In some situations, a prosecutor may be willing to reach a settlement with a driver in a traffic ticket case instead of taking it to trial. This allows law enforcement and the court system to dispose of a case efficiently while still ensuring that a driver who violated a traffic rule faces some consequences. Since traffic violations are minor compared to most criminal offenses, the prosecutor may not feel that it is worth their time and effort to carefully prepare a case, even if they would have a strong chance of getting a conviction.
You should not expect that you will get your case dismissed through negotiations. The purpose of a settlement is a compromise, which means that you will not receive the ideal outcome. The judge might oversee a settlement conference in their chambers, or it might occur in a more informal setting or even over the phone. The settlement might be scheduled on a date before the trial, or it might take place in a conversation outside the courtroom on the trial date.
Types of Settlements in Traffic Ticket Cases
Sometimes a settlement will involve a reduction in the points on a driver’s license in exchange for paying the fine. Or it might involve allowing the driver to go to traffic school and keep the offense off their record, when the driver normally would not be eligible for traffic school. If someone has been charged with multiple violations, a prosecutor might agree to drop the other violations in exchange for accepting one of them.
An example of a compromise over a speeding ticket might be reducing the citation to ordinary speeding instead of excessive speeding, if there is evidence that your speed might have reached the level of excessive speeding. Another bargain over a single charge might involve reducing the amount of the fine, if the law gives the judge discretion over the amount. If the violation technically would allow the prosecutor to pursue a license suspension, they might agree to refrain from taking this step if the driver agrees to pay the fine.
The driver and the prosecutor might agree orally to a settlement, but then they would need to present their agreement to the judge. The prosecutor would tell the judge that they want to dismiss or reduce one or more charges and that the driver will plead guilty to any remaining or reduced charge. Sometimes a settlement will involve an agreement on sentencing as well. The judge typically will grant the prosecutor’s request, although this is not required. If the judge does not accept the settlement, the driver can withdraw their plea and proceed to trial.
Tips for Negotiations
You should not agree to a settlement on the trial date until the officer comes to court. The prosecutor might be offering you a settlement because they believe that the officer will not come, which would result in the dismissal of the case. You can ask the prosecutor if the officer will come or ask for time to consider the settlement offer. If the officer still does not appear, you can decline it.
You should not admit guilt during the course of settlement negotiations, since this admission can be used against you if you do not reach a settlement. The prosecutor is not on your side, even if they seem friendly, and they would be able to testify as a witness about your admission. You should politely summarize why you think that the prosecutor will not be able to get a conviction based on the evidence, although you do not need to disclose all of your arguments.