Many of remember, from like four years ago, when I posted the entire story of how I beat a traffic ticket. Since then a lot of people have asked me about the details of how that happened, so I decided to outline here as a list of steps. FYI, my ticket was issued in Lindon, Utah. Other towns, counties, states, etc. probably have slightly different laws so these tips may or may not apply.
When you get your ticket.
1. Try and be as unremarkable as possible. Try not to do anything to make writing this particular ticket stick in the officer's memory. This will be important later.
2. Save your carbon copy of the ticket and any other paperwork you get. Make a note of when and how you can contest the ticket but don't ask the cop to repeat that info. You don't want him/her to know that you intend to contest. This info is usually printed somewhere on the carbon copy.
3. After the cop leaves, take some photos of the area. Don't do this if you think you might be seen by him/her. You don't want the cop to be alerted to the fact that you intend to contest the ticket.
4. If the officer said you have a "traffic school" option, consider taking it. Sometimes the fee is less than that of the ticket and it replaces the cost of the ticket. It will also prevent the ticket from appearing on your MVR and your insurance company will never know about it. If the cop caught you breaking the law fair and square, my advice is to stop here and opt for traffic school. If you feel it was unfair, continue!
Scheduling your hearing, etc.
5. There is a certain window of time during which you can schedule when you will go to court to enter your plea. Wait until the end of that window, like the last day or the day before. Don't wait until the end of the last day or you could miss your chance.
6. Schedule your day for the latest possible slot that is available. The goal here is to make all of the court proceedings occur long after the ticket so that the officer either doesn't care enough to show up or doesn't remember enough to be helpful.
7. When you schedule your plea, they will give you a window of time during which you can call back and reschedule. Jot that down and repeat steps 5-7 as many times as they will let you. At the very least, this will delay your paying the ticket (probably for months) and you can plan your budget to accommodate the fee so it won't sting so much.
Entering your plea.
8. When you go to enter your plea, they might offer to reduce your fine if you plead guilty. This would be a partial victory, so consider the offer. Try to bargain with them that it will also remain off of your record. In my opinion, that is an even bigger victory than having the fine reduced. If they offer you no incentive to plead guilty, then plead not guilty. (Note: pleading not guilty often removes your "traffic school" option.)
9. The judge might ask you if you want a pre-trial meeting or if you if prefer to go straight to trial. If you've still got the patience, take the first option. This will delay your actual trial even further, while the cop's memory and concern for this case both continue to fade...
10. Basically you and the prosecutor will meet to discuss your case. If you have a good case, you will probably get a pretty good offer. Again, try to keep the ticket off of your record. This will probably save you more over time on your insurance than the cost of the ticket. Consider any offers, since these would be a partial victory.
Before the trial
(Note: My case was dismissed after my pre-trial meeting, so everything from now on is untested. Try it at your own risk.)
11. If the prosecutor doesn't give you a good enough offer and you go to trial, keep trying to reschedule the trial in the same way as before.
12. In the meantime, here are two little known tricks I learned from my uncle, a Utah state prosecutor:
a. Request for discovery: Send a letter to the prosecutor requesting that the evidence that will be used against you be sent to you. Here is more info as well as a template. If the prosecution responds saying that they have nothing to send you, save that letter and bring it to court with you. You will need it later for a dirty little trick that you might have occasion to play.
b. Request a jury trial: Some traffic violations are considered infractions. These will not appear on criminal background checks and will not affect employment. Others are misdemeanors, which WILL appear on background checks. In my case ("unsafe lane travel"), I was looking at a class C misdemeanor. I work with children at many of my jobs, so I was not eager to be found guilty. BUT, in Utah and some other places, this gives you another bit of leverage. A defendant may demand a trial by jury for anything that is a class C misdemeanor or greater. Get a lawyer friend to send you a form to do this. The prosecutor will either drop the charges or the court, unwilling to spend hundreds of dollars in an attempt to get $150 from you, will reduce the charges to an infraction. Either way, you're better off.
At the trial
13. Show up! Otherwise you will be found guilty. If you requested a jury and they actually brought one in, you could also get charged with contempt. If the officer fails to show up, move for dismissal. If the prosecutor tries to reschedule the trial, argue. Say that this is your third time coming to the courthouse. If you live more than a few miles away or if you took time off of work, mention that. If you work full time, are married, have children, are a student, have health problems etc., that doesn't hurt either.
14. Here's the dirty little trick that I mentioned earlier: if the cop does show up and testifies against you, chances are he or she will use some notes jotted down on the back of the ticket at the time of the citation. Otherwise, no cop would ever be able to remember writing a ticket to you three or four months ago, especially since you were so unmemorable. If the cop uses these notes, point out that they were not sent to you in response to your request for discovery. Show the judge your letter stating that they had nothing to send you. Move for dismissal. Score!
15. If none of this works, then pay your fine and quit driving like a jerk.