COMMON TRAFFIC TICKET MISCONCEPTIONS
There are several common misconceptions when it comes to traffic tickets. How these urban legends begin is unknown, however the result of a misplaced belief will likely result in a hefty fine and points on one’s license. Below are the 8 Most Common Misconceptions about Traffic Citations in North Carolina.
1. I can get out of a traffic ticket if the cop spells my name wrong.
This is perhaps the most common misconception. I often hear people say that a traffic ticket with a typo is defective. This is INCORRECT. While this misconception likely has its basis in a misunderstanding of the “defective pleading” statutes, the truth is that a typo on a traffic infraction is not a defense. Under North Carolina Law, a law enforcement officer may amend or even reissue a traffic ticket with the correct information. Thus, going before the District Attorney and saying “I drive a Mazda, not a Mitsubishi, and therefore the ticket should be dropped” will end with nothing more than an amended ticket that now reads Mazda. See N.C. G. S. §15A- 922(f).
2. I automatically beat the ticket if the Officer doesn’t show up in court.
Arguably the second most popular misconception, an Officer’s absence at one’s court date does not result in a dismissed ticket. North Carolina law provides for continuances, which means the person’s hearing on the matter will be moved to the next court date. While it is possible that an Officer’s continued absence may result in a dismissed ticket, the officer’s missing of one court date will likely only result in a new court date.
3. Traffic Tickets don’t transfer out of state.
This is a horrible mistake to make. Under the Non-Resident Violator Compact, the Department of Motor Vehicles from nearly every state communicates with the DMV of nearly every other state. What this means is a New York driver with a New York Driver’s License who gets a speeding ticket in North Carolina will have the points put on their New York License! Additionally, failing to appear will either result in a finding of guilt, called “guilty in absentia” or worse, a Failure to Appear. A Failure to Appear will lead to a suspension of one’s Driver’s License; and may even result in a warrant for arrest! Thus, receiving a ticket out of state is basically the same as receiving a ticket in your home town.
4. I was only driving with the flow of traffic!
I often hear the defense: “I was just keeping up with traffic”. Every state has a road where the locals say “nobody ever does X MPH on that road.” Sadly, the “everyone else was doing it” defense has no legal effect. The only question a judge will ask is whether you exceeded the speed limit; not why. Unless you have an exceptional justification for speeding, keeping up with the flow of traffic is not a defense to a speeding ticket.
5. Gaming the system
There are several methods I’ve heard of where people attempt to game the system. One common attempt at “gaming the system” is where a person says “If I don’t sign the ticket, they can’t prove they ever gave it to me.” Likely a misunderstanding of the Service Requirements, failure to sign your ticket has no legal effect. A police officer will have sufficient evidence to support his/her declaration that he/she issued you a traffic ticket. You must still appear to challenge a traffic citation, even if you don’t sign it! Another common scheme is where a person will plead guilty, and then pay the fine. However, the person will add extra money, and then refuse to cash the refund check. The misguided theory is that the ticket will not process until the refund is cashed. This is also false, as the DMV will process the traffic ticket upon the Court’s judgment. The payment of the fine is separate. I’ve even witnessed the false belief that Points will not apply until they pay the fine. Again, the Department of Motor Vehicles will place any points on your license immediately after they receive notice of the Court’s ruling. Payment of the fine is a separate issue; and failure to pay the fine is a huge issue in itself. All of these attempts at “gaming the system” are all false, and some will get you into trouble.
6. Out of Uniform/ Off Duty Police Officer
One of the strangest myths I’ve heard concerned a police officer issuing a ticket without his hat on. Police officers swear an oath to uphold the law at all times, and are considered to be police officers even when they are off duty. It is possible, albeit unlikely, to receive a traffic citation from an off-duty or undercover police officer. A traffic citation from an off-duty, plain clothes, or undercover police officer is no different than a citation from any on-duty police officer.
7. Cop followed me too long.
Another classic myth is that a police officer is required to pull someone over within a certain time-frame or distance. A common complaint is that a police officer will “follow” a car for several miles, just waiting for the driver of the car to break the law. While it is possible, there is no rule or law forbidding a police officer from following a car. Likewise, having a police car follow you for several miles does not excuse a traffic violation.
Many people believe you are more likely to receive a traffic ticket at the end of the month because police have to meet a quota, or write a certain number of traffic tickets each month. This too is incorrect. While it may have been an unwritten rule in the past, today most law enforcement agencies do not use quotas. In fact, the North Carolina State Highway Patrol is specifically prohibited from doing so by law. Generally speaking, you are no more likely to receive a traffic ticket at the end of the month than you are in any other week.
In sum, there are many myths and misconceptions when it comes to traffic tickets. A misplaced belief in any one of them can cost you dearly. If you have received a speeding ticket or any other traffic ticket, you should speak to a lawyer to discuss your case and protect your rights.