Maryland Traffic Court: My story and some tips

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.

10 thoughts on “Maryland Traffic Court: My story and some tips

  1. Jo

    Warning: I got a ticket for failure to come to a complete stop at a Stop sign. I did stop, and I thought it was unfair that my only options were to declare myself guilty with an explanation and hope the judge let me go with a warning if I went to a hearing OR request a trial and be faced with the possibility that I would be found guilty and have to pay the ticket AND court costs.

    I was sick as a dog the day of the trial. I tried to explain that I HAD stopped. The judge, William Graves Simmons, didn’t really listen. The officer did not show up, but that didn’t matter. The judge had decided beforehand that I was guilty just as he decided that everyone else who showed up that day was guilty. So, on top of the citation, we all had to pay court cost. If our driving record was clean, as mine was, he let us go without assessing points against our licenses. That was the extent of his mercy.

    I explained that I was disabled and living on a fixed income, and I asked for a reduction or a payment plan and he gave me ten days to pay and told me I should come up with the money somehow.

    Please note that my experience applies to just one judge, William Graves Simmons. It may be that other judges are more willing to listen and to abide by the article of the constitution which allows us to face our accusers in a court of law. javascript:grin(‘:mad:’)

    My suggestion? Request a hearing and throw yourself at the mercy of the judge. He has the authority to reduce the fine and/or remove any points against your license. If you want to contest a ticket, hire a lawyer. And if your hearing is set for this particular judge, ask to change your court date. I’d say “ask for a different judge” but I don’t know if people are allowed to do that.

  2. Erik Post author

    If the police officer failed to appear, you can just plead the 5th and be done with it, AFAIK. Whether the judge tells you this, as he didn’t seem to in your case, is variable. Sorry to hear about that. He cannot pass judgement if you plead the 5th; it would violate your rights as a US citizen. He probably just requires you to know your rights.

  3. Jo

    I’ve been driving for thirty eight years. I know, that’s an awfully long drive.

    In any case, I can count the number of tickets I’ve gotten on one hand. I did not, before now, really have any experience in a court room.

    Until this week, I thought that a person was innocent until proved guilty, and that I had the right to face my accuser in a court of law. Silly me.

    It’s really too bad that judges are appointed by the governor instead of by citizens. I’d at least have the chance to vote for anyone who was running against this particular creep.

    Thanks for responding. I hope my experience helps someone.

    PS I really should have ralphed in the courtroom.

  4. Greg

    Thanks for the info! This is exactly what I was looking for. I was not sure how the system had changed with this plead guilty thing before hand. Usually you would just not send in the fine and they would send you a court date automatically. I feel like this plead guilty thing is just confusing. I will def request a court date then.

  5. Erik Post author

    Glad it helped. Yeah, I still see no benefit to pleading guilty by mail. It guarantees that you’ll have to pay some court fees or fine. Go for making the officer appear in court, because many times they’ll fail to appear. Cheers!

  6. Bill

    Thanks for this description of the courtroom process. I am scheduled for a 8:30am hearing on Monday. I requested the trial.

    My ticket was for speeding. The cop came up behind me and started tailgating me. I didn’t realize it was a cop (happened at night), so I sped up and then he pulled me over.

    I wonder if I should plead not guilty and say to the judge that I was tailgated? Or should I just plead guilty and mention that my driving record’s been clean for over 10 years?

  7. Erik Post author

    I would recommend not guilty, and best case the cop doesn’t even show and you get a PBJ (ticket is gone).

    Worst case, the judge will call you up, and he’ll pull up your record live (you won’t have to explain you have a clean record, he’ll see that). In all likelihood he’ll either reduce or remove the fine and almost certainly get rid of any points (if there are any). Just explain it like you just did – very simply. The judge may be lenient or you may get nothing out of it and have to pay.

    I would NOT recommend pleading guilty – there are quite a few cases thrown out when I was there for people pleading not guilty. The only not uilty cases I saw were heavy offenses like registration violations.

  8. Pingback: Traffic Court in Maryland — Everything Went Better Than Expected | Frank DiSalvo Jr.

  9. Lauren

    I want to thank you for posting this. I pled guilty with an explanation before reading this. If I had been innocent or had had a better case, this would have caused me to plead not guilty. Everything happened the way you describe with my judge, who was a lot more lenient than the one described by Jo. A lot of people got off scot-free because their officer failed to show. The judge said pointed things like, “You just saved a lot of money,” or “Your license would have been revoked.” There were enough cops. though, who DID show up, even for minor offenses, that I would think twice about pleading not guilty if you ARE guilty. All in all, it took an hour for them to get to me (an entertaining hour), and I felt the judge was quite fair. He took my fine down from $200 to $100 and removed the points. He handled everyone else adroitly as well and seemed to care about doing his job well even with his limited powers.

    At the PG courthouse on Rhode Island, they do take checks and don’t charge a fee for their use.

    And I think you could show up wearing jeans and be just fine.

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