The Trouble with Traffic Tickets
Traffic Tickets Can Sometimes Be More Than Meets The Eye
Although this office has handled cases ranging from first-degree murder to simple possession of marijuana, by far the largest number of cases we see are traffic violations. For many citizens of North Carolina, getting caught speeding on a highway will be the most interaction they ever have with the criminal justice system. Most everyone will receive a traffic ticket at some point in their life, and all it will mean to them is spending a few hours in court and paying a couple hundred dollars in court costs. Yet every day here in Wake County, our attorneys see people at the courthouse bringing unintended consequences upon themselves by trying to handle their traffic citations alone. Even a humble speeding ticket can sometimes have unexpected repercussions if not dealt with correctly.
Wake County is one of the strictest counties in North Carolina when it comes to dealing with traffic violations. Plea reductions that prosecutors in other counties grant without a second thought, such as reducing a minor speeding ticket to Improper Equipment in order to reduce potential insurance increases, are completely out of the question at the Wake County Justice Center. Assistant district attorneys in Wake County also aren’t in the habit of simply dismissing speeding tickets, even though the actual violation wasn’t that severe. While in some counties, a history of clean driving can make it more likely that a prosecutor will dismiss a low-level speeding citation as a reward, Wake County prosecutors stubbornly operate in the here and now; they only care about the ticket in front of them, not what you may or may not have done in the past.
Traffic accidents are one of the leading causes of death for individuals between the ages of 15 and 21. As one of the largest metropolitan areas in North Carolina, the Wake County District Attorney’s Office takes traffic tickets by young drivers very seriously. Wake County prosecutors will refuse to reduce or dismiss charges for drivers under the age of twenty-one unless they attend driving school. As most newly licensed drivers have restricted licenses that don’t allow them to pick up as many DMV points as older drivers, failing to attend driving school can mean the difference between a mere increase in insurance rates and the total suspension of one’s license.
One of the more common mistakes our attorneys see made by defendants handling their own traffic tickets is the incorrect use of a prayer for judgment continued (PJC). When used correctly, a prayer for judgment continued acts like a free pass on a traffic violation – the offender will still have to pay court costs, but will not have to worry about a fine being imposed, nor will they see an increase either in DMV or insurance points. When used incorrectly, on the other hand, a prayer for judgment can result in increased insurance payments, and in some cases, it leaves the defendant unable to avoid serious license consequences in the future. When it comes to insurance points, most policies will recognize one prayer for judgment continued every three years, and will not increase rates. At the same time though, most insurance companies only allow one prayer for judgment to be used per policy every three years. This means that if there are four people on a single policy, they only have one prayer for judgment between them every three years. Using more than one prayer for judgment in a three year period can actually result in higher insurance rates than if policyholders had never used one at all. For DMV purposes, a driver may use a prayer for judgment once every three years or twice in a five year period. Once a prayer for judgment is used, it effectively vanishes until DMV says it can come back again. Using a prayer for judgment continued may save someone from having to pay increased insurance rates on their current speeding ticket, but it means that their PJC will no longer be available if they need it to avoid having their license suspended for picking up a Driving With License Revoked charge.
Dealing with exceeding posted speed citations or charges or having an expired registration won’t be source material on a television legal drama any time soon, but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t important or that they should necessarily be treated lightly. Driving is a significant part of the American lifestyle, and detrimental effects on a person’s ability to drive can have a serious impact on that person’s quality of life. They may find themselves unable to make ends meet because of high insurance rates. They may find themselves unable to provide care to an ailing parent because their license was suspended. It may not be the stuff of storytelling, yet even the most modest traffic ticket has the potential to meaningfully alter an individual’s life.