In the United States, approximately one in every six drivers receives a speeding ticket each year. Over 95% of those drivers choose to pay the fine and not contest the citation.
Oftentimes, individuals pay traffic tickets in order to avoid the hassle, embarrassment, or stress of appearing in court. In paying, their understanding is that a guilty plea means a one-time upfront cost, a notation on their driving record, and potentially, points on their license, higher auto insurance rates, or even license suspension, depending on the type of violation and the individual’s preexisting driving record.
However, pleading guilty to a traffic ticket can also have unforeseen consequences, particularly where the ticket relates to an automobile accident involving another person and/or his or her property.
Typically, hearsay, or out-of-court statements offered for their truth, is inadmissible as evidence in court. Yet exceptions exist with respect to types of statements that are particularly reliable, such as admissions by a party to a lawsuit.
A guilty plea to a traffic citation is one such admission of fault that is admissible in later related court hearings. A guilty plea to a traffic offense therefore may be used as proof of negligent driving and, consequently, of fault, in a subsequent civil lawsuit for property damage or personal injury resulting from the accident to which the ticket corresponds.
In effect, a guilty plea to what may seem like a minor driving offense will make it much more difficult for the driver who has plead guilty to defend his or her case in a subsequent lawsuit that could involve considerable damages.
Though a guilty plea to a traffic offense can have serious ramifications, it is possible to prevent such consequences from occurring by stopping your guilty plea from being considered in any related civil lawsuit. Requesting that the judge who presides over your traffic violation hearing enter your guilty plea with civil reservation in New Jersey, or pleading nolo contendere (“no contest”) in other states, including California, will confine your plea to your initial case, thereby preventing your guilty plea from being admissible as proof of fault in a subsequent hearing.
About the Author: Adam Rosenblum is the principal of The Rosenblum Law Firm which focuses on criminal defense and traffic law in New York and New Jersey.