Getting a speeding ticket can hit you right where it hurts: in the pocketbook. Not only will you receive a fine, you may also get points added to your driving record which could push up the cost of your insurance. The good news is, a speeding ticket is not necessarily set in stone. You have the right to fight your ticket if you feel the officer was wrong in issuing the citation. Some states let you plead your case by writing a letter, using a process known as a "trial by written declaration."
Is It Worth Appealing?
The first thing to consider is whether it's worth fighting the ticket. If you were caught on camera or by a police officer with a radar gun, you're going to have a hard time persuading the judge that you were wrongly cited. You have more room to maneuver if the speedometer in your vehicle was under-reporting your speed, if weather or other conditions were obscuring the officer's assessment or if there were other extenuating circumstances.
If you're patently guilty, you could plead guilty to the offense but ask for leniency based on your personal circumstances. For example, if points will affect your employment, you could ask the court to give you a fine without having the violation on your driving record.
What Are Your Appeal Options?
Procedures vary by state but in general, you have a window of around two to three weeks after receiving the ticket to plead not guilty and submit a written statement to the court for review. Complete the "Written Statement" or "Request for Trial by Written Declaration" option on the form. Before writing your appeal, it's wise to request a copy of your driving record from the state. If this is the latest in a long line of traffic citations, you're unlikely to get much leniency from the court. Abstracts are usual available to order electronically through the Department of Motor Vehicles website for a small fee.
Stick to the Facts
Write a brief, factual statement about the incident including the reasons why you're appealing the charge or the penalty, and include any evidence or photographs of the incident. Mention anything that's relevant, such as:
- How many miles over the speed limit you were going
- Whether there was a proper notice of the speed limit
- A description of the weather, overhanging trees or other conditions that could obscure the speed camera's view or affect the judgment of the traffic officer
- Description of a driving maneuver you had to perform for safety reasons that impacted your speed
- A mechanic's report for your speedometer
- The impact the ticket will have on your job
- Your current, clean driving record
Some states will provide you with a court declaration form on which to make your statement; if there's no form, then format your statement as a business letter. Keep a professional tone. Do not use threatening or aggressive language – disparaging remarks thrown at the officer who cited you will only make the judge angry. Attach any photos, video evidence and witness testimony to support your claim. Keep copies of these documents as you may not get them back.
What Happens Next?
Once your statement lands, a judge will review your case. She will weigh up your written statement and evidence alongside the traffic officer's report to make a decision on your case. You will not have to go to court. If you are found not guilty, the judge will dismiss the ticket and restore your driving record with no fine and no points. If you are found guilty, you will liable for the original points and fine unless the judge decides to give you a lesser penalty, for example, a reduced fine or a fine but without the points.
At this point, most people accept the judge's decision and move on with their lives. But if you are unhappy with the outcome, you may be able to ask for a new trial to be held in court. Ask the court to explain your options.
- In NC, if you have not had a traffic ticket for the past 3 years, you can ask for a Prayer for Judgment and have the ticket dropped.
Jayne Thompson earned an LL.B. in Law and Business Administration from the University of Birmingham and an LL.M. in International Law from the University of East London. She practiced in various “Big Law” firms before launching a career as a commercial writer. Her work has appeared on numerous legal blogs including Quittance, Upcounsel and Medical Negligence Experts.