Should I Challenge a Traffic Ticket in Tampa Courts?

January 14, 2024
Should I Challenge a Traffic Ticket in Tampa Courts?

Challenging a traffic ticket in court is usually beneficial. Yet, it is not always an easy choice between challenging your traffic ticket or paying it, primarily because paying it is an admission of guilt and can hurt your driving record. Some insurance companies will even increase your insurance coverage cost if you get several traffic tickets.

On the other hand, choosing to contest a traffic ticket can cost you time and money. For this reason, it may be in your best interest to contact a traffic attorney in Tampa to advise you of your legal options.

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Should I Challenge the Ticket in Court?

Challenging it may be a good idea if you believe you received a traffic ticket wrongly or consider winning the case by taking it to court. Listed below are a couple of options to consider.

Error on the Ticket

If your ticket has a significant error, you can argue that the entire ticket is incorrect. Minor errors are unlikely to be considered, but mistakes such as your registration number, the location of the accident, or misrepresenting your insurance details can get your case dismissed.

Significant errors can undermine the credibility of the ticket. For example, if the location of the alleged violation is incorrect, it might suggest that the officer's observation was not as reliable. Similarly, incorrect personal details might indicate a procedural error, which can be a strong point in your defense.

Minor errors, such as a misspelled name or a slight mistake in vehicle color, are often not enough to dismiss a ticket. Courts typically view these as clerical errors that do not materially affect the nature of the violation.

If you identify significant errors, document them. This might involve taking photographs, gathering your records, or obtaining witness statements. Presenting these discrepancies can form a part of your argument in court.

If your attorneys find significant errors, the next step is to prepare for contesting the ticket. This preparation includes gathering evidence, planning a legal strategy, and possibly filing a dismissal motion based on the inaccuracies. The best-case scenario is a complete dismissal of the ticket. In other cases, the court may acknowledge the errors, reduce penalties, or offer alternative resolutions.

Mistake of Fact

Challenging Traffic Ticket in Tampa Courts

Mistakes of fact may be a possibility for you to have your case thrown out. A mistake of fact can be a defense if it is a reasonable argument. For example, you can argue that it was snowing when you left the house, and the snow-covered your plates. Similarly, if a child crossing sign was dirty, covered, or fallen, you can argue that you didn't see the sign. You didn't know to slow down since you cann't see the sign.

This defense rests on the premise that an honest and reasonable error occurred in understanding a fact, directly leading to the alleged violation. The key here is the reasonableness of the mistake under the circumstances.

To successfully argue this defense, evidence is needed. Photographs of the obscured sign, weather reports, or witness statements can substantiate your claim of a mistake of fact.

While you may have committed the violation, this defense acknowledges that it was unintentional. Demonstrating the lack of intent to break the law can be persuasive in court, especially in traffic violations where intent can play a significant role.

This defense is not applicable in all situations. The mistake must be reasonable and about a fact that, if true, will have made the action lawful. Misunderstanding the law, often called a "mistake of law," is not a valid defense in traffic cases.

In some cases, presenting a strong mistake of fact argument can lead to negotiations with the prosecutor before the case reaches a courtroom. An experienced traffic attorney can often negotiate a favorable outcome, like reduced charges or alternative penalties.

What Are the Civil Traffic Ticket Options?

You can choose a few options when deciding how to proceed with your traffic ticket.

Pay the Traffic Ticket

By paying the civil penalty, you plead guilty to the violation stated on the traffic ticket you were issued. Additionally, the Florida Department of Motor Vehicles will assess and update the points on your driving record and send the new information to your car insurance company.

As per Florida state law, you have 30 days to pay your fine to the Clerk of Court in the county where you received your ticket. Failure to do so will require you to pay a hefty fine, and you may have your driver's license revoked.

Enroll in a Traffic School

If you're guilty of the crime stated on your ticket but don't want to pay a fine, you can enroll in traffic school for an introductory driver improvement course. By selecting this option, the Florida Department of Motor Vehicles will not assess your driving points, and your car insurance will not be increased or canceled.

Starting on the date you paid your fine and elected to go to traffic school, each county gives you anywhere from 60 to 120 days to complete your course and give a copy of your Traffic School Certificate to the Clerk of Court. You must present a certificate of course completion to the clerk's office afterward; failure to do so will require you to pay a hefty fine.

You should always note that going to traffic school isn't always an option. You can only take one course in 12 months and only five courses in a lifetime. Lastly, you cannot choose the traffic school option if the traffic violation is related to any of the following:

  • Driver's license points
  • Faulty vehicle registration
  • Expired insurance coverage

Request a Lesser Plea

If you have excellent negotiating skills, consider requesting a lesser plea. This may be possible if it is your first traffic violation in Florida. First, you should admit you are wrong, show initiative to improve, and ask the judge for flexibility on the civil penalty.

Courts often look favorably upon defendants who take proactive steps, such as enrolling in a defensive driving course or performing community service related to road safety.

Before your court date, your attorney can negotiate with the prosecutor. This discussion can lead to an agreement on a lesser charge or penalty, which the judge may approve.

Negotiating a lesser plea can significantly impact your driving record and insurance rates. It can prevent the accumulation of points on your license and potentially avoid increased insurance premiums.

No Selection

If the deadline has passed since you were issued the traffic ticket, and you have not chosen any of the above options, you will be required to pay the fine in full with no choice of extending the time frame. To avoid penalties, it's advisable to select before the deadline, even if you opt to pay for your ticket.

Understanding the Impact of Traffic Violations on Insurance

Plead Guilty to the Violation Stated on the Traffic Ticket

Traffic violations can significantly impact your car insurance rates and coverage. Understanding these potential impacts aids in making informed decisions about your case.

One of the most immediate effects of a traffic violation on your insurance is the likelihood of an increase in your premiums. Insurance companies often view traffic violations as signs of risky driving behavior. This perception can lead to higher insurance rates as insurers assess the increased risk of covering drivers with violations.

Many insurance companies, like the DMV's points system, assess your driving risk. The points on your driving record serve as indicators of your driving habits. Generally, accumulating more points can result in higher insurance premiums, suggesting a pattern of risky driving behavior.

Not all traffic violations are viewed equally by insurance companies. Minor offenses typically have a less severe impact on your insurance rates compared to major violations. Serious infractions like DUIs or reckless driving are viewed more harshly and often result in more significant premium increases.

Duration of Impact on Insurance Rates

The duration that a traffic violation affects your insurance varies. Typically, minor violations influence insurance rates for about three to five years. However, the specific time frame can depend on the severity of the violation and your insurance company's policies.

The influence of a traffic violation on your insurance rates can decrease over time. Demonstrating consistent, safe driving behavior over an extended period can help gradually lower your insurance rates.

Traffic Violations and Insurance Categories

Insurance companies may categorize drivers who commit serious traffic violations as high-risk. This designation typically leads to significantly higher premiums. In some cases, high-risk drivers may need to obtain specialized high-risk insurance policies, which are often more expensive than standard policies.

Drivers with multiple traffic violations may experience a shift from standard to non-standard insurance policies. Non-standard policies are generally reserved for drivers with higher risk profiles and typically have higher insurance rates.

Speeding and Reckless Driving

Insurance providers take speed seriously, particularly at high rates and reckless driving behaviors. These behaviors significantly increase the risk of accidents, reflected in increased insurance premiums. Reckless driving, in particular, is often associated with high-risk behavior, leading to substantial rate hikes.

Minor Offenses

Although minor offenses like parking tickets generally do not affect your insurance rates, a repeated pattern of such minor violations can raise concerns with your insurer.

Consistently accumulating minor infractions can signal a disregard for road rules, which might increase premiums as insurers perceive a higher risk associated with the driver. This consistent history can lead to potential hikes in insurance costs due to the perceived increased risk.

Shopping for New Insurance After a Violation

After receiving a traffic violation, shopping around for new insurance can be beneficial. Different insurance companies have their policies on how they rate various violations. By comparing rates from multiple insurers, you may find more favorable terms or lower premiums, even with a recent violation on your record.

If you have been with your insurance company for a long time and have maintained a good driving record, you might have the opportunity to negotiate your rates. This negotiation can involve discussing options to mitigate the impact of your recent violation. Some insurers are willing to consider the overall customer relationship and may offer more lenient terms to retain loyal clients.

Defensive Driving Courses and Insurance Discounts

Enrolling in and completing a state-approved defensive driving course can sometimes help offset the impact of a traffic ticket on your insurance rates. These courses reinforce safe driving habits and demonstrate your commitment to responsible driving.

Many insurance companies offer discounts to policyholders who complete defensive driving courses. These discounts can be available even if you haven't received a traffic violation, as insurers value proactive efforts to promote safe driving.

Successfully contesting a traffic violation with legal assistance can prevent the violation from impacting your insurance rates. An attorney can help challenge the ticket in court, potentially resulting in a dismissal or reduction of the violation, which can positively affect your insurance costs.

When legal representation secures a negotiated lesser plea, reducing charges, your insurance rates will likely decrease. This outcome often stems from the adept negotiation skills of a lawyer, leading to a mitigated effect on your insurance premiums due to the reduced severity of the charge.

Future Considerations for Maintaining Lower Insurance Rates

Maintaining a clean driving record is the most effective strategy to keep your insurance rates low. Adhering to traffic laws and driving safely can help prevent future violations and their consequent impact on insurance rates.

You should regularly review your driving record to ensure it is accurate and up-to-date. Errors or outdated information on your driving record can lead to unjustified increases in your insurance premiums. Promptly addressing any discrepancies can help in maintaining fair insurance rates.

An Experienced Tampa Traffic Attorney Can Help

Matthew Dolman traffic attorney in Tampa
Tampa Traffic Attorney, Matthew Dolman

Consider all your options when debating whether to pay or contest a traffic ticket. If you are unsure what to do, contact a law firm in Tampa that addresses traffic-related matters. Don't hesitate to reach out today for a free consultation and discuss your legal options to make an informed decision.