Many of us know that being cited for a speeding ticket or other type of traffic violation can be a frustrating experience. If convicted, points will be assessed on your driver’s license, fines and court costs must be paid, your insurance premiums may increase and your license could be suspended depending on your driving history. I am frequently asked the question “should I hire a lawyer for my speeding ticket/traffic offense or should I represent myself?” The answer is that it depends on your situation. In the following situations I highly recommend that you hire an attorney.
- you have points on your driving record;
- you have prior traffic citations;
- you are charged with speeding in excess of 15 miles per hour over the limit;
- you are charged with a violation that carries 3 or more points;
- you are a minor;
- you are charged with any offense that carries with it a license suspension;
- you possess a commercial driver’s license;
- you insure many vehicles on your policy or have high liability limits.
However, if this is your first offense speeding ticket or traffic offense and you will not be assessed more than 2-3 points for the violation, if you choose, you may be able to represent yourself with some of the helpful hints that I provide below in the section "Representing Yourself in Pennsylvania Traffic Court."Points System
Pennsylvania, like many other states has a point system and keeps track of motor vehicle violations. The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDot) will assess points on driving record for certain offenses. Certain enumerated traffic offenses are assigned a number of points. Other traffic offenses carry no point value. The least amount of points you can obtain from a single traffic citation is 2 and the most is 5 points. The schedule of points for the various offenses can be found in the Pennsylvania Motor Vehicle Code at 75 Pa.C.S. §1535(a). Once you have accumulated 6 points, PennDot will require you to attend a driver improvement school or pass a multiple choice examination on the rules of the road. Points are removed from your record at the rate of 3 points per every year that you are free from violations resulting in points. When your record drops below 6 points and for a second time climbs above 6 points, you will be required to attend a departmental hearing with Penndot. The hearing examiner may recommend one of the following:
- No action;
- Driver Improvement School;
- A road examination;
- A maximum 15 day suspension.
When you accumulate 11 points or more on your driving record, PennDot will suspend your driver's license at the rate of 5 days per point. If you accumulate 11 or more points for a second time, PennDot will suspend your driver's license at the rate of 10 days per point.Mandatory Suspension
In Pennsylvania, if you are convicted of certain offenses, your license will be automatically suspended when PennDot receives notification of the conviction. Interestingly enough, the offenses with automatic suspension do not carry points.
The following traffic offenses carry an automatic 6 month license suspension:
- Racing on Highways 75 Pa.C.S. §3367
- Careless Driving 75 Pa.C.S. 3714(b)
- Driving Without Lights to Avoid Identification or Arrest 75 Pa.C.S. §3734
- Reckless Driving 75 Pa.C.S. §3736
- Accidents Involving Damage to Attended Vehicle or Property 75 Pa.C.S. §3743
- Driving Without a License (2nd conviction within 5 years) 75 Pa.C.S. §1501(a)
Failure to Stop for a School Bus 75 Pa.C.S. §3345, carries with it 5 points AND a mandatory 60 day license suspension. Driving Without Insurance otherwise known as Failure to Maintain Financial Responsibility 75 Pa.C.S. §1786 carries with it a 3 month license suspension on the operator of the vehicle and a 3 month suspension on the registration of the vehicle.Representing Yourself in Pennsylvania Traffic Court
In Pennsylvania, Magisterial District Courts have initial jurisdiction over traffic tickets. If you decide to contest your speeding ticket or other traffic citation, you must follow the instructions on the back of your citation, plead not guilty, mail the citation and post the appropriate collateral with the district court listed on your ticket. You may mail back the citation or drop the citation off in person at the front window of the district court. District Courts require that you post collateral. Collateral simply means that you will pay the citation and court costs up front. If you beat the citation or have the charge reduced, the appropriate amount will be refunded to you. The District Court will usually mail you a check. Next, once you have pleaded NOT guilty to your citation, you will receive your court date in the mail. Your court date will be at Magisterial District Court in front of your local district judge. District court is Pennsylvania’s version of magistrate court. The judge is an elected official and is not required to be a lawyer or possess a law degree. In some instances, Magisterial District Judge’s (MDJ’s) happen to be lawyers but this is not a requirement.
At your court date or hearing date, the police officer that issued you the citation must be present along with the judge. If the police officer does not show up, ask the judge to dismiss the citation. If the officer shows up to the hearing, you must negotiate with him or her to reduce the charge or take the case to trial. The police officer (NOT the judge) is who you negotiate with. The district judge's function is to find you guilty or not guilty at trial or dismiss the case if the police officer does not show up. You should not try to negotiate with the judge if the police officer is present. You may try to call the officer by telephone in advance of the hearing, but in my experience it is better NOT to bother the police about a traffic citation. I believe you are better off waiting to talk with the officer at the hearing.
If your case involves a speeding ticket and the officer cited you for 6 miles per hour (mph) over the speed limit, ask him or her to drop it down to 5 mph over. 5 mph over the speed limit carries no points on your license in Pennsylvania. If you are a New Jersey or Delaware driver, points will be assessed on a 5 mph over violation. New Jersey drivers should ask the officer to drop it down to a Failure to Produce a License violation which carries no points. Failure to Produce a license is a good “catch all” penalty for many traffic violations. I have had success having cases dropped to Failure to Produce a License.
If the police officer does not wish to drop your case down to 5 mph over or Failure to Produce a License, politely ask the officer if he or she should drop your case down to a provision with less points. The police officer may know of a less serious violation to which you can plead.
If the officer will not agree to a deal, at that point you may take your chances and demand a trial before the judge or give up and plead guilty. A traffic citation is a criminal matter and the police officer must prove every element of the case beyond a reasonable doubt. Before your court date you should locate the section of the motor vehicle code on your citation that the officer wrote. Look up this section of the Pennsylvania Motor Vehicle Code online and read it thoroughly. The officer must prove every element of the statute.Appeal
If you are convicted of a Pennsylvania traffic offense at the district court level, do not worry, this is not the end of the story. You have 30 days from the date of conviction to appeal to the Court of Common Pleas in the county where you were convicted. On appeal you receive what is called a trial de novo. De novo simply means that the case starts over again as if it had never happened and you get a new trial. In essence, Pennsylvania gives you a second bite at the apple in the Court of Common Pleas in your local county. Court of Common Pleas judges are all lawyers. In order to appeal your conviction, you must file a summary appeal form in your county courthouse within 30 days of your conviction and pay the requisite filing fee.Contact Us
Attorney Jason Antoine has successfully represented many citizens charged with traffic tickets in Pennsylvania. Many times Attorney Antoine is able to have the citation dropped to an offense that carries "no points. " As a former Assistant District Attorney Attorney Antoine would frequently cover "summary appeals court" and litigate numerous traffic tickets in a single day. Attorney Antoine represents individuals cited with:
- Speeding tickets
- Reckless Driving
- Careless Driving
- Running a Stop Sign
- Running a Red Light
- Leaving the Scene of an Accident
- Not Stopping for a School Bus
- Driving With No Insurance
- Driving on a Suspended License
If you need help with any type of traffic ticket, call Attorney Jason Antoine, Traffic Ticket Attorney at (610) 299-0295 for a free consultation.Past results do not guarantee success in future cases.