So you have received a NC traffic ticket and wish to keep your expenses down by handling the matter yourself in Court. This article will focus on tickets issued in Mecklenburg and Union County although much of the advice may apply statewide in North Carolina. Even though the law is the same throughout NC the elected District Attorney has great authority in setting local procedure and rules. You should always at least speak with a local attorney in the County where the ticket was issued to ask about local procedure. If you do not have a NC license then you may also want to speak with an attorney from your home State to ask about insurance points as a NC attorney cannot advise you about your out of state license. Finally be aware that insurance points and DMV points are two different scales and that even a single speeding ticket can suspend your NC license if the ticket is more than 15 over the limit and also more than 55 mph (ie. 71 in a 55 mph zone).
Can I represent myself in traffic court?
Yes- although that may or may not be a good idea. In some counties lawyers are able to obtain the best outcome by selecting a better Assistant District Attorney (“ADA”) to negotiate your ticket or simply knowing what to say that may result in a reduction.
Will the ADA throw out my speeding ticket?
It is rare to see an ADA outright dismiss a speeding ticket, although they do routinely dismiss other tickets such as seat-belt violations or tickets that result from an accident with an insurance letter.
Can I request a trial on my speeding ticket?
Yes- but that is rarely a good idea. Getting a not guilty from a Judge on a speeding ticket is much harder than it seems. Sure you can testify you were not going 72/55 as charged, but instead were only going 60/55- but that will likely get you convicted of going at least 60/55. I almost never recommend anyone request a trial for a speeding ticket even with a lawyer, let alone without one.
Does the officer have to prove the radar was working properly?
No- the radar simply corroborates the officer’s visual estimate of your speed. No radar reading is required to convict you. The officer simply needs to state that based on his/her experience and training that they estimated your speed to be 72/55 to get a conviction. Now do you see how hard it is to beat a speeding ticket at trial?
What happens if I have a trial and lose?
If you were to have a trial for 72/55 and lose and the Judge chose not to give you a prayer for judgment continued or PJC (because you wasted valuable Court time) then your NC license would be suspended for 30 days. If the speed was higher your license may be suspended even longer. This is why having a trial for a speeding ticket is so risky.
What should I take to court to get a speeding ticket reduced?
Take a certified copy of your driving record (assuming it is good) and usually the ADA will offer a reduction of some sort. If you were in an accident make sure you bring an insurance letter stating that your insurance company has accepted responsibility for the accident. Some ADA’s want the insurance letter to state exactly how much has been paid to the other driver for their property damage and medical bills.
Can the District Attorney reduce my ticket?
The Assistant District Attorney or "ADA" can dismiss, reduce, or amend your ticket to another charge such as improper equipment. The ADA cannot give you a PJC- only a Judge may grant a PJC. If you are seeking a PJC you may have to make a second trip back to Court to see a Judge.
Will driving school result in a reduction?
The ADA may offer you a reduction if you attend driving school, but be aware that takes time and money that may be avoided by hiring a lawyer.
How long will I be in Court?
It is impossible to say for sure, but you should plan on at least 2 hours and it may take much longer depending on how many other people have tickets that day and how many ADA’s are working the Courtroom.
What is the best outcome for a speeding ticket?
Generally speaking a reduction to a non-moving violation such as improper equipment is the best outcome short of a dismissal. If the ADA won’t give you an improper equipment then the next best outcome is either a reduction to 9 over or 5 over or perhaps a PJC depending on your driving record and what State your license is from.
How much does improper equipment cost?
Currently a reduction to improper equipment costs $263 in Mecklenburg County, although in Union County that fee varies between $263 and $338. Furthermore these fees are subject to change as Court fees go up every few years with almost no notice.
How do I get a reduction to improper equipment?
Currently there is a NC State law that says the ADA can’t give you an Improper Equipment if you were charged with going more than 25 mph over the limit. Mecklenburg County has a soft informal cutoff of 18 mph over the limit in addition to no other tickets in the last 3 years. Union County has a somewhat hard cutoff of no improper equipment if going more than 75 mph. Just because you appear to meet the criteria to be eligible for a reduction to improper equipment does not mean you will receive one. The rules sometimes change without notice and are always on a case by case basis. The officer may have written notes on the ticket submitted to the Court (different than your copy) such as you were argumentative or were driving aggressively that backfire on you. This is another reason to hire a lawyer- to see those officer notes!
How can improper equipment cost more than the fee printed on my ticket?
A $50 surcharge goes directly to the County for improper equipment. Furthermore the ADA has authority to adjust your fine whenever you decide to bring your ticket to Court.
How much does a reduction to 9 over the limit cost?
A reduction to 9 over the limit costs $203 in Mecklenburg County. A reduction to 5 over the limit costs $198 in Mecklenburg County. Union County usually costs more as each county sets their own fees.
How much does a PJC cost?
A PJC generally means you only pay the Court costs (no fine) of either $188 or $190 depending on the charge.
What should I say to the Assistant District Attorney (ADA) in Court?
Dress appropriately, be polite, and be brief as they likely have hundreds of tickets to deal with that day. Realize the ADA has heard every excuse in the book. If you try and give them some story they do not believe you may make matters worse. Finally realize that ADA’s are people and people have good and bad days in addition to their own ideas on what is fair. Some ADA’s are simply more understanding than others. That is one reason to hire a lawyer who knows all the ADA’s and can select the right ADA for your particular offense.
Can the ADA tell me how many points my ticket is?
The ADA represents the State which is prosecuting you and hence they are not allowed to give you legal advice of any kind. All of the following questions constitute legal advice and cannot be answered by the ADA:
What if the DA won't agree to a fair reduction?
You should probably ask for a continuance and speak with a lawyer.
What if I can’t attend Court on my Court date?
You may be able to call the Court or DA’s office and get your case continued. If you are not able to obtain a continuance you can always hire a lawyer to attend Court on your behalf. That is half the value of hiring a lawyer- you avoid the hassle of taking off work to go to Court.
Can I pay my traffic ticket online?
You may be able to pay your ticket online depending on the speed, but be aware you are pleading guilty with no reduction that may increase your insurance. Be especially careful about paying off an out of state ticket if more than 15 mph over the limit as that could potentially revoke your NC license.
What happens if I miss my court date?
If you fail to attend Court a failure to appear will be entered that will eventually revoke your license. Depending on the charge it is possible an Order for your Arrest may also be issued.