Pleading and Arraignment in Traffic Court

Your options on the first court date for a traffic ticket.

When you get cited for a traffic violation, somewhere on the ticket there's usually an "arraignment" date. The arraignment date is basically the first court date. Instead of a specific arraignment date, some jurisdictions just give you a date by which you either need to show up in traffic court or pay the ticket—in other words, it's more like a due date.

Contacting the Court for Information

The date by which you must pay the fine or appear in court should be printed on your ticket. But if you have any questions about your options for dealing with the ticket or something else isn't clear, contacting the traffic court directly is a good idea. Most courts have a website that provides all the necessary information or you can call the traffic court. Court phone systems can be frustrating, so going to the court in person can be another good option.

Deciding How to Plead at a Traffic Court Arraignment

Before going any further, it's worth noting that you can usually resolve your ticket without having to go to court by paying the fine online or by mail. When you pay a ticket this way, you're basically admitting the violation and will end up paying the standard fine (also sometimes called the "schedule fine"). A traffic conviction—which results from admitting the violation—might also result in the DMV assessing points to your driving record.

But, assuming you decide to come to court, here are some of the most common options are the arraignment:

  • Admit the violation. If you admit a traffic violation in court, you normally tell the judge you want to plead guilty or no contest to the violation. In many jurisdictions, the judge is allowed to lower the fine. So, it typically doesn't hurt to ask for a fine reduction and provide an explanation.
  • Choose traffic school. Most jurisdictions have a traffic school option for eligible drivers. Depending on the state, choosing traffic school might or might not require the driver to admit the violation.
  • Plead not guilty. Pleading not guilty at the arraignment is the equivalent or requesting a trial. When you plead not guilty, the judge will normally set a date in the future for the trial.

Every driver's situation is different. So, which option is best just depends on individual circumstances. For instance, for anyone who's extremely busy, pleading not guilty typically isn't appealing because it means having to come back to court at least one more time. (For drivers in this category who want to fight the ticket, hiring a traffic attorney might be a good idea.) And, although traffic school is normally a good option, drivers who have recently done traffic school normally won't be eligible.

Trial by Declaration or Affidavit

In a few states, you have the option of presenting your defense in writing rather than personally appearing at a trial. Typically, you make your testimony in a "declaration," which is a written statement you type up and sign, swearing you are telling the truth. You might also be able to include witness declaration and other evidence like photographs and diagrams.

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