Traffic tickets are increasing slowly but steadily in Wisconsin. Our last check on data from the Wisconsin Department of Transportation showed the number of citations issued increases at a rate of about 3 percent per year.
It's easy to see why with ever-increasing distractions in life and on the road today. You forget to update your registration, miss a stop sign or a speed limit sign — all innocent mistakes.
But such mistakes can be costly. Fines for speeding begin at $30 for one to ten miles over the limit. That's not too bad, but costs and fees on that $30 add up to more than $130, creating a total $160-plus "forfeiture" in Circuit Court. The forfeiture is somewhat less in area municipal courts.
In addition, each violation has demerit points assessed against the driver's license. They range from two, typically reserved for equipment violation, to the maximum six. Drunken driving, reckless driving and endangering safety, for example, are assessed six points. The faster the speed, the more points.
Points stay on your record for 12 months. Accrue 12 or more points in one year, and your license will be suspended for at least two months.
The key to avoiding these fines and points is driving attentively (and only when sober) and keeping your car in good working order.
Should you be issued a citation, despite your best efforts, it's good to understand your options.
If you agree you are guilty, you can mail in a check before your court date and forgo attending. You'll be found guilty by default.
If you are not guilty and believe you can make a convincing presentation to the judge, attend your initial appearance. Your name will be given to the prosecuting attorney for a pretrial conference. They will review the file, allow you to state your case and determine whether to set a date for trial or dismiss it.
The trial is in front of and decided by a judge. The prosecuting attorney will typically call the police officer as a witness. You are allowed to cross-examine the officer or other witnesses called. You are then allowed to testify and call your own witnesses if appropriate.
It's important to understand that most traffic violations are strict liability offenses, meaning your intentions are irrelevant. If you are ticketed for driving 35 in a 25 zone, it doesn't matter that you thought the speed limit was 35. The fact that you were speeding is all that matters.
If you're guilty and can't afford the forfeiture, contact the court. They will work out a payment plan with you.
If you cannot afford the additional points, you can attend point-reduction school at Western Technical College. Upon successful completion, three demerit points are subtracted from your record. You are allowed this once every three years.
The rules of evidence and decorum apply in a traffic trial, but the courts recognize this is usually the only contact a citizen will have with the justice system and strive to provide a fair process to allow you the opportunity to defend yourself.
Remember that in every step of this process, respect is important. Respect for the law, the officer, the court and the process. The judicial system makes every effort to treat you, the citizen, with respect, and it will only further your case by responding appropriately.
For more information about traffic laws, contact Tony Gingrasso, La Crosse attorney at Johns, Flaherty & Collins, SC.