As Featured on News Cult: What to Do When You Go to Traffic Court

If you get pulled over, and even after following my instructions, get a ticket and have to go to traffic court, don’t worry—everything you need to know about what you need to do in traffic court is right here.

1.  Understand what you’re there for

Your ticket will be for something like an infraction or a misdemeanor, and will have fines/fees attached to it, potentially along with other options (like traffic school, community service, correctible violations, etc.). Make sure you know exactly what you’re being charged with and all of the consequences that come along with it. If you don’t understand the written instructions on your ticket, call the courthouse and ask the clerk before you go in.

2. Make sure you arrive on time

Sounds obvious, but traffic court can be confusing—there may be multiple courthouse locations listed on your ticket, and multiple times as well. In my experience, you are given a definitive court date/time by the officer when you’re pulled over, but should you wish to go earlier, you can. However, in order to do so, you have to go to the court as soon as it opens, and ask to be put on the calendar for that day. This could mean you get there at 8 AM, but court may not actually start until 1:30. So bring a book. And make sure to call ahead so you know exactly what location and what time you have to get there, as well as what days you can go (e.g. some courts only hold session on Mondays, or Mondays and Tuesdays, so don’t be the jerk that shows up on a Wednesday).

3. Don’t be surprised that there are other people there

Unfortunately you will not have your court session all to yourself. There will most likely be a large group of you there to see the judge at the same time. This means that everyone else gets to hear why you’re there, and anything/everything you and the judge say to each other. In other words: it’s embarrassing. And takes a long time because you may have to wait for a bunch of other people to called before you. However, rest assured, because there will always be people in there worse off than you. Yes, there will be those better off, too, but focus on the worse off ones. Trust me—you may think you have it bad with your $400 speeding ticket, but the guy who’s in there on possession of marijuana while driving, and who will lose his license for at least 180 days, if not a year, plus a $1000+ fine, has a lot more to worry about. Not that we rejoice at others’ misfortune, but we rejoice at others’ misfortune.

4. Listen to the bailiff’s instructions

There should be a bailiff in the courtroom who makes an announcement before the judge enters. It will most likely be a butch lesbian. Just keep an eye out for the pixie cut and resting bitch face. She should give general instructions about how the court session will go, including how/in what order the judge will call people up, what to do when the judge calls your name, what to do after you’ve finished speaking with the judge, etc. She will also ask if anyone has any questions—use this opportunity to ask what to do about the fact that they misspelled your name (it’s fucking Alexandra, not -der, do I look like a man?! Don’t answer that.), or any other things you are confused about. You may be embarrassed to ask a question in front of all of your fellow lawbreakers, but trust me, they’re all confused too. This is not 5th grade where your classmates will make fun of you for asking a ‘stupid question’—you are no longer a meek, timid little 10-year old, you are a STRONG, POWERFUL, EQUALLY INTIMIDATED AND AFRAID-OF-LIFE ADULT, but just fuck everyone else, you’re there to look out for yourself.

5. But also make friends

Traffic school is a sad, interesting place. Lots of great people watching—we’re talking better than Disneyland. Make friends with the old man next to you who got a ticket for being on his flip phone 50 feet away from pulling into his garage. When you both get out, he’ll give you a thumbs up, and it’ll be the most validation you’ve gotten since your grandma told you you looked handsome last Christmas. You’re all in this together, so foster that solidarity. It’ll be fascinating and depressing to watch people plea with the judge when they can’t afford the fines, and offer excuse after excuse. But these are your people—the downtrodden, the endearingly pathetic, the struggling—you are them and they are you. Feel for them, be sympathetic. You may even meet your soul mate—never underestimate the courtroom’s ability to be a mating ritual. After all, the bad boys who speed and blow red lights and don’t carry their insurance are the sexiest and most exciting. Like, he may be unstable, but you know he’s good with his tongue.

6. When you’re up to bat, know your options

When the judge calls you up, he’ll tell you what you’re being charged with, and then you get to enter your plea. This is the most important part: know that your only options are not just guilty or not guilty—you can enter NO CONTEST. The judge/bailiff will most likely not tell you this is an option, because if you plead no contest, you are not admitting guilt. You are basically saying, “I’m not contesting the charge because [I don’t have time/resources to go to trial, or whatever the reason may be], but I’m not saying I am guilty either.” The outcome is the same as if you plead guilty, but your formal plea, for the record, will not be guilty. I think this is important as a matter of principle, and should this issue ever come back to haunt you, which is unlikely but possible, you will have your no contest plea on record.

If you plead not guilty, you will then go to trial. This means the judge will give you a separate court date/time to come back and argue your case (so your first appearance in court is not the time to provide evidence or an explanation or reason as to why you’re innocent—if you try to bring anything like that up during your initial appearance, the judge will dismiss it/won’t hear it). The officer will need to be present at this future court date, too. You will be able to represent yourself at that time, or bring a lawyer. You/your lawyer will be able to cross examine the officer. If the officer doesn’t show up, there’s a chance the judge will dismiss your case, which means you won’t face any convictions or consequences. But the judge can also decide to still convict you even if the officer doesn’t show.

If you plead guilty or no contest, you can often have your fines/fees reduced on the spot. This is of course an incentive the courts use to encourage you not take your case to trial, but sometimes it’s worth it. In addition, you can request to do traffic school, which will prevent any points from being added to your license and remove the conviction from your record so your insurance isn’t affected, if whatever you’ve been charged with is a small enough infraction, and if you haven’t done traffic school in the recent past for another conviction (in CA it’s the past 18 months).

I find that a no contest plea, along with a request for reduced fines/fees and traffic school is the most efficient option. Yes, traffic school is a bit more money, but unless you have a solid defense and can spare the time/energy/money to come back and go to trial (and even then, my gut tells me traffic court judges usually rule in favor of the officer because they’re bitter that they couldn’t get a real job and all of them are part of the same corrupt system), it’s your best bet. Otherwise, you can opt to not go to traffic court at all, and just pay the full fines/fees online, or via mail/phone. This way, you can still do traffic school if you were ever eligible for it, but you miss the chance for the reduced fines/fees.

There are always other stipulations—like, if you request traffic school, you have to pay all of your fees/fines upfront, and if you want a payment plan, you can’t do traffic school, and if you pay with a credit card, there’s an extra fee, blah blah blah. More roadblocks and hoops to jump through because it wouldn’t be US government if it weren’t bureaucratic bullshit. So just clean up all those loose ends after you finish with the judge.

7. Fist pump as you walk out

Preferably whilst jumping—GOOD RIDDANCE, THE MAN. We fought you the best we could, and now, we bid you a-fucking-dieu.

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As Featured on News Cult: What to Do When You Get Pulled Over

First of all, don’t get pulled over. Have I taught you nothing? The first rule on breaking rules is DON’T GET CAUGHT. C’mon! I don’t care if you speed, or don’t use your turn signal, or roll a stop, as long as you’re competent, which you probably aren’t, and have the sense to not get pulled over.

If you do, however, fail, and the po po catch you, here’s what you need to do, in chronological order. And like, really, fuck the police.

1. Make sure your seat belt is on

One less thing to get in trouble for (unless that’s why you got pulled over in the first place, in which case still put it on so there’s less proof).

2. Unroll your window

Sounds dumb, but do this first (post-seat belt check), and only this. Don’t reach for anything, don’t unbuckle your seat belt, don’t not unroll your window, don’t open the door–do nothing that could arguably be perceived as uncooperative, dangerous (you may be reaching for some gum, they think you’re reaching for a gun, and poof, you’re dead*), insubordinate, or contrarian. We may hate them and know think they’re wrong, but we’ll play by the rules if it works in our favor.

*Only if you’re an unarmed black male.

3. Don’t say anything

Except a pleasant, “hello.” Let them start the conversation. Alternatively, if you are a white female or a middle-aged white male, you are free to congratulate them on pulling you over.

4. Make sure you know where your license & registration are

The officer will ask you for them. Glove compartment is the best place to keep your registration (and insurance card, title, driver’s manual, stolen mini bar liquor bottles, etc). Make sure it’s there, where you can easily reach it, and not somewhere like your trunk or back seat. And of course always have your license on you and within reach while driving. The last thing we need is to get pulled over for running a red light (red, yellow–tomato, tomato) and then get hit for not having our license or up-to-date registration.

5. Tell the truth (ish)

The officer will either tell you why you got pulled over or ask you why you think you got pulled over (because they like to play mind games, wannabe-psychologist-but-not-smart-enough motherfuckers). Essentially, don’t say too much. If he says, “You were speeding,” a simple, contemplative, “Oh,” will suffice, at first. If he asks you what speed you were going, say something reasonable–if you know how fast, say how fast. Unless how fast is waaay too fast, in which case, ‘guess’ at a more reasonable number. E.g. if the speed limit is 65 mph, and you were going 80-85, say, “I’m not sure exactly because my eyes were primarily on the road and not my speedometer, but I think 70-75.” That way, you’re not lying, but you’re not implicating yourself, either. Play dumb, but not in too disingenuous of a way. And, if you’re certain you were not doing whatever he accuses you of, assert yourself, but don’t be aggressive. Cops are all power trippers–that’s why they become cops. And power trippers don’t like feeling like someone else is more powerful than them. You have to play their game, but you have to be better at it. Little do they know, our whole lives have been preparation leading up to this moment–some may call us manipulative sociopaths, but we prefer “clever savants.”

6. Ask for Proof

If he says he clocked you going a certain speed, ask to see the radar proof. Also ask where/when he clocked you. The point of this is to game out how much evidence he in fact has against you, so that you can build you case either right here in front of him or later on in court. If he offers proof, make sure to examine it closely, and take notes. If he doesn’t, or refuses to, note that.

7. Ask for a pass

If you feel like up until this point, you’ve been able to maintain a reasonable enough defense, don’t be afraid to kiss some porky ass and say something like, “Would you please consider giving me a warning this time, since my record is clean?” It sounds pathetic, and that’s because it is, but, again, play the game. Plus, you never know until you try. And if you weren’t doing something so blatantly illegal and you’re a halfway decent person, it just may work.

8. If you get a ticket, maintain composure

Just because you’re getting a ticket does not mean you’re guilty. It just means you have to appear in court. So don’t start spewing a bunch of hateful crap at the officer—no doubt what you’d be spewing is true (“You only became a cop because your wife never lets you be on top [self-five for rhyming!] and you needed some way to feel in control! Also your mom breastfed you until you were 8!”)—but by taking the ticket on the spot, you are not admitting guilt, so no need to freak out just yet. You’re simply saying, “Ok for now, asshole, but I’ll see you in court, pig” (metaphorically, of course).

9. Drive away safely

Wait until you’re out of their sight to tear off. Until then, you are obviously encouraged to whisper a bunch of voodoo spells directed at the officer: “I hope your dick shrivels up and falls off,” “Here’s to 50 more years of hemorrhoids,” and/or, “If you got a flat tire in the middle of nowhere and your radio went out and you ran out of water and you froze to death trying to walk to shelter, I would not be disappointed.”

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