How to Pay for an old Traffic Ticket

By Laura Reynolds
Pay for an old Traffic Ticket
DRW & Associates Inc.

You found that speeding ticket in a box of computer cables after you moved. Following an initial feeling of cold panic, you look on the back of the citation and discover that the court date was last week--or last year. You’d planned to pay the forfeiture but forgotten in the rush of things. Short of hiding out so they won't be able to find you to serve a bench warrant, there are several ways to do your duty and pay the fine.

Examine the ticket. On the face of the citation, there should be information that the court uses. Your name, current address and identifying characteristics should all be correctly recorded. The violation should be entered by title and statute or ordinance number. The date of the violation and your court date should be clearly noted. Look for the court location data, either on the front or the back of the citation.

If your court date has passed, you have probably been "defaulted." That means that a plea of guilty has been entered because you didn't show up. In most cases, the practice for simple traffic tickets is to assess the fine using the bond amount on the face of the ticket. Since most states require courts to allow defendants a certain period of time to pay fines, you may not have a late ticket at all, just a defaulted case. Generally, courts will issue a statement of default judgment and penalties to the address listed on the citation. If you didn't receive one, call the phone number listed for the court on the citation and ask for the clerk of court. Explain your situation and ask if you can mail your check--or pay online. She'll probably be thrilled to help you pay your fine.

Call the clerk of court even if the grace period (typically 60 to 90 days from the court date) has elapsed. Explain your situation and ask if you can apply to have your case reopened. Unless you have a good reason based on a mistake on the citation or uncontrollable event, you may have a hard time getting the case reopened. If you do get your case reopened, all of the time requirements restart, so you can plead not guilty and ask for a trial or plead guilty and request supervision or just pay your fine without further fines or penalties. If you don't get to reopen, they may just let you pay the fine. Most courts want to to clear cases and are willing to be a bit flexible in simple forfeiture cases.

Don't give up. Defendants who don't show up for court and fail to contact the court are sometimes considered "in contempt of court" and assessed additional fines. Judges have also been known to issue bench warrants for the arrest of defendants, ordering that they be immediately arrested and brought before a judge. If you can't find the court information and have lost all the notices, contact the nearest municipal or state circuit court clerk. He'll be happy to help you track down the person you need and may even be able to take your payment or provide any papers you might need to file to petition to reopen or clear a suspension.

About the Author

An avid perennial gardener and old house owner, Laura Reynolds has had careers in teaching and juvenile justice. A retired municipal judgem Reynolds holds a degree in communications from Northern Illinois University. Her six children and stepchildren served as subjects of editorials during her tenure as a local newspaper editor.