Appellate Laws & Procedures in Traffic Ticket Cases
A driver rarely can get a decision in traffic court reversed on appeal. The rules for filing an appeal depend on the state, so you will want to comply with your state’s specific requirements. This involves asking the clerk in the court where you were convicted about how to start the process and then filing a notice of appeal. A driver has a right to an appeal in every state, but the process tends to be time-consuming and can be expensive. If you are only contesting a fine and are not at risk of losing your license, it may not be worthwhile.
In some states, you can get another trial through a type of review known as trial de novo. In the majority of states, though, you can only ask an appellate court to review the record from the trial court for legal errors by the trial judge. Any error that justifies reversing the trial judge must be major, such that it likely had an impact on the outcome. There are a few states that allow drivers to make either type of appeal. Asking for de novo review is usually a better option if you have a choice.
Trial De Novo vs. Review Based on Legal Errors
Trial de novo allows a driver to present their arguments to a new judge from the beginning. Some states that do not allow a jury trial in traffic court allow a driver to have a jury trial during a trial de novo. This may improve the driver’s chances of beating the ticket because juries tend to be more sympathetic than judges. Even if you still present your case to a judge, you may have a better chance on the second presentation because you may be better prepared and more comfortable with your surroundings. Each judge is different, moreover, and it is possible that your first judge was predisposed against drivers facing traffic charges. Your second judge might be less strict.
If the appeal is based on a legal error, you will have only a very small chance of getting a reversal. The record typically will show that the judge in traffic court handled procedures correctly and applied the law as required. You should be aware that you cannot get a reversal based on a minor error. The appellate court probably will conclude that a questionable decision regarding an evidentiary objection, for example, was not sufficiently significant to change the outcome. Since traffic cases have relatively low stakes, the appellate court may not conduct as painstaking a review as it would for a felony conviction.
Strategic Appeals to Avoid License Suspensions
Sometimes delay tactics can pay off in traffic court. This is because postponing the date that a violation appears on your record can help you prevent a license suspension. By the time that it appears, the points from a previous violation may have expired, leaving a driver within the points total allowed for keeping their license. You can delay the process if you have a weak case by seeking a continuance before trial, and you also can delay the process by filing an appeal after the trial.
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