Two Choices: Plead Guilty or Not Guilty?
If you have received a traffic ticket in New Jersey, you have two choices. You can plead guilty and pay the fine on the ticket, thereby accepting any points that come with it, or you can plead not guilty and fight the traffic ticket in court.
If you choose to plead guilty, you must pay the total fine associated with the ticket. This could be a minor fine for a parking ticket, or a significant fine such as those that come with a DUI.
Of course, the greatest impact of pleading guilty to a moving violation could be the points you receive on your driver’s license. In New Jersey, an accumulation of 12 points or more will result in a mandatory suspension of your driver’s license. If you accumulate 6 or more points in a three year period, you will be required to pay mandatory surcharges to the State.
Thus, sometimes it makes sense to fight traffic tickets in court, especially if you dispute the facts of the subject traffic event.
Pleading Not Guilty
The first step in fighting a traffic ticket is to carefully read all of the fine print on the ticket. Each court follows its own set of rules in setting court dates, so you need to pay attention so you don’t miss any important deadlines.
Most tickets will have a court date listed on the ticket. Sometimes this is the actual date you must show up in court. Other times, it is the date by which you must enter a plea of not guilty, or pay the ticket, thereby pleading guilty. If you are unsure, it never hurts to call the court or a lawyer to ask. The important thing is that you don’t let this date pass without doing anything, as your inaction may result in penalties against you.
If you plead not guilty, you will typically be provided a notice of court date by the court clerk. Be prepared to attend court on the court date, either with or without a lawyer.
If you live far away or cannot attend court on the court date, a traffic court lawyer may be able to help you resolve your case without you attending court. This is called a “plea by mail” under the NJ court rules, and requires an affirmative showing, typically by sworn statement, that it would be unduly burdensome for the defendant to appear in NJ municipal court to resolve the ticket. This is a cost and time-saving method for out-of-state defendants to resolve NJ tickets.
Meet with the Prosecutor
In traffic matters involving charges that carry points, on the first court date the prosecutor will usually offer a plea to an amended charge which may involve less points than the original charge. For example, if you received a 5-point speeding ticket in a NJ municipality, on your initial court date the prosecutor may offer you a plea deal whereby you plead guilty to a lesser points offense.
Be aware, however, that while points may decrease in a plea deal, you will likely still pay a fine. Still, in some cases, it may make sense to pay a fine in order to secure less points on your license.
Appear Before the Judge
If a plea deal is reached between the prosecutor and the defendant, the defendant must still appear before the judge, as it is the judge who approves all plea deals reached between the parties and sets any fines. The judge will require the defendant to set forth a factual basis on the record for the amended charge, and will also allow the defendant an opportunity to be heard on sentencing.
If the court accepts the plea deal, be prepared with your checkbook, credit card or cash, as most courts require payment of fines and fees immediately following your court appearance. If you are unable to pay in full on the court date, you may under certain circumstances be able to request a payment plan from the court.
Consider Hiring an Attorney
Always know your rights and options when confronting a traffic ticket. For moving violations that will result in points, penalties or fines, it makes sense to consult a traffic attorney for advice and guidance.