The Common Law

Austin speed racer – resolving a traffic ticket

I recently got a speeding ticket, and I'm not sure if I want to challenge it or not. I don't want to pay the ticket, but I also don't want to end up in a big hassle to fight it. What are my options?

Your lead foot got the better of you, and now you are considering whether or not to contest the ticket. You are left weighing a fine and the possibility of increased car-insurance premiums against the thought of navigating the red tape to challenge the ticket. While the right decision depends on the person and the specific facts surrounding their ticket, it is helpful to understand the basic options for resolving a traffic ticket.

After you are issued a ticket for a minor traffic violation, you are required to enter a plea by the appearance date listed on your ticket. You have three options when you enter your plea: no contest, guilty, or not guilty. Each of these pleas means something different and has different consequences.

A plea of "guilty" means that you admit you committed the act you have been charged with and you waive your right to a trial by judge or jury. You will be found guilty, required to pay a fine, and the conviction will be reported to the Texas Department of Public Safety.

A plea of "no contest" means that you do not contest the charge against you. The result of pleading "no contest" to a traffic violation has similar consequences to pleading guilty. However, pleading "no contest" may allow the person to get the ticket dismissed upon successful completion of a driving-safety course.

If you want to challenge the ticket, a plea of "not guilty" should be filed, which informs the court that you believe you are not guilty of the offense in which you were accused. The city of Austin requests that you inform the court if you want a trial by judge or jury. Once the plea is received, your case will be scheduled (within 30 days) for an appearance docket, which will allow you to speak about your case with the prosecuting attorney. Keep in mind that your case will not be the only one on the docket, so this can be a time-consuming process. If time is a concern, you can also waive the appearance docket and simply schedule the trial.

Please submit column suggestions, questions, and comments to thecommonlaw@austinchronicle.com. Submission of potential topics does not create an attorney-client relationship, and any information submitted is subject to being included in future columns.

Marrs, Ellis & Hodge LLP, www.jmehlaw.com.

The material in this column is for informational purposes only. It does not constitute, nor is it a substitute for, legal advice. For advice on your specific facts and circumstances, consult a licensed attorney. You may wish to contact the Lawyer Referral Service of Central Texas, a non-profit public service of the Austin Bar Association, at 512-472-8303 or www.austinlrs.com.

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