My first court appearance representing someone was in Jones County, North Carolina nearly thirty years ago. My friend got a speeding ticket on his way to the beach. Because of the complexities of the way insurance companies and the North Carolina Department of Motor Vehicles address traffic offenses in North Carolina, lawyers routinely represent people in court for speeding violations.
My friend was speeding about twenty miles over the speed limit. He had no offenses within the preceding three years. I appeared in Jones County that morning. A friend took me to a room behind the courtroom where I encountered a short, stocky man smoking a big cigar. He nodded when my friend introduced me as a new lawyer and identified him as the presiding judge.
I negotiated a disposition with the prosecutor where he entered a plea to speeding sixty-four miles per hour in a fifty-five mile per hour zone. When the prosecutor called the case, I stood and through my nerves entered a plea of responsible to the infraction.
That disposition prevented the insurance company from raising my friend’s insurance rates.
In exchange, I got a box with several high-quality cigars. The next time my friend and I were together, we each smoked a cigar and toasted a favorable outcome in my first court appearance.
A few months later, my friend got another ticket in a county far from where I practiced. This time, he had to hire a lawyer or appear for himself. Aware of the outcome in the recent case, he decided to represent himself. My friend made this decision without consulting me first.
My friend’s strategy was to ask the prosecutor for a reduction to speeding nine miles over the speed limit, just like I had done for him in Jones County. He would save the legal fee and prevent his insurance rates from increasing.
Unfortunately, my friend’s understanding of the law was flawed. As I later explained to him, speeding nine miles over the speed limit when you have no prior moving violations within the immediate three-year period does not affect your insurance rates in most cases. His problem was that we had entered a plea to a moving violation to resolve his prior speeding ticket, which was only a few months earlier.
The reduction to speeding nine miles over the limit for the second offense did not come with the same protections. His insurance company could, and did, raise his rates. The rate increase continued for three years, costing him thousands of dollars that he would have saved by hiring a lawyer.
Certainly, people appear in courts every day to negotiate their own traffic tickets. Some do so successfully. That is their right. For some people, it is their best option.
At the same time, it hardly seems worth the risk for most people who can afford to hire a lawyer to resolve the charge. The fees are manageable for most people. The transaction is more convenient because most cases can be resolved if the driver authorizes the lawyer to appear in the driver’s absence.
Most importantly, the lawyer should understand the consequences of the negotiations before entering the plea. Even when the result is not the driver’s favored disposition, the driver should have an accurate accounting of how the plea impacts the driver’s privilege to drive, license points, and insurance rates.
We have tried and negotiated favorable dispositions in thousands of traffic cases over the last thirty years. We understand the inconvenience, costs, and consequences of these offenses. We will help you manage the frustrations associated with these offenses efficiently. Our approach is cost-effective. And you leave with a full understanding of the consequences of any disposition.
In the event you decide to represent yourself, however, links to the North Carolina Department of Insurance website follows. https://www.ncdoi.gov/consumers/auto-and-vehicle-insurance/safe-driver-incentive-plan