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Following my own medicine: Saying no to paying a moving violation ticket

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For my clients defending against drunk driving charges, I review their driving records. Most have a few points here or there against their license, a few have no adverse points, and the occasional client’s driving record screams such a lead accelerator foot that I want to assure s/he is nowhere near me on the road before I hit the road. 

A good driving record can help, and certainly will not hurt, in trying to negotiate a desirable outcome in a DWI or other jailable traffic case, and in arguing one’s case to the judge if convicted. Plenty of times, my clients rack up moving violation points by not going to court to contest the moving violation charge, and instead paying the ticket.

Yes, it is a time hassle to take off from work to go to court to see if the cop shows up, and to not know how to handle one’s case without a lawyer. Paying a lawyer to defend a non-jailable moving violation may not always seem a good investment against still losing and paying the court fine and costs on top of the lawyer’s fee, when compared to how much one’s insurance rates will increase from the ticket and whether the driver is likely to have the points haunt him or her any more than that.

I get so few moving violation tickets against me, that I did not even realize until this month — when my 60 in a 45 mile per hour speeding ticket hit the Virginia courts online docketing system — that plenty of lawyers send direct mail offering their services to people charged even with non-jailable moving violations. I received at least ten such letters, and this is for a rather rural county over two hours from me. I stopped reading after the third letter, with all of them providing me a mix of warnings about the ticket’s following me if paid and not contested, with some of the letters so generic that they were also geared towards those charged with jailable reckless driving (which required going at least five more miles per hour than I was clocked at), with all of them offering to go to court without needing my presence, and with one of them quoting a fee of $175. 

I rarely defend people charged with non-jailable moving violations. I much more enjoy defending people facing much greater risks in their lives, and charge a significant consultation fee to discuss non-jailable moving violation cases, since I am still investing my time away from existing clients to talk with moving violation defendants and to offer a full analysis of their defenses. (I tend to not charge a consultation fee to talk with people charged with drug offenses, DWI, and weapons, under the view that they have so much at stake that they are more likely to be willing to hire a lawyer and to look for more than the least expensive lawyer.) I tell people with such tickets that they can find a lawyer charging substantially less than I, but some people still hire me for such charges. Once hired, I defend as doggedly as I would for a more serious case. I advise my client to provide me his or her recent driving record; I sometimes advise to do a live half-day or full-day driver improvement class and to have his or her speedometer checked for accuracy; I see whether the prosecutor gets involved in negotiating such cases; and I go in fully prepared for trial, including to challenge the police officer’s method of measuring my client’s speed, while arguing that no speed testimony should be admitted into evidence without admissible evidence — I argue for live rather than documentary evidence — that the speed measuring device (laser, radar or speedometer) was properly and correctly adjusted for accuracy and certified therefor. Seeing that reckless driving based on speed is jailable in Virginia and risks driving suspension up to six months, my work on such reckless driving cases is directly related to the defense I provide for non-jailable speeding charges.

Two months ago, I just got off the main highway onto a secondary road in Prince George County, Virginia, on a beautiful day, on the way to a neighboring county’s prosecutor’s office to view and copy a substantial stack of evidence in my client’s felony case. Soon after getting onto the secondary road, a police car started driving behind me. Not knowing whether he was merely coincidentally behind me, I did my best to be slightly below the speed limit, but he stopped me anyway within a minute and ticketed me for going 60 in a 45 mile per hour zone. He was using radar, as the ticket says, which meant that any speed calculation was done before the office started driving behind me. He was amiable, gave me the ticket quickly rather than having me wait and wait for him to run an open arrest warrant check on me and a stolen vehicle and license plate check (common and authorized for officers to do, unfortunately, with stopped cars), and I was off to my ultimate destination within less than five minutes.

It did not make sense for me to drive such a long distance, uncompensated, to challenge the ticket. Instead of opening any more direct mails, I reached out for defense or a referral — in my absence — to a very competent-seeming colleague who regularly handles non-jailable moving violations farther away from this courthouse, and he gave me one referral, telling me that the lawyer is not always good at calling back quickly, and I do not believe he called back. In the interim, I received several responses to my simple email to several lawyers found on a Google search for "Prince George Virginia traffic lawyer" (when facing a jailable charge, it is important to go much more in-depth in seeking the right lawyer than merely relying on such a Google search and an email conversation with the lawyer), saying: "How are you doing? Attached is the docket in my Prince George General District Court speeding case for 60 in a 45 set for January ___, 2013. Please tell me your fee [I myself do not quote fees without a scheduled consultation first] and the extent to which it is possible to negotiate such a ticket to a lesser offense in this county."

I received several emails back, but only one lawyer, Christian Parrish, answered the second question, in addition to my first question, saying that it might be possible to negotiate to a lesser charge. As he requested, to retain him I paid $250, and got him my clean driving record and the speeding summons. His legal assistant was a pleasure to deal with, and he spoke with me briefly the day before my trial (I was the one who delayed seeking a lawyer until two days before trial, and hired him the day before) with a likable and professional manner. For $250 for Christian’s total fee — and knowing the score in defending such cases — I was not about to engage him in lengthy conversation, which did not seem necessary in the first place. Before he got back to me with the result, I looked online to see that Christian had gotten my speeding ticket reduced to a no-point infraction of defective vehicle equipment! I know I was beyond giddy at winning a drunk driving trial the day before (after a would-be damaging evidentiary ruling), but I was also giddy at the great result Christian obtained without my even having had to drive to court. I can pay the defective equipment fine and cost of $150 online and it is done. Moving violation tickets can significantly increase government treasuries, and here the government got my money in the mix, but without points against my license.

Now when my clients ask why they should contest every moving violation charge, lest it come back to haunt them in a drunk driving or other jailable traffic offense, I can point them to my own practice of contesting the occasional moving violation charge against me, even if that means considering hiring a lawyer to appear in my stead, in circumstances and courthouses where that is permitted.

Thanks again to lawyer Christian Parrish of Midlothian, Virginia, for having delivered me such great results.