When should I hire a lawyer to fight a traffic ticket in Virginia?

There are some instances when it is worth it to fight a traffic violation, and others when it is not. How can you know the difference? First, it is important to understand what the violation means. In some cases, it may mean a small fine. In others, it could mean jail time. Know exactly what the accusations are to help guide your decision.

As a basic rule of thumb, it is generally a good idea to fight any traffic violation that could result in more than $500 in fines or has the potential for jail time. This is because a conviction for a serious ticket can frequently also lead to a large increase in insurance premiums. In some cases, the premium can go up by over 20%. Those who require a driver’s license for employment, such as those with a commercial license, should also considering fighting the ticket — convictions for certain offenses can sometimes result in license suspensions and can compromise a person’s ability to drive and make a living.

The following will discuss some of the more common traffic offense violations in Virginia that often warrant hiring an attorney to fight against the allegations.

Violation #1: Speeding ticket

Generally, the larger the speeding ticket, the more worthwhile it may be to fight it.  Unfortunately, ignorance is not bliss when it comes to speeding and violations are often treated like “strict liability” laws.  While there does have to be an intent to break the speed limit, many judges are unwilling to accept the “I didn’t know the speed limit” excuse because it is the duty of the driver to pay attention and know the speed limit at any time.   Further, most judges are equally unwilling to accept the “I didn’t realize how fast I was going” defense for the same reasons.  In short, it does not really matter if you did not know the speed limit or how fast you were travelling, the burden is generally placed on the driver to operate the vehicle with due care.

While speeding tickets are normally very difficult to beat, a driver may be able to fight a speeding ticket by showing the officer failed to properly calibrate the radar gun. In many cases, the law requires these devices receive calibration every 30 to 60 days, although the diligence of the officers in calibrating the machines differs from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. If this was the case for the gun used to establish your violation, you may be able to get the evidence against you thrown out.

In many jurisdictions, the police officers, prosecutors, and judges are willing to work with people to get caught speeding so long as the person was polite to the officer at the scene and have a generally good driving record. Some jurisdictions will allow persons to take driver improvement classes in exchange for a reduction or a dismissal of the speeding ticket. If you are unsure about your situation, consulting a local attorney can be of great assistance in determining the likelihood of success.

Violation #2: Reckless driving

Reckless driving is a broad category which includes a number of different offenses in Virginia including:

  1. driving over 85 mph on the interstate
  2. going more than 20 MPH over the posted speed limit regardless of the road,
  3. racing
  4. passing an emergency vehicle,
  5. passing a school bus,
  6. passing on the crest of a hill and
  7. driving too fast for conditions.

Further, most state troopers in Virginia will charge you with Reckless Driving if you are deemed to be “at fault” for a traffic accident.

It is important to understand that Reckless Driving in Virginia is a Class 1 Misdemeanor that can carry up to a year in jail, up to a $2,500.00 fine and the possibility of a license suspension. It is common for persons travelling extremely fast in Virginia to be sentenced to jail sentences. Further, a reckless driving conviction will cause a 6-point demerit for Virginia residents which can have dire effects on insurance and licensing.

These types of charges are very serious, and it is recommended that persons charged with reckless driving consult with an experienced attorney. Trying to handle a reckless driving ticket without help can result in extremely poor results for the person charged.

Violation #3: DUI

DUI’s are the most serious types of moving violations that exist in Virginia. Prosecutors across the state are extremely aggressive toward drunk drivers and frequently seek jail sentences and large fines for persons convicted. Persons convicted of DUI’s in Virginia normally face:

  1. Jail sentences (and in some instances mandatory jail sentences)
  2. Mandatory Fines
  3. Mandatory License suspensions
  4. Mandatory classes with alcohol abuse programs
  5. Mandatory installation of ignition interlock devices (for ALL violations)

In order to build a successful defense to a DUI, the accused must generally be able to break down the elements of the law and establish that one or more elements cannot be met. For a layperson, this is extremely difficult to do and it is a very bad idea for persons to attempt this without the help of an experienced attorney. Sometimes, the facts may be so bad that an attorney may not be able to “fight the case” but an experienced attorney may still be able to negotiate a better outcome for the accused even if it is unwise to fight the case. In short, persons should NEVER attempt to defend themselves when charged with something as serious as a DUI.