Breaking it down
Getting a traffic ticket in Virginia can seem minor, but simply paying the ticket and forgetting about it can have unforeseen consequences.
- Paying a ticket amounts to a guilty plea, which puts black marks on your driving record that could affect your employment or car insurance rates
- Pleading not guilty and fighting the ticket could allow you to negotiate lesser penalties or be found innocent
- You can choose to fight the ticket at the designated court hearing even if you’ve already paid the fine
When you get a traffic ticket in Virginia, you essentially have two options: pay the ticket or fight it.
If you pay the ticket, you’re pleading guilty to the traffic offense and may experience consequences you didn’t consider, such as demerit points on your driver’s license or increased car insurance rates. A guilty plea for a traffic offense could even affect your employment, if your job requires you to drive.
In some circumstances, you can pay the ticket and still decide to retract your guilty plea and fight it. There’s no additional penalty if you lose, but you will have to pay court costs and attorney fees. If you win, the amount you prepaid is refunded to you. If you lose, it gets applied toward what you owe in fines and costs. (Link to “Costs of Pleading Guilty” page) An experienced traffic defense attorney can help you navigate this process.
If you fight the ticket, there’s no guarantee you’ll beat the charge or get reduced penalties, but the odds of either of those happening go up when you’re represented by a traffic defense lawyer.
When deciding whether to pay the ticket or plead not guilty and try to fight it, it’s a good idea to ask yourself or an experienced traffic defense lawyer these questions:
- What are the possible penalties if I plead guilty?
- Can I get the penalties reduced if I go to court?
- What evidence is against me if I go to court?
- What are my chances of getting the case dismissed?
- How will a guilty plea affect my employment?
- If I got the ticket because of an accident, am I exposing myself to getting sued if I plead guilty?
- If I got the ticket because of an accident, is there a lesser charge that might be equally appropriate?
- How many points do I have on my license? Will my license get suspended if I accrue more points through a guilty plea?
- How much will it cost me to fight the ticket?
Prepaying a Ticket
If you decide to pay the ticket, you have until the deadline printed on your ticket to do that. This process is referred to in Virginia as prepayment. Your ticket is actually a document called a summons. It lists the court where your offense is being handled, and gives a court date that acts as the deadline to pay your fine. Generally, if you haven’t paid your ticket within 15 days after your court date, your driver’s license will be suspended.
Fines for traffic infractions in Virginia can be paid online, by mail, or in court. Prepayment typically is available only when you’ve been charged with a traffic infraction that carries no jail time, such as following too closely or speeding when less than 80 mph or less than 20 mph below the speed limit. Prepayment generally is not an option for a traffic charge such as reckless driving that is considered criminal and may include a jail sentence.
Contesting the Ticket
If you decide to fight the ticket, you need to go to court at the time and date specified on the ticket. Make sure to be on time for your hearing. If you don’t have a defense attorney on that date but want to get one, you can ask to have your hearing delayed so that you can hire a lawyer.
It’s generally worth getting a copy of your driving record before going to court. If your record is clean, that may convince a judge to let you plead “no contest” and take a driver improvement course to reduce or eliminate the points on your driver’s license.
Be prepared that the officer who gave you the ticket will be there to testify why he or she pulled you over. The judge usually is going to believe the officer, unless you have solid evidence to show why you weren’t speeding, didn’t turn improperly, or whatever it is the officer alleged that you did.
Often, the best outcome in a traffic case is to negotiate an agreement with the court or prosecuting attorney for reduced penalties or to complete the driver improvement course. You do; however, have the right to plead not guilty and have the evidence against you presented in court and evaluated by a judge. A qualified attorney can help you choose the best option for your case.
Need help fighting your ticket in Virginia?
If you’ve been charged with a traffic offense in Virginia, the experienced criminal defense attorneys at Copenhaver, Ellett & Derrico can help evaluate the details of your case and your options. For an appointment at our Roanoke office, call us at (540) 343-9349.