Thinking of Representing Yourself? Do Your Homework

So you received a traffic ticket that requires you to appear in court, and you are thinking of representing yourself.  Depending on the severity of the possible penalties (fine, points and even jail time), going it alone should be carefully considered, and it is vital that you do your homework.

New_Jersey_State_Police_Traffic_StopFirst, see if the traffic court has an online case search.  If so, you likely can search the traffic cases by hearing date and can prepare a spreadsheet of similar offenses and outcomes over the last few months.  Often the case search will allow you to click on each case to view the particulars, including the original infraction, the amended charge and plea, the fine, court costs and jail time.

  • How many judges in that jurisdiction rule on traffic cases?  If that information is not listed on the online search, it may be on the court website or you can call the court clerk.
  • How does each judge appear to rule – lenient or strict?
  • If a possible consequence of your infraction is jail time, how often did the judge hand down jail time as a sentence to others with the same infraction?
  • How many of the defendants were represented by counsel and who were they?
  • Did the defendants who were represented by counsel end up with better deals than those who represented themselves?
  • What is the fine for your infraction and how many points would be involved in pleading guilty?
  • What are the possible amended charges and fines for your type of infraction?
  • How many points are associated with each type of amended charge?

Second, consider calling the attorneys who are listed on the case search. Sometimes attorneys will give free consultations.  How much do they charge for their services and what would their strategy be?

Third, if you have a good driving record, get a copy from your local Department of Motor Vehicles and bring a copy with you to court.  Sometimes the prosecutor and/or judge will be more lenient if you have a good driving record.

Fourth, call the prosecutor’s office and see if he/she will discuss a plea in advance of the court date.  Alternatively, ask the court clerk if the judge allows time for the prosecutor to speak with defendants before having their case called on their hearing date.

Finally, if possible, sit in on a hearing before the judge assigned to your case in advance of your court date.  This will allow you to become familiar with the judge, the prosecutor, court procedure and possible outcomes.

Whether to go it alone in traffic court can be a big decision.  Before you decide, make sure to do your homework so your decision can be an informed one.



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Center for Legal Practice Reform
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