So, I got a ticket for turning right from a lane with a green light when there was a red arrow in the adjacent lane. The penalty was $140 and 2 points on my license. Since I only work part-time now, I decided to see what traffic court is like. I had my hearing today, and it was very different from what I expected.
If you are the first catch of the day (scheduled for 8:30 AM), you all show up about 30 minutes early, and sit around outside the court room. The court room finally opens at about 9AM, and everyone goes in (my group was about 30 people). There are some officers that show up as well, and they have their own special assigned seating. Then, you sit around and wait until the judge decides to show up – in our case, he walked in at 9:27AM.
He explains the rules and gets to work. The first cases he dealt with were those where the defendant had requested a trial (not a plea guilty hearing, which is an option they added last year). Names were called, and people came up. If no officer was present, the case was immediately dismissed and that person got to sit down. If the officer did show up, there was a quick statement by the officer (about 2 minutes) and a quick statement by the defendant. In the cases I saw today, even when the officer was present, the penalties were generally reduced. So, this seems like the way to go if you want to contest a ticket.
I had elected to do the other option, plead guilty and have a hearing. This puts you in the second batch of people, so once all the trials are done, these start. Almost all of these carried reduced or waived points, and almost always reduced fines. Yet, there was a $33 court fee, so if your fine wasn’t reduced enough, you could have paid more. Anyway, I managed to get mine reduced from $140 and 2 points to $100 and 0 points given my clean driving record and my explanation of the circumstances. So, $133 later, I was finished and I drove home.
Out of all the testimonies I saw today, even the really bad ones had their penalties reduced.
Tip 1: Make sure to pay your parking meter for at least 2 hours. The judge can apparently take his sweet time, and even though you show up at 8:30, you’re actually scheduled for 9:00. You could also arrive just before, but that might be bad planning. Parking at Montgomery County District Court is right across the street, and it’s cheap – like $0.75 an hour.
Tip 2: Don’t over-prepare. I made color copies, wrote a few pages of text, etc. This probably will not help you – I didn’t use any of this – my case was decided in less than 1 minute. I’m sure you can press the issue if you want, but at the risk of upsetting the judge by making him work longer. He has the power to increase your fine to up to $500 if he wants. Just go in there, say your piece, and be done.
Tip 3: You probably don’t need to dress up, but it might be a good idea. Don’t go in there looking like a slob, but if you just wear something nice, it seems like it doesn’t matter. I wore a full suit and tie, and I don’t think he was any more generous to me than to anyone else wearing sweat pants and a shirt.
Tip 4: Don’t be nervous. Generally, if your judge is lenient, you’ll get your penalties reduced. It’s not a formal affair – just go up there like you’re on Judge Judy and talk. If you want to know if your judge is cool, ask the police officers on the bench. They generally know who’s a hardass and who’s not. This can influence how you present your case.
Tip 5: Have cash. All fines are due right after your hearing is over, and they charge you extra for debit and credit cards. Luckily, I had $133 in my wallet.
Tip 6: You can leave as soon as they hand you a piece of paper. After you’re sentenced, you get a paper. Take it and go.
Tip 7: This is the most important thing: Make sure to request a trial rather than a guilty hearing. There is no reason why you shouldn’t unless you’re really afraid of seeing the officer(s) that ticketed you, and the only reason you’d be afraid of that is if you were going to lie. If the officer doesn’t show, you walk away scot-free. If he does, just plead guilty and it’s basically the same as the other option, except you get out faster because you go first.
All in all, it’s a thing to be avoided, but there’s almost no reason you shouldn’t go contest a ticket in Maryland.