Traffic tickets, like speeding, can really mess up your day. They affect your driving record and your insurance rates, but they can also have an impact on your criminal record. Many people call into our office wanting legal advice about how to get traffic tickets taken off their record and wondering if it is “worth it” to hire an attorney to help them. When wondering if an attorney is worth the money to get a ticket off of your record it is important to take into consideration which “record” you’re worried about; (1) your criminal record; (2) your driving record; or (3) your insurance record.
- Criminal Record.
Almost all traffic tickets in Utah are charged as infractions, not misdemeanors. An infraction is the lowest possible crime a person can be charged with here in Utah. Infractions carry no threat of jail time – you will never serve jail time for an infraction. However, there is a very small possibility that a Judge could order community service, forfeiture of an asset you own, or some combination of the two. The most likely punishment a Judge in Utah would order is that you pay a fine. The maximum fine for an infraction in Utah is $750.00, although a typical speeding ticket fine is about $150.00. In fact, the most common reason why someone is sentenced to community service or ordered to surrender an asset is because they have no means of paying the fine and opt for those alternative sentences. The fines imposed by the Judge can also be paid over time. Utah Code 76-3-301, et. seq.
The evidence in almost all traffic tickets is extremely difficult to disprove or overcome in court. Police officers have body and dash cams that record their activities, and use sophisticated radar technology to determine a driver’s speed. Additionally, the costs involved in hiring a lawyer to represent you in fighting a traffic infraction will very likely exceed the size of the fine the Judge would impose as your punishment. Therefore, few people see the value in hiring a lawyer for these types of cases.
So, is there anything that you can do get a traffic infraction off of your criminal record? The answer is yes! Despite the challenges noted above, there are still good reasons to contest your ticket in court. After you have been cited with a traffic infraction you will be given the opportunity to come to court and speak with a prosecutor. During this meeting ask the prosecutor for a Plea in Abeyance. A plea in abeyance is commonly granted to people who have an otherwise clean criminal record. Unless you have received several traffic infractions in past or have other charges in addition to your current traffic ticket, it is very likely that the prosecutor will consent to this.
How does a plea in abeyance work? It’s simple. You come to court and ask the prosecutor for a plea in abeyance (some prosecutors will even suggest it to you as a way to resolve your infraction). Then you sign a form with the prosecutor stating that you intend to make a plea in abeyance and then go before the Judge to have it entered on the record. You will still have to pay a fine with plea in abeyance (sorry about that, courts and fines are sort of a “death and taxes”) and you will be placed on probation for 6 to 12 months. If you successfully pay your fine and do not commit another traffic infraction again within that 6 to 12 month period of time, the court will automatically dismiss your case. Thereby keeping your criminal record clean.
- Driving Record.
Utah uses a points system to determine a driver’s fitness on the road, and too many points may result in the Utah Driver License Division suspending or revoking your license. The magic number for drivers under the age of 21 is 70. 70 or more points within three years and a driver under the age of 21 may have their license suspended for up to one year. For drivers over the age of 21 who accumulate 200 points or more in a three-period, their license may also be suspended for up to one year.
If you are approaching 200 points or are concerned about your driving record, you can opt to attend traffic school once every three years. Attending traffic school will knock 50 points off of your driving record. However, if you have already attended traffic school within three years of a new citation you will be ineligible to attend. Almost every Justice Court has information about how and when to attend traffic school. Give the court clerk a call and they can help you out.
However, if your goal is to keep a new traffic ticket off of your driving record entirely then keeping your criminal record clean is a good start. The best way to keep points off of your driving record is to get a plea in abeyance in court. Usually, only traffic convictions are reported to the Utah Driver License Division; therefore, if you are successful in getting and completing a plea in abeyance from the court your case may be dismissed and no points should be added to your driving record.
- Insurance Record.
Keeping a traffic ticket off of your insurance record is probably the trickiest part of all. Drivers enter into a private contract with their car insurance providers. Therefore, questions like whether or not a traffic ticket will raise your insurance premiums and by how much is a question that can only be answered by looking at your individual insurance policy contract. However, insurance companies generally increase drivers rates based on the number of points they have incurred in a three year period. Therefore, your best chance of keeping your insurance premiums down is by getting a plea in abeyance and taking traffic school if you can.
According to the National Motorists Association (NMA) the best thing you can do to keep a ticket off of your record is to fight it. Results can vary from an immediate dismissal, to a reduced fine, to a plea in abeyance. Unfortunately, most drivers don’t fight their tickets. In fact, the NMA estimates that only about 5% of us fight a ticket. One reason for that is because the fines and penalties are relatively low and we would just rather get it behind us. Another reason is that people often can’t justify the cost of an attorney to help them with such a small matter. We at Hepworth Legal hope that information provided here will help give you the confidence you need to fight a ticket in court on your own and keep your record clean.