Why You Should Hire an Attorney for Traffic Offenses

Below is excerpted from an interview with DC traffic lawyer Peter Odom.

Why should someone hire an attorney to fight their DC traffic ticket?

Peter Odom: The most important thing to know in DC is if you get a ticket, if you pay that ticket, that’s going to be treated as an admission of liability. That means that no matter how many points that ticket carries, those are going to be assessed onto your driving record, and once you’ve paid the ticket there’s nothing you can do about it. Contacting an attorney up front is always a good idea. Whenever I speak with a potential client, I give them an honest assessment of what I think the issues are and whether I think I can help them, whether I think it would be worth entering into a representation agreement or not… I will not feel comfortable charging somebody a fee if I don’t think that I can help.

The first thing is that a payment is an admission of liability and you will receive the points. Another thing to be aware of is every state’s laws differ as far as how many points it takes before you face a suspension or a revocation. In a lot of jurisdictions, traffic matters are all criminal. In DC, the vast majority of traffic matters are administrative. That means there’s a lot more discretion with the administrative law judge. They can mete out punishment with a much larger variance and results. In DC, you can have your license suspended for point accumulation, which is probably the most common way to have your license suspended for a traffic matter. You can have it suspended with as few as eight points on your record. Ten points will trigger an automatic 90 day suspension, and 12 points will trigger an automatic six month revocation. The DC DMV does have a website that has information about points. Unfortunately, just like any other website, it’s not always up-to-date. That’s another reason why it’s important to contact an attorney if you receive a ticket. Oftentimes you’ll need to speak with an attorney to know how many potential points you might actually be facing.

In DC, points are most often the biggest concern of a potential client. “How many points does this ticket carry?” “Am I going to have my license suspended or revoked?” Those are questions that I’m happy to answer for somebody in a free consultation. I’ll give them an honest assessment of the issues. Points aren’t all there is to it; there are fines also, which brings up the next point. The fines are really something that someone needs to be mindful of, because you have 30 days to respond to a ticket in DC. After the thirtieth day the fine will double. If you receive a $150 ticket, for up to 30 days you can schedule a hearing. That doesn’t mean that your hearing is on that thirtieth day – you can oftentimes schedule a hearing that won’t be for another couple of months – but, if you wait until that thirty-first day, all of a sudden that $150 ticket is going to be $300. When we contest tickets, if we’re able to get a dismissal, you won’t owe the District anything in that case, but that’s a big thing people do; they wait too long and the ticket has already doubled before they even tried to respond. We’ll do our best to get the fine reduced, but there’s no reason to start off by spotting the other team a few points. There’s no reason to shoot yourself in the foot.

To the District’s credit, the tickets do say on the back that they will double if you don’t respond in 30 days…, but that’s something that a lot of people don’t realize. People think, “DMV, oh man, big lines, this could take all day.” That’s one of the best things about Price Benowitz; the way that we handle our tickets is a full service representation. Once a client calls us, we enter into a representation agreement, we schedule the hearing, we gather the evidence, we show up, we represent them at the hearing and waive their appearance, and the client never has to go to the DMV for any of the adjudication aspects. Oftentimes it might take 45 minutes or an hour if you go in person, just to schedule the hearing. Then, on your hearing date, once you get there you might be waiting another hour before your hearing even gets called. So, what you’re really looking at is taking off time from work for multiple trips to the DMV, although you can schedule most tickets online now. There are some that you can’t, but the time aspect is definitely something that’s important. We try to take the stress out of it completely. We handle everything from beginning to end.

Why is hiring an attorney important in traffic cases?

Peter Odom: It’s an intimidating process. Going over to the DMV, if you’ve never been to adjudication services before, it’s daunting, it’s intimidating, but it’s also confusing. Chapter 18 of the [DC] municipal regulations [governing the DMV and motor vehicles] is about 500 pages long. All those regulations govern driving on the streets of DC. Now, that’s not to say that every ticket implicates all of them, but there is a vast body of regulations out there to consider; that in and of itself is a big challenge. A lot of people don’t know that you have different options for how to respond to a ticket. Typically, people think it’s either admit or deny, but you also have the option to admit with an explanation.

If you admit a ticket, you will be found liable and the points will be assessed, but if you admit with an explanation, the judge will be willing to consider waiving points and hearing your explanation. Any individual can show up and try to explain to an administrative law judge why they did what they did, but having an experienced attorney that knows specific regulations, that knows what a judge will look for in determining whether or not to waive the points, and that knows how to best present a case in the most favorable light to the respondent, it’s hard to understate how important that is. Not just because it’s overwhelming and it’s unfamiliar to most people, but because it’s a complicated area of law. Unfortunately for most people, it’s not something that is as set in stone as a lot of other types of law. It does change. It’s fluid. The D.C. Council frequently passes new regulations, and those have an impact on every person, whether they know it or not. Showing up at the DMV, someone might just say, “Hey I didn’t see the sign, give me a break,” but there may be a more effective way to present essentially that same argument to an administrative law judge in a way that will render a favorable result.

It’s also helpful to have a clear driving record; I cannot stress the importance of that enough. Everybody’s human. Everybody makes mistakes. Driving in DC is difficult. We’ve got lots of congestion, lots of traffic, and lots of one-way streets, sometimes one-way streets at different times of day. People do get tickets – even good drivers get tickets sometimes – but that doesn’t mean you should have to go in there blind without any idea of what you’re going to encounter. That’s something that is hard to say effectively, just how important it is to understand what you’re confronting. Not to make it sound like it’s a life or death situation, but it is important to understand the system. An experienced traffic attorney can definitely maximize your chances of a favorable outcome, and, more importantly, minimize the impact that it’s going to have on your day-to-day life.

For more interview material, click here.