In 2011 the rules concerning non-jailable traffic violations in Maryland changed. Since the change went into effect, persons who are cited for a violation have 30 days from the day they receive a ticket to choose from one of three options.
Maryland Traffic Ticket Procedural Options
Option 1: Plead guilty, pay the fine, and take the points.
Option 2: Elect a Waiver Hearing to appear in court to explain why they committed the violation. The officer who wrote the ticket will not be present at this hearing. This will be the ticketed driver’s opportunity to ask the judge for a reduced sentence.
Option 3: Request a trial and enter a plea of not guilty. The officer who wrote the ticket will be required to appear in court.
Maryland Traffic Ticket Trial Requests
The effect of the change to the old law, where drivers either paid or opted for a court date, is mostly bad for recipients of tickets. Under the old system, ticketed drivers could request a trial and require that ticketing officers be present in court –even when the ticketed driver was planning to plead guilty with an explanation. Always opting for trial was a fairly good strategy under the old system because it allowed ticketed drivers to sometimes win otherwise losing cases when officers failed to appear. The new system mostly takes luck out of it for ticketed drivers. The new system requires drivers who want to plead guilty with an explanation to indicate their intent to do so in advance by requesting a Waiver Hearing. Officers are not required to appear at Waiver Hearings, hence there’s really no chance that the case will be dismissed once the driver elects to plead guilty with an explanation. Why not request a trial with the officer and then enter the guilty plea? The simple answer is that drivers who request a trial and then do not offer any defense to the charges are in a bad position to request light treatment from the court. Judges seem to expect substantive defenses from people who elect trials.
That leaves ticketed drivers having to make a hard choice within 30 days of receiving a ticket. When should a ticketed driver choose Option 3 and fight a ticket?
When Should a Driver Ask for a Trial on a Maryland Traffic Ticket?
1. He has a Commercial Drivers License. If he works as a professional driver then he very likely has a strong financial incentive to fight the ticket. Even if the ticketed driver doesn’t have a CDL, if he drives as a part of his job and his employer won’t allow him to have traffic violations, then he should probably consider fighting the ticket.
2. He has a significant number of points on his license already. This means that another conviction for a Maryland traffic ticket could push him over the suspended or revoked threshold.
3. He was ticketed in a situation that involved a vehicle accident. In this situation the court’s finding on his violation could trigger civil liability for the accident.
4. He is concerned that his insurance rates will go up as a result of a conviction. This is a consideration that many drivers fail to make when they are cited for a traffic violation.
5. He didn’t commit the violation he’s accused of. Sometimes it’s that simple.
The Cost of a Lawyer to Fight a Maryland Traffic Ticket
In all of these situations ticketed drivers should strongly consider hiring a lawyer to help them fight a ticket. Consider that most lawyers fees for fighting the average traffic ticket are far less than the potential penalties associated with the ticket. In order to compute the real cost of a traffic ticket, the drivers need to add the cost of insurance increases and employment interruption to the amount of the fine.
Potential Traffic Ticket Defense
Finally, please consider that traffic ticket defenses come in many different shapes and sizes. Your best Maryland traffic ticket defense must always take into account the specific facts of your case. While I cannot tell you what defense you should make in your specific case, I can offer some very general guidance to help you craft a defense. When looking for your defense, consider the following questions: Did the police officer have a clear view? Was he too far away to see what he thought he saw? Could he have confused you for some other vehicle that may have broken the law? Did the police officer have to rely on equipment like radar or a camera to know you had broken the law? Was his equipment calibrated? Was he trained to use his equipment? Did he use it the proper way? Is the ticket correct on its face? Did the officer cite the law correctly? Are your details correct on the ticket? Any one of these questions may serve as starting a point for your defense.
Matthew Baum is a defense lawyer with offices in Baltimore, Catonsville, and Columbia. He is licensed to practice law in Maryland and the District of Columbia. As a part of his defense practice he has defended hundreds of clients accused of serious traffic crimes. If you or someone you love has been charged with speeding, failure to yield, failure to stop at a red light, or similar, contact Matthew Baum at (410) 929-3435 for a free consultation.