What to do if You Get a Traffic Ticket
By: Carlton “Duke” Fagan, Esq.
701 Market Street
St. Augustine, Florida 32095
(904) 733-1234 – Telephone
Most of us who have been driving for a while have had the distasteful experience of receiving a traffic citation. Hopefully, you learned from that experience, developed safe driving habits, and you never receive another one. But should it happen again, this article is written to inform you of your options.
First, YOU MUST RESPOND TO THE CITATION WITHIN 30 DAYS OF RECEIVING IT. Failure to do so could result in your arrest. Most traffic citations are civil infractions as opposed to criminal infractions. You cannot be jailed for a civil infraction, however, should you fail to respond to the traffic citation within 30 days, it will be automatically set for a court hearing. If you fail to show up in court, the Judge may, and usually will, hold you in Contempt of Court for failure to appear. Contempt of Court for failure to appear is a criminal infraction for which you may be jailed. The standard procedure when someone fails to appear for their court date is for the court to issue a “capias” (an order for the sheriff to arrest you and hold you in jail until another court date is scheduled for you to appear). This will result in the sheriff showing up at your door, your work, your family’s home or wherever else you may be found, arresting you and taking you to jail. You will stay in jail until you bond out or until your next court date (usually several weeks in the future). DO NOT FAIL TO TIMELY RESPOND TO A TRAFFIC CITATION!
So what are your options for a response?
Your first option for response is to contact a lawyer. You can call our office at (904) 733-1234. Whether or or not your citation requires a court appearance, a knowledgable and experienced lawyer can best advise you as to how to handle your citation based upon your driving record and the circumstances under which you were issued the citation. A lawyer can represent you in court either at a trial to contest your guilt of the infraction or to try and mitigate the penalty you may ultimately receive. A knowledgable and experienced a lawyer may also find a way to get your citation dismissed. This is the best of all possible results as no record of the ciation will appear on your driving history (in Florida). Most of the time, a lawyer can obtain a “withhold of adjudication of guilt” which means that no penalty points will be assessed against your driving record. If your lawyer obtains a “withhold” for you, you will still have to pay the fine (your lawyer might be able to get the fine reduced) and you will have to pay a fee to your lawyer. If Duke Fagan represents you, you will not have to go to court and, in the great majority of cases, you will not have to attend Traffic School.
If you decide to handle your traffic citation without a lawyer, you have three options. Option One, if the citation does not require a court appearance (see three checkboxes located on the lower left corner, just above the signature line for the driver, on the bottom of a Uniform Florida Traffic Citation), you can pay the fine by following the instructions that came with the citation. As long as the money reaches the Clerk of Court in the county where the citation was issued within 30 days of the day you received the citation and in the form (usually a cashier’s check or money order) required by the Clerk of Court, you will have fulfilled your legal obligations for that particular citation. While this seems like the easiest thing to do, it has consequences which can be very severe, depending on your driving history.
Timely payment of a traffic citation without a court appearance results in your automatic adjudication of guilt on the citation. This will automatically put penalty points against your driving record. Points have two bad consequences.
Bad Consequence Number One: if you accumulate enough of them within a set period of time, for example, 12 points within 12 months, your driver license will be suspended for at least 30 days. IT IS A CRIME IN FLORIDA, WHICH SUBJECTS YOU TO IMMEDIATE ARREST, TO DRIVE WHILE YOUR LICENSE IS SUSPENDED.
Bad Consequence Number Two: your auto insurance company will most likely increase your rates if you receive points on your driving record. Insurance companies are private entities that make their own decisions as to rates but your driving history is a major factor in those decisions. Generally speaking, points against your driver license = rate increase.
Option Two for a response if the citation does not require a mandatory court appearance is to elect to attend traffic school. You must make this election timely. Failure to do so will result in the same consequences for you as failure to respond. Instructions to make the election to attend traffic school are usually bundled with the citation. If you cannot find the instructions, or if you are not sure how to make the election, you should call the Clerk of Court for the county in which the ciation was issued to find out how to elect to attend traffic school. If you elect to attend traffic school, you must make the election timely, attend and complete traffic school timely, make sure your Certification of Completion reaches the Clerk of Court timely, AND PAY THE FINE TIMELY. Yes, you still have to pay the fine if you elect to attend traffic school. Successfully completing traffic school in a timely manner, along with paying the fine in a timely manner, will result in no penalty points being placed on your driving record. Thus, you will avoid Bad Consequence Number One and Bad Consequence Number Two (see above). However, in Florida, you can only elect to attend Traffic School once every 12 months up to a maximum of 5 times in a lifetime.
Option Three for a response is to timely contact the Clerk of Court in the county where the citation was issued and request a court date. At the hearing, you will be representing yourself. If you do so, you must appear on the date assigned. Failure to do so will most likely result in a capias being issued for your arrest for “Failure to Appear”.
If your traffic citation requires a court appearance, you must contact the Clerk of Court in the county where the citation was issued and set a court date within 30 days of the date the citation was issued. You may still choose to represent yourself but it is strongly recommended you call a lawyer. You can call to our office to discuss your citation over the phone at no charge.
My office is knowledgable and experienced in all types of traffic citations in Florida. If you receive a traffic citation, call us immediately, there will be no charge to talk to us on the phone about your traffic citation. Our telephone number is (904) 733-1234.