Can You Make a Deal (Plea Bargain) in Traffic Court?

Ways of negotiating a plea deal in traffic court.

Jury trials are time-consuming for everyone involved. And, because of the large volume of criminal cases that most courts have to deal with, it simply wouldn't be possible for every case to be resolved by a jury trial. So, prosecutors and judges have lots of incentive to dispose of cases quickly through plea bargaining.

With traffic ticket trials, some of the factors that motivate and facilitate the government to negotiate plea bargains in criminal cases might not be present. First, in most states, drivers with traffic tickets don't have a right to a jury trial; traffic trials are instead decided by a judge. When a defendant doesn't have the right to a jury trial, the state has less motivation to settle the case through plea bargaining. Second, in many jurisdictions, there are no prosecuting attorneys in traffic court. So, there's sometimes no one to negotiate with.

However, despite the factors that make traffic court somewhat less conducive to plea bargaining, there are still some negotiations that go on in traffic cases. Here are some of the basics of how plea bargaining in traffic court works.

Negotiation Process for Traffic Tickets

The process for traffic ticket plea bargaining differs depending on whether the jurisdiction has prosecuting attorneys in traffic courts. If there is a prosecutor in traffic court, that's the person who'll be negotiating with. Otherwise, any plea bargaining that might be possible, would be accomplished by talking to the officer who cited you for the violation or the judge in open court.

Plea Bargaining With Prosecutors

There's nothing to prevent you from approaching the prosecutor at any time to see if he or she is willing to make a deal to avoid a trial. The idea behind any type of plea bargaining is almost always to compromise on a better deal than you would get if you were found guilty at trial. It's seldom realistic to assume that you can get your case dismissed, though in some special circumstances, requesting dismissal might be reasonable.

Plea Bargaining Where There Is No Prosecutor in Traffic Court

In jurisdictions that don't have traffic court prosecutors, negotiations are sometimes possible with the citing officer. Basically, you might be able to convince the officer to a deal that involves you pleading guilty to a less serious offense than the one you were cited for. For example, if you were cited for running a stop sign, you might be able to plea to a more generic offense for disobeying a road sign. With these types of plea bargains, you might be able to plead to an offense that carries lower fines or fewer points than the violation you were cited for. But whatever you might agree to with the traffic cop, it'll typically be up to the judge whether to accept the deal.

It's fairly uncommon for traffic defendants to plea bargain directly with a judge. And many judges might not be willing to engage in any that resembles the kind of negotiation a defendant might have with a prosecutor. But judges normally have the ultimate say on whether to accept a defendant's plea and what the sentence will be. So, as long as you keep it quick and concise, it probably doesn't hurt to make a reasonable request directly to the judge. For example, if you're going through financial hardship, requesting a fine reduction would typically be reasonable.

Options That Don't Involve Admitting a Violation

In most cases, the end result of plea bargaining is you pleading guilty to some traffic offense. But it's important to keep in mind that you might have other good options for resolving a ticket. For example, in a case where you have good defenses, fighting the ticket might be the way to go. And, for eligible drivers, traffic school is often the best choice.

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