Do you really need a California traffic ticket lawyer? Is it worth the cost of hiring a lawyer to fight a ticket? Will I save enough money by hiring the lawyer to justify the expense or am I just making a bad situation worse? The answer to this question will depend largely on the type of traffic ticket you are facing. Not all California traffic tickets are created equal. Let’s take a look at the various types of California traffic tickets and try to determine if it makes sense to hire a lawyer.
Before we get started, it would be helpful to understand that California has three main levels of offenses. The lowest level is an infraction. An infraction is punishable by a fine only. You can not go to jail for an infraction or receive a criminal record or grant of probation. Infractions can however cause serious problems and cost you big money. Some California traffic tickets can run well over $1000 and the damage caused by points which are assigned to your driving record for convictions on moving violations can go well beyond that when you consider the increased insurance premiums and potential loss of employment for failing to keep a clean driving record.
The second level of offense in California is a misdemeanor. A misdemeanor is a criminal offense punishable by time in the county jail. Most misdemeanors in California are punishable by either six months or one year in the county jail. Common misdemeanor offenses are DUI, petty theft, driving without a license, driving on a suspended license, and hit and run. The third and highest level of offense in California is a felony. Although it is rare to receive a ticket for a felony in California, it does happen from time to time when someone is cite release on an outstanding felony warrant, or when the arresting agency is unaware of factors which will later make the offense a felony in court such as prior convictions or significant injuries in the case of a DUI accident.
California Vehicle Code Violations
For this category we will discuss basic California traffic tickets for infraction violations listed in the the California Vehicle Code. This section can be broken down into two main categories, moving violations and non moving violations. Convictions for non moving violations do not result in a point on your DMV record, so these offenses are generally considered the most minor of all offenses. Many of these violations are also correctable which means that the charge can be dismissed and the fine waived for a $25 proof of correction fee if you properly correct the violation and provide proof to the court in a timely manner. Common non moving violations include expired registration, driving without proof of insurance, and equipment violations such as illegally tinted windows or a burnt out tail light. For a non moving violation, it will rarely make sense to hire a California traffic ticket lawyer. The cost of hiring a lawyer will usually be too high to justify the result and the these types of violations can easily be corrected on your own. The only catch is that you must handle them before the deadline on the bottom of the ticket. If you miss the deadline things get VERY complicated and it could be time to call a California traffic ticket lawyer.
The second type of basic infraction is a moving violation. Moving violations generally involve driving the car, hence the name moving violation. Common movers include speeding, illegal turns, red light camera tickets, and driving in the carpool lane. Moving violations are generally considered more serious than non moving violations for two reasons. First, they are never correctable. You can’t show proof that you fixed them and have the case dismissed for $25. Second, if you are convicted of a moving violation, one or more points will be assigned to your driving record. Add the damage from the point to the cost of the fine and you very quickly end up in a place where it might make sense to hire a California traffic ticket lawyer. If you contact a reputable lawyer, the lawyer will not try to sell you his or her services if they are not in your best interest. A good lawyer will help you consider your options, including traffic school eligibility and the facts of your case, to determine if it makes sense to hire a lawyer for your ticket.
Tickets with a Failure to Appear or License Hold
These tickets start off simple enough, but they get ugly fast. The original citation can be for any violation, no matter how small. For example, let’s consider a fix it ticket for a burnt out tail light. If you fix the light before the deadline, have the ticket signed off, turn in the ticket to the court on time, and pay the $25 fee, your ticket is dismissed. No damage to your record and very minimal expense. However, if you miss the deadline, your $25 ticket can easily balloon to a fee of over $1000! How can this be? The problem is based on missing the deadline or failing to understand how the system works. Failing to complete all the necessary steps by the deadline will result in your ticket being treated as a failure to appear. The failure to appear can cause the court to issue a new misdemeanor charge for failing to appear under 40508(a), issue a hold on your license under 40509.5, and add a civil assessment of $300 or more per 1214.1. This can also lead to a chain of events or snowball effect where you end up caught driving on a suspended license and your car is impounded and you are taken to jail. All for a burnt out taillight! Don’t fall into this trap. If you have missed a court date on ANY ticket, take action right away to get it fixed. If you are in this situation it will almost always make sense to hire a California traffic ticket lawyer. A good lawyer can easily save you money and damage to your record in this situation that will far outweigh the costs of hiring the lawyer.
Tickets Issued to Commercial Drivers
If you are a commercial driver and your receive a California traffic ticket, you need to contact a California Traffic Ticket lawyer immediately. As a commercial driver you are not eligible for traffic school, so if you are convicted of a moving violation, the point will stick on your driving record. For most commercial drivers, one or more points on your driving record can be just cause for termination of employment. If you are a commercial driver and you have received a ticket, contact a California traffic ticket lawyer today.
Tickets for Misdemeanor Offenses
California tickets for misdemeanor offenses aren’t really tickets at all. These are actually promises to appear. All too often people in this situation make the mistake of thinking “it’s just a ticket” and then they are given a rude awakening when they go to court and end up in jail. If you were given a ticket after a DUI arrest, or a ticket for driving without a license, or driving on a suspended license, you are dealing with a criminal offense. When you go to court you face potential jail time. In this situation, you definitely want to consult with a California Traffic Ticket lawyer, or better yet, a lawyer with experience in criminal court. If you have received a ticket for a misdemeanor offense and you can not afford to hire a lawyer, you should appear in court and request the Judge to give you a Public Defender before answering any questions about your case and before making any decisions about whether or not to accept a plea deal.