DEBUNKING MYTHS ABOUT FIGHTING TRAFFIC TICKETS IN PITTSBURGH AND WESTERN PENNSYLVANIA
Over the last few weeks, our firm has received numerous phone calls from those who mailed in guilty pleas on their citations, only to discover that points and license suspensions were imposed. We were able to help some of the callers file summary appeals and administrative license appeals. Others were out of luck, and are stuck with the consequences of their decisions.
This blog post is designed to tell you one thing: If you are facing points, a license suspension or jail time on a traffic ticket, you should never mail in the citation with a guilty plea.
We also want to debunk some of the myths and fears our clients have about fighting traffic tickets.
"I know I was speeding, so I thought pleading guilty was the right thing to do."
If you're buying a car, would you mail in a check to a car dealership for the highest possible sticker price? Of course not. You'd go to the dealership, speak to a salesman, and negotiate for a better price.
When you plead guilty by mailing in your citation and payment to the magistrate, you are automatically paying the highest possible "sticker price" for your traffic violation: maximum fines, points and mandatory license suspensions for applicable offenses.
There is nothing honorable about jeopardizing your ability to earn a living and overall freedom of travel by putting your driving privileges at risk. You may be able to accept responsibility for a driving infraction without pleading guilty to an offense that will tack points and suspensions onto your driving record.
"If I fight the ticket, I'm going to make the officer or the judge mad, and things might get worse."
This couldn't be farther from the truth. Most police officers receive overtime pay for "court time," giving them a financial incentive to appear in court. Likewise, the role of the magistrate is to preside over traffic ticket cases.
Assuming your traffic offense carries no jail time, the worst thing that will happen to you is that you will be convicted of the offense and notified of your right to file an appeal.
If you are treated with disrespect by the police officer or the magistrate, don't take it personally.
"I'm not entirely sure what the penalties are for my ticket."
"I thought that the court had to tell me if I was going to face points or a license suspension."
The Magisterial District Court is under no obligation to provide you with legal advice, and will not tell you if you're facing points or a license suspension on your citation.
"I don't want to take off work to fight a ticket."
Unlike other states, Pennsylvania does not allow an attorney to appear in place of a defendant. However, it is possible for your case to be scheduled either early in the morning or in the afternoon, ensuring that you won't miss more than a 1/2 day of work.
Most traffic ticket hearings are short, and court sessions typically range from 30 minutes to 2 hours. Many times, the magistrate is willing to accommodate attorneys by calling their cases first. This is another advantage to hiring a lawyer.
You're better off burning a 1/2 vacation or sick day than putting your driving privileges at risk.
"I'll just plead guilty now and if something bad happens, a lawyer will be able to help me out, or PennDOT will cut me a break."
Any experienced traffic ticket lawyer will tell you that negotiating with PennDOT is not a pleasant or productive experience. PennDOT will not cut you a break because you're a good person, and need your driver's license to get to and from work.
Your best bet is always to get a lawyer involved as early on in the process. If you don't have a lawyer, enter a not guilty plea and work on finding representation later.
If you've plead guilty to a traffic offense, you have 30 days to file a summary appeal, or your guilty plea will stick. The lone exception is if you file a Petition to File a Summary Appeal Nunc Pro Tunc with the Court of Common Pleas, and it is granted. This petition will only be granted in the rare instances where fraud, a breakdown in the judicial system, or the ineffective assistance of counsel caused a delay in your ability to file on time.
"I don't need a lawyer at the magistrate's office, as I can just file a summary appeal if things go bad."
As discussed above, traffic ticket convictions can be appealed to the Court of Common Pleas for a new trial. However, there are a few things you should keep in mind.
First, lawyers will often quote higher rates to handle summary appeals than they will for traffic cases at the magistrate's office. Summary appeals court sessions are typically of longer duration, and require an appearance at the county courthouse.
Second, you may be afforded more flexibility to negotiate a plea at the magistrate's office than you will at summary appeals court.
At the magistrate's office, the police officer who cited you typically handles the negotiations. When a summary appeal is filed, an Assistant District Attorney typically handles the prosecution of your case. If the ADA is unreasonable, or the DA's office has a certain policy in place regarding your violation, you may not get the offer you could have at the magistrate's office.
"I can't afford to hire a lawyer to fight my ticket."
Depending on who you talk to, you're right. Many criminal defense attorneys don't like taking traffic cases. They don't pay enough, they're not interesting enough, and it's simply a waste of their time to provide you with a consultation. Rather than decline the case, they'll provide you with a costly quote to handle your traffic case, leading you to believe that all lawyers are too expensive.
The Zuckerman Law Firm is a dedicated traffic ticket defense firm. We take pride in helping good, hardworking people out of bad situations. We offer rates for summary trials as low as $399, and work with many of our clients on payment plans.
For a free consultation, call us today at 412-447-5580. We will tell you if you're facing points, jail time or a license suspension, and will strive to offer a reasonable rate for representation.