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In my twenty years of practice here in Raleigh, one of the most frequent questions I get asked is this: Why should I get a lawyer to represent me on my speeding ticket when I can just pay the ticket and be done? Fair enough. I mean, if the ticket says on it that you can simply pay a fine and court costs (all together usually in the neighborhood of $250) why would anyone want to pay a lawyer another -say- $250 to go and deal with it? Admittedly, that seems to make sense. Assuming you still will have to pay a $250 fine and costs (and even with a lawyer, you may), by retaining a lawyer you just doubled what you have to pay (court costs/fines AND lawyer fee so now total $500 or so). And who in his right mind would want to pay $500 for something that can be bought for $250? Put like this, the question is really, what is it that an attorney can do for me that I can’t get if I simply pay the ticket? I’m so glad you asked!

A Speeding Ticket Is Not Just a Ticket

First a point of clarification: In NC at least, ticket is not just a ticket: I have puzzled over this one for a while. I think the problem is in the word “ticket” itself. Parking ticket, red light camera ticket, loading zone ticket, speeding ticket. They’re all tickets, right? Therefore they all can be treated the same when we get them, right? WRONG! Many folks believe (perhaps because of the word “ticket”) that JUST LIKE A PARKING TICKET or redlight camera ticket, if you get one, simply send in a check or pay online and the problem just goes away. While that may be true for the others, sorry folks, that ain’t the way it is for speeding tickets. The thing is the fines that other “tickets” assess (at least in North Carolina) are generally CIVIL in nature. No matter how many you get, there’s no judge in the world who will throw you in jail (though you may get a nice orange boot on your car’s wheel). That’s the thumbnail difference between “civil” and “criminal”. Stack up a pile of redlight camera tickets and -at least in NC- same thing; it’s a matter of paying them off and that’s it. No insurance consequences, no license revocation, no points, no nuthin’.
But try that same trick with speeding tickets in NC and you’ll see a host of bad consequences that can come, from increased insurance rates to license revocation, to jail, probation and community services, all of which have their beginning with a “simple speeding ticket.” Get it? Parking ticket, loading zone ticket, redlight camera ticket, etc etc = all civil (fine is penalty only, no other consequences). Speeding ticket = essentially criminal in nature and can have consequences beyond just the payment of the fine/costs (and usually always does). 

Short Term Gain for Long Term Pain

Wanna see what sort of monetary consequences can come from speeding tickets (by way of increased insurance premiums)? Check this out:
1 Point = 30% insurance increase FOR 3 YEARS!!! (speeding 10 mph or less where speed limit is less than 55 mph)
2 Points = 45% insurance increase FOR 3 YEARS!!! (speeding 10 mph or less where speed limit is greater than 55 mph)
3 Points = 60% insurance increase FOR 3 YEARS!!! 
4 Points = 80% insurance increase FOR 3 YEARS!!! (speeding in excess of 75 where limit is less than 70 mph OR speeding in excess of 80 mph where speed limit is 70 mph or greater)

License Revocation Is Real

Wanna see how you can get a license revocation for speeding? Look here…

So What Does a Lawyer Really Do Here?

Ok. That’s out of the way. Now maybe you see why having a lawyer MIGHT be a good idea. But what would a lawyer DO really? What do I get for my money, you want to know.
1) Get a real legal opinion and know your options. By paying a lawyer to handle the speeding ticket for you, even though it’s a lowly speeding ticket, and even though the ticket plainly says on it that you can pay it online at and that you don’t have to go to court if you do, hiring a lawyer gives you access to a real legal professional who can consider your speeding ticket and its circumstances and determine if there’s any way around it. I don’t know how many times I have had tickets (of all kinds) successfully dismissed after just talking to the prosecutor. Maybe the cop no longer works for the agency (and so he won’t ever come to court) in which case the ticket may be dismissed. Or maybe there is some mistake that the cop made that is fatal to the case (his radar wasn’t calibrated). Or maybe he was outside his jurisdiction where the ticket was issued (like an untrained rookie ALE officer who writes up a speeding ticket, say). The point is, there are many options to be explored that can ONLY be explored if there is a competent legal professional on the case. If you simply pay the ticket, and do not hire a lawyer, no inquiry will be made into whether the state has a strong case or not. I may sound self-interested here (since I’m a practicing lawyer) but I think I’d rather be in a position to know about the state’s case, its strengths and weaknesses, rather than just ponying up the dough.
2) You don’t have to have a trial to benefit from representation. One thing that I hear quite often from folks who are unsure about hiring lawyers for speeding tickets is that they don’t need a lawyer because they don’t want to have a trial. And I must say I understand that, at least I understand the concern that gives rise to the statement. Who wants to have to go to court and have a trial and miss work and waste a bunch of time when the whole deal can be avoided by just paying a little fine? But check this out: just as I said above in #1, hiring a lawyer gives you information first and foremost. Your attorney is your representative, a guy who goes and asks tough questions to the cop and the prosecutor, witnesses. Attorneys are bloodhounds on the trail looking for clues that could be used to the benefit of their clients in the context of a trial if need be. BUT BEAR THIS IN MIND: YOU’RE THE BOSS. Your lawyer-bloodhound may find information about your case that can be used to successfully defend you against a speeding conviction BUT WHETHER OR NOT TO HAVE A TRIAL IS YOUR CALL!!! More often than not, that information will be used to negotiate a good deal with the DA (prosecutor) and not necessarily to have a trial (especially if that is not the client’s wish). Read on…
3) Negotiate a good deal. As I said in #2, above, whether or not you have a trial is entirely up to you AND NOT YOUR LAWYER. But know this: even without having a trial, your hired lawyer will be in most cases able to negotiate a deal with the DA that will be better than what would happen to you if you’d not hired a lawyer but instead “simply paid the ticket”. You see, what many people fail to realize is that 90% of the cases that come through our nation’s courts (even little speeding tickets) are handled by way of plea and not trial. This is because the sheer volume of cases that come through the courts is so great that the DA’s and judges simply could not handle the case load if everyone wanted a trial. So what do they do? Well, it’s the old quid-pro-quo. If you agree to plead guilty and not use up the court’s precious time, the DA will offer you a deal. Though this is always a matter of discretion, it is the rare case where the DA decides to stick to the charges as written and not offer a deal. So what’s in it for you? Well, as I say, even without a trial, if you have an attorney, the attorney ACTING AS YOUR REPRESENTATIVE can talk with the DA and ask that the charges be reduced, changed, or in some cases thrown out completely. In North Carolina, it is typical that -for speeding tickets- the speed which is charged is reduced to a lesser speed (we will cover this topic in some detail later, but for now it’s enough to know that if the charged speed is lowered, insurance surcharges and license revocation can often be avoided or curtailed in duration). In some counties (lamentably too few) the DA can even change the speeding ticket into an “Improper Equipment” (IE) charge. The gist of that charge is that your speedometer wasn’t working (and guess what? NO insurance points!). But the advantages don’t stop there: the judge can help too. If the ticket the cop wrote you calls for a fine of $50, maybe the judge will look kindly upon you and reduce it to $10 or even waive it altogether. Additionally, as many of you know, the magical “PJC” that is used here in North Carolina (which will be treated elsewhere) can only be granted by a judge. If you do not go to court and do not hire a lawyer for your ticket, this kind of relief is simply not available to you.

The Take-Away

1) Just because it’s called a “ticket” doesn’t mean you can just pay an NC speeding ticket and walk away like some parking ticket; NC speeding tickets have serious consequences!
2) Having a lawyer for your speeding ticket gives you the power to know what your options are: a lawyer is a trained legal professional whose job it is to look at the facts of a case and give his client advice.
3) Hiring a lawyer for your speeding ticket necessarily doesn’t mean “fighting it” with a trial: your lawyer works for YOU and the decision to have a trial or not is YOURS AND YOURS ALONE
4) Lots of beneficial things can be done without trials: most cases are resolved by plea when the lawyer talks to the cop and then negotiates a good deal with the DA. Your lawyer may also ask the judge for special consideration like a PJC or a lesser fine.

Just Paying the Ticket Costs More, Way More.

A Typical Example:

Maybe this is all I need to say: If you get a ticket for 67 in a 55 and just pay it, assuming your basic insurance rate is $1,000 a year, you’re looking at a surcharge of $333 MORE every single year for the next three years. That’s $1,000 bucks. If getting a lawyer for $250 means you will face no surcharge, you just saved $750. That, dear friend, is an easy decision.
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