My day is ruint when I receive a traffic ticket, and I bet yours is as well. However, there are legal advantages to fighting back in traffic court when you are in the right. I am often called about representation on traffic tickets, but few people hire lawyers in traffic court except for commercial drivers. The “point system” which we all accumulate on traffic tickets, which can result in a surcharge or a suspension of certain drivers licenses, is even more pressing when you drive for a living.
Even if you don’t drive for a living, I thought I would pass along some rights you should be aware of when you fight back. But you must know that other ways of keeping a traffic ticket off your record might not be available if you go to a judge or jury trial. “Deferred disposition” and “deferred adjudication” are typically only available on a plea of guilty or no contest before a judge. Additionally, you should always specifically request deferred disposition if you want it.
That said, Texans have unique rights when it comes to traffic tickets. Get a ticket in Calera, Oklahoma, and you don’t have the same rights. In Texas, traffic tickets are considered class C criminal offenses offenses. This triggers the fundamental rights found in Article 1, Section 10 of the Texas Constitution:
“In all criminal prosecutions the accused shall have a speedy public trial by an impartial jury. He shall have the right to demand the nature and cause of the accusation against him, and to have a copy thereof. He shall not be compelled to give evidence against himself, and shall have the right of being heard by himself or counsel, or both, shall be confronted by the witnesses against him and shall have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor…”
First, because a traffic ticket and other class C prosecutions (public intoxication, possession of paraphernalia, assault by contact, etc.) are criminal, you have the right to a jury trial in Texas. This means a jury of six people can be empaneled to decide your guilt or innocence after hearing the evidence. You can choose to testify at your own trial and tell your side of the story. You have the right to subpoena witnesses whom you believe will testify favorably, which means you can force them to show up to testify. Additionally, the jury can decide the amount of punishment, which ranges up to a $500 fine.
Because it is a criminal trial, the ticketing officer or complaining witness must testify in person so you can be confronted by the witnesses against you. If the essential witness doesn’t show up, your ticket should be dismissed (however a continuance can be granted in certain circumstances). This is the way big-city traffic tickets are usually beaten, most often dismissed at a judicial hearing when the officer fails to appear. However, in smaller communities the officers are much more likely to show up to prosecute.