Traffic Tickets
When an individual faces a misdemeanor charge, such as reckless driving, aggressive driving, hit and run, etc., it is very important to have a lawyer. Notwithstanding the 6 demerit points for a conviction and insurance rate increases, a misdemeanor conviction is a lifetime criminal record. It is never recommended to appear for court and hope the judge reduces the charge. It becomes the individual's word against the officer's and the judge is more likely to believe the officer's assessment of the driving behavior even if the individual has a defense or other mitigating evidence.
Traffic Court Lawyer
Hiring a traffic lawyer will help to keep your record clean of demerit points and help avoid insurance rate increases. While not every charge can be reduced or dismissed, a traffic lawyer is in court everyday and, just as we are at the Letnick Law FIrm, are very familiar with the judges, prosecutors, and police officers involved. We have built a strong rapport with the court and evaluate each case as being very important to the client. Because while it may seem expensive at first, hiring a good traffic lawyer will pay dividends later for the client.
Do I Need a Lawyer for My Speeding Ticket?
If you are charged with a moving violation (i.e. the charge carries demerit points), you should consider hiring a lawyer. In many jurisdictions in Virginia, the lawyer can appear in Court, on your behalf, to resolve the charge. So while you are paying for a lawyer to represent you, you would not necessarily need to miss work. In addition, in some jurisdictions, the lawyer can work out a plea deal where the charge is dismissed after completion of traffic. In other jurisdictions, the lawyer can work out a plea deal where the moving violation is reduce to a no-point non-moving violation that does not result in demerit points or insurance rate increases. Your driving record stays clean.
Is It Worth Getting a Lawyer For a Speeding Ticket?
Provided the lawyer is not charging an arm and a leg, it is generally worth hiring a lawyer for a speeding ticket. It gives you the best chance to keep your driving record clean and avoid insurance increases in the future. For example, if you hire a lawyer for a speeding ticket for $400, and all you have is a $100 court fine plus court costs for the reduced no-point charge that your lawyer worked out for you, then you have saved more in the long run by avoiding the insurance rate increase that will likely remain elevated for a few years. You also keep a clean driving record so if, for example, you are stopped again by the police in the future for speeding, they will see your clean driving record and, in some instances, let you go with a warning (not wanting to charge you since you have a good driving record).