Many, many years ago, when I received my first speeding ticket, I was so frightened by the sight of the officer approaching my vehicle as I watched through the rear view mirror. He asked me how fast I was going and I mentioned a number that was higher than the posted limit. To make matters worse, I subsequently paid the ticket without exploring some cheap options that may have saved me hundreds if not thousands of dollars down the road from increased auto insurance premiums – which was quite high given I was only 18 years old at the time. Depending on your situation, a speeding ticket could range from being a minor affair to a significant legal matter. Either way, listed below are some items to consider when addressing a speeding ticket violation in Maryland.
What should you do when you get stopped?
Once you’re pulled over and stopped, stay in your car and keep both hands in plain sight on the wheel until the officer arrives. Many police officer shootings occur as the officer is approaching a violator so do not do anything to increase the officer’s stress level such as reaching into your glove box or your floor mat for any reason before the officer arrives. When the officer arrives, be cooperative and pleasant (this also helps with attracting a lenient punishment from the judge if you plead or are eventually found guilty). The officer will ask you for your license, registration and insurance card. The officer will also ask whether you know why you were stopped. A simple, ‘Officer, I don’t know why you pulled me over’, will do. Do not compromise your case by divulging information that you do not have to furnish under law. Regardless of what the officer says, do not argue and comply. You will get your chance in court to explain at a later date. Stay calm and remember everything that is happening around as much as possible for future reference such as the weather, visibility, condition of the road, traffic flow and road signs to mention a few. What happens next?
Hope that the Officer does not show up?
Well, before 2011 you could just ignore the ticket and the court would mail you a court date. This strategy was somewhat viable in Maryland as officer’s court appearances for misdemeanor traffic offences were around 50/50. If the officer did not show up, the ticket was dismissed by the court meaning no record or points on your license and a happy day for you. However, in 2011 the procedure was changed to require the driver to do one of three things within 30 days of receiving the ticket, or your license is likely to be suspended: (Option 1) plead guilty and pay the ticket; (Option 2) elect a waiver hearing to appear in court to explain why you committed the violation; or (Option 3) request a trial and enter a plea of not guilty. The dual effect of this change was to reduce the state’s administrative cost and simultaneously improve the likelihood of the officer appearing for trial since the officer doesn’t have to appear unless the driver activates option 3.
Should I request a trial?
It all depends on your situation. Generally, drivers will pick option 2 (guilty with explanation), due to the fear of challenging the officer in trial. If you pick this option, you will appear in court, plead guilty and tender a reasonable explanation while praying for the court’s mercy in view of the fact that your driving record (hopefully) is clean [Keep in mind thatthe Judge has instant access to your driving record]. Assuming that you are an otherwise good driver, the Judge may drop the points and order you to pay a reduced fine. This helps with keeping your insurance rates down. However, this approach may not be viable for every defendant. If you honestly feel that you did not break the speed limit and you are willing to stomach the battle of trial, you can proceed with option 3. In addition, you should request a trial for any of the following situations:
You really cannot afford even a one penny increase on your insurance rate;
You are a truck or commercial driver and need a clean record to hold onto your job;
You were involved in a vehicle accident and need to prove that you are not at fault to avoid civil liability; or
You have one too many tickets and this one may push you over the limit and into suspended driving license mode.
Can I handle the case by myself?
Maryland speeding tickets are difficult to beat. Should you find yourself in any of the 4 situations mentioned above, it is best that you invest in a lawyer since your legal fees in the long run will be much lower than the cost of increased insurance premiums and/ or lost wages in addition to the associated fines.
However, if you feel that you do not need an attorney, you should attempt to beat the speeding ticket by challenging the accuracy of the equipment that the officer used to measure your speed. The officer most likely used one of two types of equipment to measure your speed: a radar gun or a Light Detection and Ranging (LIDAR) gun. The radar gun relies on radio wave signals to calculate speed while LIDAR uses laser technology to achieve the same end. If the officer did use either of these two devices, there are options on how to challenge the accuracy of the speed by requesting the calibration record for the radar gun. Police Departments require daily calibration of the radar guns before and after every shift using a tuning fork to ensure accuracy. The forks used to tune are very sensitive and need to be kept in a box protecting them from moisture and jostling or they may become inaccurate. If you can show that the calibration records had any shortcoming or the officer failed to use the tuning fork as required, it could provide grounds for reasonable doubt as to the accuracy of the radar gun. For LIDAR equipment, you can ask for proof that the officer successfully completed LIDAR equipment training to ascertain whether the officer had adequate technical competence to operate the equipment.
None of these arguments will automatically make your speeding ticket go away given that there are many other factors that are beyond the scope of this article that could further improve your odds. However, if you know for sure that you weren’t speeding; you should not automatically pay the ticket just because the police officer’s radar gun showed that you had exceeded the speed limit. Radar guns are not perfect, and they can provide incorrect information if not operated or maintained correctly. A skilled traffic ticket attorney will have a wealth of knowledge when it comes to traffic law and can increase the chances of having your ticket reduced or dismissed altogether.
If you need help with a Maryland traffic ticket, call me at 240-486-5055 for a free consultation.