|NOBODY RELISHES AN encounter with the fuzz. But chances are you have friends who have the uncanny ability to weasel out of any speeding ticket. What's their secret? |
"If you're a woman, crying profusely has been known to help," suggests David Matheson, principal of X-Copper Legal Services, a North American fraternity of former police officers turned lawyers. But, let's face it, unless you're a soap opera star, crying on cue can be hard to do.
The good news: There are many alternative ways to get out of a ticket. Mastering these skills is bound to prove financially rewarding. Speeding tickets can easily set you back $200 — and result in painful hikes in your insurance premiums to boot.
Here's advice both on how to avoid getting a ticket — and, if you aren't successful there, how to get your ticket dismissed in court.
When You've Been Pulled Over
Be on your toes, here: The first few minutes after you get stopped are critical. "If you're going to be doing any fast talking, do it before the officer starts writing the ticket," says Lauren Z. Asher, a New York City attorney specializing in traffic law. Nowadays, most ticket-writing systems are computerized, which makes it a whole lot harder to make that ticket disappear once an officer starts the paperwork. Here's what to do:
Stick 'em up
You've watched the show "COPS," right? Well, so has the officer who just pulled you over, who's now wondering whether he's got a homicidal nut case on his hands. So don't pull any fast ones. Put the officer at ease by turning off your engine, lowering your driver's side window and placing your hands on the steering wheel. Don't root around for your personal documents until the officer asks for them — the motion may be mistaken for you hiding something or, worse, retrieving your handy Smith & Wesson.
It feels shameless, but go for it. If you have a police benevolent association, or PBA, card, hand it over with your license and registration. (Departments give these cards to donors, and individual officers hand them out to family and friends.) Keep in mind, though, that you'll get better results if you actually know an officer and have a card with his badge number on it.
When the officer asks, "Do you know why I pulled you over?" it's best to feign ignorance. "Sometimes it's a fishing expedition," explains Aaron Larson, a civil litigation and appeals attorney in Ann Arbor, Mich. The cop might have you for speeding for example, but not notice that you've got a blown-out headlight. No need to volunteer that information.
Obsequiousness works. Tack a "sir," "ma'am" or "officer" onto the end of every sentence, advises Jodi R.R. Smith, founder of Mannersmith, an etiquette consulting firm in Boston.
Being rude, sarcastic or combative with an officer can lead to more tickets (maybe he notices your seat belt isn't on) or a heftier charge ("reckless driving" rather than "failure to stop") (or more likely, getting tased! ). "He's got the pen and he's got the ticket book, and he's just going to say, 'Tell me when it hurts,'" says Matheson. And if you're really a jerk, you can bet the officer is going to remember you, should you later appeal the ticket.
Ask for a warning
"If it's pretty clear that the officer is going to ticket you, there's nothing to be hurt by asking," says Larson. More states are recording warnings, though, so getting one may decrease your chances of wrangling your way out the next time you're pulled over.
You Got a Ticket
Don't be so quick to pull out your checkbook. With a little time and effort, you may be able to avoid paying the ticket and, perhaps more importantly, clear it from your record.
One option, of course, is traffic school. The outcome of these day-long programs is arranged before you attend — usually, the ticket will be cleared from your record. In this case, you'll still need to pay for the ticket itself, but you won't have to worry about insurance premium hikes and added points on your record. Of course, if you're a frequent offender, you might find that traffic school is not an option.
Fighting a ticket in court is a gamble, but it's one you may be able to win. The key, says Matheson, is proving that the officer and the court made a mistake. Here are some tips:
Don't count on a no-show
You'll often hear that to contest a ticket, all you have to do is show up — ticketing officers rarely make an appearance at court. Not true, says Asher. It's considered a serious part of a traffic cop's job, she says. Many cities even schedule traffic-court hearings around an officer's schedule, so he or she can show up on one day at testify for a handful of cases.
Always plead not guilty
Pleading guilty with explanation (i.e., you did what you're accused of but for a good reason) allows a judge to reduce the penalty, but only if he or she buys your excuse. The offense still goes on your driving record — and can affect your insurance. Better to plead not guilty. One exception, notes Matheson, is if the judge or prosecutor is willing to accept a guilty plea in exchange for a lesser charge, or dropped charges.
Get the officer's notes
While you were babbling excuses in the car, your ticketing officer was writing down everything you said, as well as details of the scene. Often, these notes are all officers have to rely on at court. In most states, you have a right to request a copy before your court appearance. That way, you won't be blindsided by what an officer says, and can further build your defense.
Polish your defense
Arguing that you didn't know you were in a school zone, or didn't see the red light because you were talking on your cellphone aren't viable defenses. According to Nolo, a company that specializes in do-it-yourself legal materials for consumers, there are two tactics you might try: challenging the officer's observations (I had the right of way, not the other car), or defending your conduct (I had to cross the double yellow line to avoid hitting a dog).
Diagrams and pictures are always helpful, says Asher. They can help prove that an officer may not have had a clear view, or that your mistake was an honest one (say, if road markings were faded). For photos, include an identifying building, street sign or landmark in the frame. And make sure it's seasonal. Showing a stop sign partially obstructed with lush summer foliage won't help if you were ticketed in December.