There is a 12-month statute of limitations on traffic tickets in Alabama, as they are misdemeanor offenses. When a police officer issues a ticket during a stop, the period of limitations begins. The ticketed driver must respond to their ticket within 15 days of the offense. They can either pay the fine, ask the court to reduce it, or fight it in court.
Traffic Violations in Alabama
Alabama considers traffic tickets to be criminal offenses. They are misdemeanors and as such, have a statute of limitations of one year, although that varies with the type of offense and the possible penalties, such as fines, points on a driver's license, traffic school, or license suspension or revocation. A driver may face jail time in some cases, ranging from a few days to a few months. They may also face probation and community service.
A person who violates Alabama traffic laws receives a traffic citation that law enforcement asks them to sign. The signature is their promise that they will appear in court at a specific time. Failure to sign a ticket could lead to a driver's arrest.
Alabama's misdemeanor charges apply to traffic tickets if the driver was not involved in an accident that resulted in injury or death to someone else and was not driving under the influence. If the arresting officer has reason to believe the driver committed a felony, they will likely face more severe charges and penalties.
Paying a Traffic Ticket
A driver has up to 15 days to respond to a traffic ticket. If they decide to pay the fine, they acknowledge their guilt, but that's not all the consequences the driver will suffer. A person who pays their ticket waives their right to challenge it in court. The state also has the right to suspend their driver's license, depending on the points they may already have on their record, and the violation can cause the driver's motor vehicle insurance rates to go up.
Depending on the county where the driver received the ticket, they may have to appear in court to resolve the ticket or they may have the option to do so without making an appearance. To find out what their options are, drivers can visit the state's Online Traffic Resolution System. If they cannot resolve the ticket before the court date, they will see a message that reads: "This fine cannot be paid online. You must appear in court for this ticket."
If they can resolve it without going to court, they'll see options for payment. The driver has the right to a hearing within 24 hours in the county where law enforcement issued the ticket.
Pleading Not Guilty to a Traffic Offense
If a driver wishes to plead not guilty, they can do so in an Alabama county court. The law enforcement officer who issued the citation writes the date, time of appearance and court location on the ticket. The driver can show up, plead not guilty and request a trial, which may occur on the same day. The arresting officer will likely show up at the court date to testify against the driver, who then gets the chance to argue the law, call their witnesses, present evidence supporting their case, and question the officer.
Most counties in the state allow a driver to request a new court date, but they must reschedule ahead of time. Drivers will usually need to wait a few days for the state to process their traffic ticket before requesting a new date.
Getting the Ticket Dismissed
Depending upon the circumstance, a driver can get their ticket dismissed. They can do this by completing courses in a state-approved defensive driving school. The driver must appear in court to request this option, but the court does not always grant it.
Sometimes, drivers can get a ticket dismissed if they can prove they weren't in violation. For example, an officer pulls someone over and writes them a ticket for not having proof of insurance in the vehicle and gives the driver the option to show it to the court within a specific amount of days. This possibility depends on the ticketing officer, the court and the driver's circumstance.
Consequences of Ignoring a Ticket
A driver who gets a traffic citation should never ignore it. They should either pay the ticket or respond to the scheduled court date within the time limit. A driver who fails to pay or show up in court can face contempt of court charges. Not only will the driver still owe the fine for the ticket, but they will also incur a late fee and face suspension of their license. Furthermore, the court may issue an arrest warrant.
Traffic Infractions and the Driving Record
Under Alabama state law, traffic tickets stay on a driver's record indefinitely, but they stop impacting a license suspension after two years. Traffic tickets impact points on their license, car insurance rates and driving privileges. If a driver receives 12 points within two years – the equivalent of six minor or three major speeding tickets – the state will suspend the individual's license.
The period of time a ticket stays on an Alabama driver's license can differ from the amount of time it takes to affect insurance rates. For example, insurance companies look at a driver's record over the previous three years when calculating premiums. However, certain offenses may disqualify a driver from a good driver discount for longer than three years.
- Driving Laws/NOLO: Alabama’s Traffic Violation Point System
- Alabama Traffic Service Center: Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
- Alabama's Online Dispute Resolution Website: Lookup Your Ticket
- Off The Record: Alabama Traffic Tickets
- DMV.org: Fight Traffic Ticket in Alabama
- Wallet Hub: How Long Do Tickets Stay on Your Record in Alabama?
Michelle Nati is an associate editor and writer who has reported on legal, criminal and government news for PasadenaNow.com and Complex Media. She holds a B.A. in Communications and English from Niagara University.