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How can I contest a traffic ticket?

How to contest a traffic ticket

If you receive a traffic ticket that you truly don't deserve, all hope isn't lost.

Fighting a ticket takes time and effort, but there are ways you can get the ticket overturned.

A courtroom appearance gives you an opportunity to tell your side of the story. Perhaps the red light you were accused of running actually was yellow. The radar gun that was used to measure your car's speed may not have been working properly.

You may be tempted to pay a ticket simply to avoid going to court, but a ticket on your driving record may result in higher car insurance premiums. According to a February 2015 study from, one moving violation can kick up your rate by a national average of 92 percent, depending on the violation.

If you decide to fight the ticket, there are strategies for strengthening your case. Here are eight tips for fighting a moving violation.

1. Be polite to the police.

You may feel angry about getting a traffic ticket, especially if you believe it was unjustified, but taking it out on the officer who pulls you over will only make matters worse. If you think a ticket is unjustified, say so in a calm and friendly manner. If you're civil, there's a chance the officer may let you off with a warning.

2.Know your rights.

One of the most important rights you have is the right to remain silent. If you admit guilt when the ticket is issued, your words may come back to haunt you in court. After pulling you over for a traffic violation, police officers often begin the conversation by asking, "Do you know why I stopped you?" If you say you were stopped because you broke the law, you'll have little chance of overturning the ticket.

Allen Baylis, a Huntington Beach, California, attorney who specializes in fighting traffic tickets, recommends you contact an attorney who can fully inform you of your legal rights before going to court.

3. Use photos for your defense.

Karl Mueller, a Phoenix attorney who specializes in fighting traffic tickets, says photos can help in your defense. For example, if you're accused of making an improper lane change and you don't believe the officer could have seen your car from his point of view, take photos from where the officer was located when he saw you.

If it turns out that a tree or a building obscured the officer's view, for example, you may have a strong legal defense.

"These days, almost everyone is carrying a camera," Mueller says. "Once the officer leaves, take pictures."

4. Find a witness.

You stand a better chance of overturning a ticket if you can find a witness who can testify on your behalf, Mueller says. For example, if someone else saw the incident and is willing to say you didn't violate the law, your plea of not guilty will carry more weight.

If your witness can't appear in court on your behalf, ask him for a written statement -- preferably legally notarized -- you can take to court. Check with the court to be sure that written statements from witnesses are acceptable.

5. Look up the statute.

Mueller says states typically have websites that allow you to look up the traffic statute that you allegedly violated. Often law enforcement officers write down the wrong statute numbers on traffic tickets.

For example, if you were ticketed for violating a statute that prohibits running a stop sign, and the statute number on your ticket refers to speeding violations, you have grounds for dismissal. 

 "I win a lot of cases because the officer used the wrong citation," Mueller says.

6. File a discovery request.

To know what evidence will be used against you, you need to file a discovery request with the court. Be sure to ask for all of the information you are entitled to under local statutes. If permissible, ask to see the officer's notes, calibration data for speed radar guns, and any other information that will help you prepare your defense.

The court clerk typically can tell you what information is available to you when you make a discovery request.

7. Show up in court.

Sometimes all you have to do to beat a traffic citation in court is show up, says Los Angeles attorney Nigel Witham. Often the officer who issued the ticket is unable to attend the court proceedings. Without testimony from the officer, the case against you is likely to be dismissed.

8. Prove your conduct was "legally justified."

There are cases in which a judge will rule that the behavior that caused you to violate a traffic law was justified.

For example, if you were speeding to stay out of the way of another motorist who was driving erratically, this might be accepted as a legal defense for speeding. It depends on the circumstances and your ability to convince a judge that you were compelled to break the law. 

Under California traffic law, if you’re rushing someone to the hospital for a medical emergency, you likely have a "legally justified" defense when fighting a speeding ticket, says Mark Schraeder, executive director of, the website for the law firm of Desind and Klijian in Sherman Oaks, Calif.

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