When should I hire a lawyer for a traffic ticket?

You may want to hire a lawyer if you are at risk of losing your license or facing jail time. A lawyer also may be helpful if you are considering fighting a ticket on the basis of a novel or complex legal argument. Otherwise, traffic law is not especially complex, and the stakes are not usually high, so a driver probably can handle the process on their own without undertaking this additional expense.

Can I continue to drive when my license is suspended if I need to get to work or school?

In some cases, a driver may be able to get a restricted license or hardship license, which allows them to drive during the period of the suspension for limited, essential purposes, such as going to work or school. If you do not get a hardship license, you should do your best to get rides from other people or use public transportation. Driving while your license is suspended if you do not have a hardship license is an additional, more serious violation, which can lead to more substantial fines and even jail time. It is not worth the risk.

How does radar track my speed, and how is laser detection different?

Radar involves sending out radio waves and listening to how their frequency changes when they strike an object, such as a vehicle. This is an
effective speed tracking device because the speed of the vehicle or other object affects the change in frequency. By contrast, laser detection measures the speed of a vehicle by sending out laser light and measuring the distance from the laser gun to the vehicle over time. The change in the distance provides a way to calculate the speed of the vehicle. When a police officer holds a gun toward a vehicle’s license plate, they must make sure to hold it steady to get an accurate reading.

What if the officer stopped me because of my race?

Sometimes a driver will suspect that the officer pulled them over because of racial profiling. If the officer has a reasonable suspicion that a driver is committing a traffic violation or a crime, they have a constitutional right to pull over that driver. However, this can serve as a pretext for making a driver uncomfortable so that they leave the area or for harassing a driver whom the officer has a personal reason to dislike. If an officer stops a driver based on their race, the driver may have a constitutional claim under the Equal Protection Clause. You probably should not pursue this complex type of case on your own, and most traffic ticket attorneys will not want to handle it. Social justice organizations like the ACLU may be interested in assisting you.

Do police officers need to meet quotas in issuing tickets?

This is not literally true. Like any other employee, though, a police officer will be evaluated according to their performance. If they never make a stop or issue a ticket, their superiors may question whether they are doing their job. The number of citations issued by a certain officer in a certain period has no impact on whether a citation is valid and should not affect whether you choose to fight your case.

What are the differences between traffic tickets and other crimes?

Traffic tickets usually lead to less severe consequences than regular crimes. A driver rarely faces jail time. Traffic court uses less formal procedures, and a driver often does not have a right to a jury trial. The standard of proof sometimes is more lenient than in a criminal case. A state that classifies a traffic violation as a civil offense may require the prosecution to prove the offense only by clear and convincing evidence or a preponderance of the evidence, rather than beyond a reasonable doubt. However, a state that considers a traffic violation to be a criminal offense will use the higher standard of beyond a reasonable doubt.