NC Ticket Law FAQs
Can I fight my speeding ticket with a trial?
Yes. You can always fight your traffic ticket, either by negotiation with the Office of the District Attorney, or by trial. In most circumstances, a trial for speeding is held in District Court where a Judge, and not a jury, determines guilt or responsibility in the case. If tried and convicted, you may be convicted of your traffic ticket as charged, or some lesser offense as the Court may determine. For example, if you received a speeding ticket for 53 mph in a 35 mph zone, and had a trial on your ticket, if found guilty your conviction may be for 53 mph in a 35 mph zone. The Judge is under no duty or obligation to find you guilty of a lesser included offense, such as speeding 44 mph in a 35 zone.
How does radar work?
Radar measures relative motion. Radar works by bouncing beams off of two objects, and by calculating the distance to the objects and the rate of change, it is able to calculate speed. Anything that interferes with this process affects the radar. For example, the tires of a vehicle going 60 mph move anywhere between 0 mph and 120 mph, depending on the point where the radar hits the tire – the top of the tire is doing 120 mph relative to the road, and the bottom of the tire (which touches the road) is doing 0 mph. Foreign objects, such as rainfall, debris, or other interference may also be factors.
Is radar proof of guilt?
No. Radar alone is insufficient evidence for a conviction at trial. The State must offer some opinion testimony, almost always by a police officer, that the vehicle was travelling in excess of the posted speed. Radar evidence corroborates the opinion testimony.
Can I pay my citation by mailing it to the Clerk along with payment?
Maybe. Whether a ticket may be paid through the mail depends on the citation. Some citations can be paid through the mail, other cannot. Keep in mind, however, that you will be convicted of the offense as charged, should you choose to deal with your citation by signing and submitting your ticket through the mail. You should always consult with an attorney rather than pay a citation through the mail.
Should I pay my citation by mailing it to the Clerk along with payment?
No. It is rarely a good idea to pay off a citation through the mail. You will be entering a plea to the speed as charged. That is, a speeding ticket for 53 mph in a 35 mph zone, paid through the mail, will result in a conviction for 53 mph in a 35 mph zone, and the related consequences of that conviction. A plea to a lesser charge is not available through the mail in this fashion. A court appearance, whether or not through an attorney, creates the possibility of having the ticket reduced or dismissed.
How does a plea bargain work?
A plea bargain is where a charge is reduced, or among charges one is dismissed, in exchange for a plea. For example, you might plead “not guilty” to a speeding ticket for 53 mph in a 35 zone, but would plead responsible to speeding 44 mph in a 35 zone.
What is the purpose of a plea bargain?
Since the Prosecutor has a very high volume of cases to handle, it is not possible to have a trial on every single case. Thus, the Prosecutor has an incentive to try to negotiate cases that many times may be in your favor.
Who issues a Prayer for Judgment Continued (PJC)?
The presiding Judge chooses whether to issue a Prayer for Judgment Continued (PJC). The Prosecutor doesn’t have the authority to give you one. However, the Prosecutor does have a “right to be heard” in open court, and may approve or disapprove of the PJC. However, in the end, it is the decision of the Court. No one is entitled to a PJC. It is not “yours” to use or not use. It is the Court’s decision.
Is a PJC always a good thing?
No. A PJC is not always a good thing. You need the advice of an experienced lawyer on this matter. A PJC can limit your options on a second or subsequent offense and many times a PJC is not required to achieve the desired result.
What is a driving school?
Driving school is used to promote driver education. Courses usually run between four and eight house in length. The North Carolina Health and Safety Council sponsors driving courses across the state, including Johnston County. Driving courses are only mandatory if ordered by a Judge. However, cited drivers, upon the advice of an experienced attorney, can attend an appropriate driving course before their court date, in order to be in a position to negotiate the best possible deal.
Should I sign up for driving school?
Maybe. Only the advice of an experienced attorney can determine if driving school may be beneficial as all cases and circumstances are different.
Do I need to appear in court?
Maybe. Sometimes you can pay off a citation through the m ail. Many times you can hire a lawyer to go to court for you. Should you not want to go to court, but do want to prudently take care of your case, you may hire an attorney to review and look after the matter. An experienced lawyer will be able to try to negotiate charges in order to achieve the best result for a given situation. Paying the citation through the mail is like giving up.
Should I hire a lawyer?
Probably. You should always hire a lawyer if you are charged with a crime and unsure how to proceed. You need never face the criminal justice system alone. If you were to ask a Prosecutor or a Judge whether you should hire a lawyer, neither one can answer the question because it violates their ethical duties. However, a Prosecutor quoting a Judge said onetime: “I can’t answer that question. But I can tell you that if I had a daughter, and she received a seatbelt ticket, I would hire a lawyer for her.”
Can my case be postponed to a later date?
Probably. It is not unusual for the Court to allow at least on postponement, or continuance. However, you should never go to court without an attorney and expect the case to be continued.
Will the Prosecutor give me legal advice?
No. The Prosecutor cannot give you any advice about your case. The Prosecutor represents the State of North Carolina.
How many Driver’s License Points am I allowed before my license is taken away?
It depends. For North Carolina drivers, in most circumstances a maximum of twelve points is allowed before your license will be taken away by the NC DMV. However, certain convictions, certain combinations of convictions, or certain circumstances can also trigger a revocation with fewer than twelve license points. You should always seek the advice of an experienced lawyer if you have received a traffic citation and are concerned about your driving privilege.
Is it possible to lose my license for a single ticket?
Yes. It is possible for you to lose your license for a single conviction. You should always seek the advice of an experienced lawyer if you receive a traffic citation, because it is the job of the lawyer to know the law. The law of the road is more involved and complex than it may appear.
What are insurance points?
Insurance points are assigned to certain traffic citations upon conviction. These points may add up over time. Points for a given conviction can stay with you for three years. The total number of insurance points you have at any particular time corresponds to a percentage that your insurance rates may increase although there are other ways for your rates to increase due to a traffic conviction.
Will the cost of my car insurance go up because of my ticket?
Probably. While it is impossible to know whether your insurance rates will increase without more information, certain convictions always carry insurance points, and some tickets carry more points than other tickets. Your insurance company could also sell your policy to the North Carolina Reinsurance Facility, which pools policies of “high-risk” drivers, and that alone may increase your insurance rates. There is no substitute for an experienced attorney to counsel you about these matters.
Could I go to jail for my traffic ticket?
Maybe. This is fact and charge specific. For a speeding ticket or other non-alcohol related moving violation, only a very small minority of cases result in a jail sentence. Jail is never possible where the charge is categorized as an infraction. However, for a second Driving While Impaired charge, some incarceration is mandatory. The Judge determines whether jail is appropriate, not the Prosecutor, but the Prosecutor has a right to make a recommendation to the court. As always when facing the criminal justice system, the advice of a lawyer is invaluable in determining possible outcomes and attempting to control them resulting in the best possible outcome.
What is probation?
Probation occurs when a jail or prison sentence is ordered by the Judge, but is suspended while certain conditions or obligation are complied with and met. Probation can be either supervised by a probation officer, or unsupervised.
Could I receive probation for my traffic ticket?
Maybe. This is fact and charge specific. For non-alcohol related traffic offenses in North Carolina, only a small percentage of cases result in probationary sentences. Most tickets are handled by negotiation alleviating the concern of probation. Your ticket would have to be an offense greater than an infraction for probation to be a possibility. The advice, experience and knowledge of a lawyer best serve your interest with respect to all potential consequences of conviction. Where you are uncertain of the consequences of a traffic conviction, always seek the advice of an experienced lawyer.
What is community service?
Community service can be ordered by a Judge in all misdemeanor and felony cases upon conviction. Community service may be part of a probationary sentence, whether supervised or unsupervised and is almost always part of any deferred prosecution. A specific number of hours are generally required to be completed by a specific date in a typical sentence. In order to know whether community service is a possibility on a traffic citation, you should consult an experienced lawyer.
What if I received a ticket in North Carolina, but I live and have a driver’s license in another state?
There is a strong likelihood that the governing motor vehicle agency of your home state will find out about your North Carolina ticket. You cannot make a North Carolina traffic ticket “go away” by not showing up for court and never coming back to North Carolina. Soon after missing your North Carolina court date, it is likely a notice will be sent to your home state, and your home state will revoke your driver’s license for failing to answer the ticket in North Carolina. To learn exactly how a North Carolina traffic ticket will affect your license in your home state, you should contact an experienced traffic attorney in your home state. A North Carolina lawyer should handle the North Carolina ticket as out of state attorneys are generally unlicensed to handle court matters inside the state.
What if I have a North Carolina commercial driver’s license (CDL) and receive a traffic ticket?
Driver’s license points are different for CDL’s. The law varies in other respects, too. You should seek the counsel of a lawyer if you have a CDL and have received a traffic ticket.
Can my lawyer pick the Judge for my traffic ticket?
No. No lawyer may choose the Judge who will preside over the courtroom where your traffic ticket is docketed.
Can my lawyer pick the Prosecutor for my traffic ticket?
No. No lawyer may choose the Prosecutor who will prosecute a traffic ticket. The Office of the District Attorney assigns certain Prosecutors to certain courtrooms to handle the dockets in those courtrooms.
Does it matter that I wasn’t speeding, like the officer said I was?
Probably not. It is possible that the State could dismiss a ticket, but it is unlikely that your ticket will be dismissed upon your claim you were not speeding. If you do not want to plead guilty to a ticket or other criminal charge, you face trial where the State will be represented by a lawyer and the Court, whether a Judge or a jury, will decide your case. The Prosecutor will present evidence tending to indicate your guilt, usually calling the police officer to testify, who may testify as to opinion about your speed and as to what the radar reading was (if radar was used).
What is the burden of proof for a traffic ticket?
The State has the burden of proving you guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Beyond a reasonable doubt is the standard used to determine guilt in all criminal cases.
Can my license be revoked for more than one reason?
Yes. For example, two convictions for speeding greater than 55 mph during the same year could cause you to lose your license, but if the driver’s license points of those convictions, along with others on your record, total at least twelve, then a second revocation can be entered as well. This is only one example of multiple revocations.
How can I get my revoked license back?
It is important to ask your lawyer this question. It must be determined why your license is revoked. Once the cause or causes of the revocation or revocations is found, your lawyer can determine when you should expect to be able to get your regain your driving privilege. Further, often a lawyer can determine if there is any way to repair a driving history to speed the process to regaining a driving privilege.
Is community service available to help get a PJC for my traffic ticket?
Maybe. This may depends on the Judge, or may influence the prosecutor’s recommendation to the Court. It is possible under the law to perform community service between court dates and have a PJC entered at a later court date. The Judge makes the decision whether to allow it or disallow it. To know whether you need a PJC, you should have an experienced lawyer help you with your case. A PJC is not always a good thing. A good lawyer will be able to advise you about whether to ask for a PJC and what the terms might be in order to obtain this relief.
Do I have to speak in court if I do not have a lawyer?
Yes. If you have a lawyer, you do not have to speak in court. Without a lawyer, you are representing yourself and must speak before the Court.
How long does court take for a traffic ticket?
Sometimes a short time – less than an hour – and other times much longer. If your case is continued to a later court date, which may happen even after you have waited in court for your case to be called, you must come back at that later court date. The court does not rush through the calendar simply because you might be missing work, or late to pick up your children, or for any other reason. Everyone charged and in court has somewhere else they would rather be.
How should I dress for court on a traffic ticket?
The Judge has authority over the decorum of the courtroom. If you are attending court, whether you have a lawyer or not, you should be well-dressed, respectful, and presentable as possible.
Can only my lawyer get my driving record?
No. The NC DMV allows for individual citizens to obtain copies of their North Carolina driving records. The record can be ordered in person at one of their offices, or online. Your lawyer, however, may also obtain your driving record in order to analyze the best approach to represent you and achieve the best possible outcome.
Does it matter that I didn’t mean to speed?
No. Not paying attention, an honest mistake, overlooking a change in speed limit, and having a faulty speedometer are all reasons for speeding, but to not constitute a legal defense. The State need only prove that you were speeding, not the reason for your speed. Sometimes, after you have entered a plea, the Judge may want to know why you were speeding and may influence the sentence handed down by the Court, but these excuses are not defenses. Some explanation, especially ones that can be documented (such as a faulty speedometer calibrated and replaced) matter in front of some Judges. An experienced lawyer will know what Judges may take this into consideration, placing your case in the best possible position for a favorable judgment.
What is Improper Equipment?
Improper Equipment is a non-moving violation, unlike a speeding ticket, which is a moving violation. It is considered a lesser-included offense of speeding and some other traffic violations. Some jurisdictions offer pleas to Improper Equipment, and others do not. The present policy in Johnston County allows for pleas to Improper Equipment in certain circumstances. An experienced lawyer knows what these circumstances are.
What is an infraction?
An infraction is the most minor type of offense that you can be charged with in North Carolina. Misdemeanor and Felony offenses are the other types of offenses. The consequences of an infraction citation may include a fine, court costs, loss of your license, and an increase in the cost of your car insurance.
Is my speeding ticket an infraction?
Not necessarily. The speed limit combined with how fast you were going determines whether a speeding ticket is an infraction. Your speeding ticket could possibly be a misdemeanor, which means the consequences could be more severe than an infraction. An experienced attorney can provide you with the answer for your specific circumstances.
Does it matter that it was raining when I got my ticket?
Maybe. In terms of whether you are guilty of a traffic violation, the weather has no bearing. However, if the Judge asks for an explanation for why you violated the law, sometimes, depending on the Judge, explaining the circumstances can help. Rain tends to cause more problems and can often be an aggravating circumstance in a speeding case.
What are driver’s license points?
Driver’s license points are part of an overall system the NC DMV uses to take away your license. Convictions for certain traffic violations carry driver’s license points. The target number for a suspension is usually twelve, however there are other circumstances that may lead to revocation. When an experienced lawyer looks at your case, one of several considerations is license points. You should always seek the help of an experienced lawyer if you have received a traffic citation and are unsure of the consequences or how to proceed.
I have never had a driver’s license and have been caught driving. What do I do?
You should hire a lawyer. The lawyer will look at what you have been charged with and determine the best way to handle the situation. As a misdemeanor offense, driving without a license could mean jail. It is possible to avoid such a sentence depending on circumstances. There is no substitute for the counsel and advice of a good lawyer.
If I hire a lawyer, do I have to do what the lawyer tells me to do?
No. A large majority of people hire a lawyer to use the lawyer’s advice and expertise. If there is a choice involved with your case, such as having a trial or pleading guilty and hoping the Judge will grant you a PJC, the lawyer’s duty is to inform you of the choices so that you might decide. Ultimately, you control whether you plead guilty or not guilty. On a typical speeding ticket, however, where the lawyer goes to court on your behalf without you being there, you would give the lawyer authority to act on your behalf to do what the lawyer determines is in your best interest.
Walter Schmidlin is a former prosecutor, having held District Court in ten counties and four different prosecutorial districts. He has seen thousands of cases and is able to determine the most advantageous outcomes for traffic matters. Walter Schmidlin has defended many cases achieving dismissal of certain charges and non-moving violations in many others. Walter Schmidlin has the experience to represent you in any traffic matter.