Can I fight a traffic ticket myself?
My day is ruined 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.
But it doesn’t end there. If you are convicted at trial, but the court in which your case is heard is not a “court of record,” i.e. there is not a court reporter present and dictating the record for review on appeal, you have the right to force a new trial in its entirety in a higher court. This is done by filing an appellate bond in the lower court within 10 days after the date the judgment was entered. This should be done in accordance with articles 45.0425 and 45.0426 of the Code of Criminal Procedure.
Thus, you may have the right to a second trial in its entirety. In your new trial in the court of record, you will be likely dealing with an attorney judge who may be more familiar with the law that could help your case, such as the law regarding suppression of evidence. If you were illegally stopped, searched, or interrogated, you are more likely to be successful with these arguments in higher courts.
Again, if your only goal is to keep the ticket off your record at all costs, deferred disposition or deferred adjudication this may be your best bet. However, not everyone is eligible for deferred, and certainly not everyone is guilty. If you want to fight back, call a lawyer and ask them about the specific facts in your case. Keep the above rights in mind as you deal with the headache of traffic court, but remember it is always best to contact a lawyer regarding your case for their opinion.