Cited citizens at disadvantage
without basic legal knowledge
To the Editor:
Virtually everyone receives a traffic ticket at some point in their life, but it can be confusing and stressful to deal with it. Most people have no experience with the court system and don’t know what certain results of their ticket entail. These results could include court supervision, a conviction, or a trial where guilt would be determined. As that the ordinary citizen does not know how to go about settling their ticket and what result would be best for them, they have a major disadvantage when it comes to negotiating with a prosecutor about these minor offenses.
I recently received a traffic ticket for “failure to reduce speed to avoid an accident” – I accidentally rear-ended somebody while driving. As a law student who worked at a small-county state’s attorney’s office over the summer. I became well-versed in traffic tickets and what prosecutors are willing to work with offenders on.
When the officer issued me the citation, he handed me a pamphlet and envelope to send back to the state’s attorney’s office that gave me three different options: send in money and plead guilty, plead not guilty, or plead guilty and request court supervision along with agreeing to take an eight-hour traffic education course. Luckily, I knew that although my appearance in court was not required if I wanted to plead guilty, if I showed up and spoke to a prosecutor, I could request court supervision without having to take a traffic course.
Most offenders do not have the same knowledge. The way the day goes is people file into the courtroom on traffic court day and line up to talk to the assistant state’s attorney in charge of their case. The attorney says something like, “plead guilty right now to end this case and you’ll get a conviction and a fine of $300. Or we’ll go to trial, where you face a much harsher penalty.” At this point, if a person knows they are guilty, they do not have much choice but to accept the offer.
This is where our system fails the public.
If the state better informed traffic violators about their options when they receive a ticket and the consequences of each, people would have a much better idea what they are agreeing to when they send in a pamphlet pleading guilty or requesting court supervision.
It would lead to much more fair and balanced plea negotiations and more informed decisions by ordinary citizens.