NMA E-Newsletter #174: A Ticket-Fighter’s Guide to Public Information

In a January E-newsletter (Issue #157: An Insider’s Guide to the NMA Virtual World) we discussed the resources available through the NMA website to help you fight traffic tickets.

But did you know you can also get helpful information directly from the very agencies that make up the traffic enforcement system?

Let’s say I get a speeding ticket in Madison, Wisconsin, where I live. I want to fight it, but I also want to see what I’m up against.

First I need to know what I’m accused of and what the penalties are. The officer wrote down 346.57 (4) on my ticket and also noted 39 mph in a 25 mph zone. No way! A quick Google search takes me to theWisconsin Statutes where I find I’m accused of exceeding the statutory speed limit of 25 mph.

Since I was allegedly going 15 miles over the posted speed, the Wisconsin Department of Transportation website shows I’ll take a four-point ding on my driving record, if found guilty. The ticket also shows a fine of $175.30. From the Dane County Circuit Court website, I learn that this amount includes various additional fees and surcharges beyond the base forfeiture.

(In some areas, your ticket won’t show the amount of the fine. This is because the court determines the total after receiving notice of the alleged violation from the police. Your ticket may have instructions for retrieving your case information online, including the fine amount. However, it can take up to two weeks before your information is available.)

Next I need to find out what four more points will mean for me. My driving record isn’t perfect, but I’m not sure how many points I already have. I don’t want to risk losing my license with another ticket. For $5.50 I access my full driving record through the WISDOT website.

Wow! I’ve already got eight points on my record; four more and I’m done. I have to win this one. I also discover that I may be able take three points off my record if I agree to attend a traffic safety course. I’ll keep that in mind.

The website also lets me instantly find out the status of my license. Mine is valid, but you’d be surprised at how many people are driving with suspended licenses and don’t even know—until they get pulled over. Find out before that happens.

I need to plead not guilty. The City of Madison Municipal Court website (the jurisdiction for my ticket) tells me to appear in court on the date marked on my ticket to enter my plea, or I can mail my not-guilty plea using a form from the website. I’ll send in the form to save a trip to the court house (as well a possible parking ticket). I send my plea using registered or certified mail, so I have a record of delivery. (Whenever you deal with a court online or through the mail, make sure you get confirmation that the court has received your plea, request, motion, payment, etc.)

Now I need to file for a continuance to get more time to prepare my defense. Again, the Madison Municipal Court website comes through with instructions. I think I have to make the request in writing, and I need to receive confirmation from the court—otherwise I still need to appear on the original date. I’m a little confused, so I call the number on the website for more information. In general, be cautious of information received verbally from court personnel. However, in this case, the court clerk confirms my understanding of the court rules, so I’m comfortable.

If I fail to appear, the website warns me: “…the judge may order a suspension or revocation of your driver’s license, a suspension of your vehicle registration, referral to a collection agency, an interception of your tax refund, or issue a warrant for your arrest.” Better circle that one on my calendar.

Thanks to a combination of high-tech (the Internet) and low-tech (mail and phone) tools, I accomplished the following right from my kitchen table:

  • Confirmed what I’m charged with
  • Determined that my license is in jeopardy if I don’t fight
  • Filed my not-guilty plea with the court
  • Delayed my trial so that I have enough time to prepare

I can now focus on developing my defense. Since I’m a Supporting NMA Member, I’ll start by reviewing the NMA’s “Fight That Ticket” E-book. From there, I’ll search the NMA website for more tips to help me beat the ticket and save my license.

(Editor’s Note: This is a hypothetical example meant to show how to track down and use generally available public information. The specifics will vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. It’s worth spending time on the types of websites referenced here, including municipal and county courts, as well as state department of transportation and/or department of motor vehicles. This approach is especially useful with out-of-state tickets.)

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