Disclaimers: This could vary state to state, but I think it's fairly uniform. I am not a lawyer, just, um, experienced. This information only applies to speeding/minor moving violations. Accidents, DUI, etc. - GET A LAWYER! If you get many tickets and your license could be at risk - GET A LAWYER!
1. You go before a clerk-magistrate.
2. If you don't like his/her decision, you go before a judge.
Now, remember that the goal is to get your money with as little effort as possible. (You can believe it's about safety if you want, but I don't - we can argue that separately.) As soon as you get the citation, the negotiation has begun
So, first there's the citation. Let's take an example where the citation is $150. Most people (something like 95%) just pay the $150, and the state is very very happy.
Next, some few people go before a clerk-magistrate. The smart ones realize that this is just part two of a three part negotiation and offer a feeble excuse. (In my case, I had said, "I don't think I could have been going that fast, simply due to traffic" or something very similar. That was worth getting $50 knocked off.) In our hypothetical example let's assume you're down to $100. This may seem great! I contend that the cost of the ticket is nearly immaterial - you're insurance points are the issue. Frankly, if there was no connection to insurance, only very big tickets would be worth the effort to fight. Unless there is a gross error(s), on the ticket, it won't get dismissed at this stage. In can happen, but I've only heard of it once or twice.
The not so smart ones will take what they're given by the clerk-magistrate and pay up, whether they got a break or not. I would estimate this at 50% of the 5% that even got this far. My guesses are that most people don't understand that they can go on, don't think anything will change, are intimidated by a judge/court, and/or don't want to risk the "break" the c-m gave them (a judge could reverse the decision, back to $150 in our example).
So you press on. At this point, you gather evidence. Public information requests. Go to the site and confirm the speed limit. Look for anything electric that may interfere with radar. Again, I do recommend the National Motorists Association as a great resource for more information than I can provide here. (And if it looks good and you want to join, let me know, so I can claim referring you and get a few months of free membership! :)
So, you should have something before going in front of the judge. Even if you don't, that still isn't that important. The judge wants to get on with his/her day - you're a morning annoyance. Dress neatly (no need for a suit, but sneakers and jeans won't help). Speak when you are supposed to. Object to something if you're sure (this is allowed, but unlikely to matter - it's likely your word against the officer's, and a badly placed objection may make you look worse). Ask the officer questions if appropriate. Tell your side to the judge. In my experience, the way it will shake down (keeping to our example) is that no officer = $0 (but remember, if you aren't there, you lose, even if you both aren't there), your intelligent attempt = $0-50, and your just showing up and not being an ass = $75-100. I don't think I've seen the judge reverse a c-m's decision, but the c-m may try to scare you by informing you that the judge can. And if you start berating the judge or the officer, get ready for some time alone - that's contempt of court.
So what does this show us? The state usually wins, because almost everyone just pays. They judge can afford to be lenient in the last step - the state already has tons of money coming in, so if the knock off another $50 for you, who cares? You end up trading two mornings plus a little research time for an excellent shot at a reduction and a reasonable shot and a dismissal. That's a no brainer to me.
Real world examples from this morning:
defendant didn't show: 1 (responsible for full amount)
officer didn't show: 2 (not responsible)
meager defense: 4-5 (fine reduced for all)
And those "fine reduced" were on the order of $200 down to $75.
Oh yeah, odds of the officer not showing up? Clearly luck (and weather) is a factor, but it's about 50/50 (despite the numbers above - the bailiff even told us that he was surprised how many showed up).
Go. Please. Fight speeding tickets. They're easy money for the state. I'll start paying them when I start hearing about officers issuing tickets for vehicles failing to yield the left lane to faster traffic...
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