Frequently a motorist receives a traffic ticket and immediately pays the fine without considering the consequences of paying the fine. What motorists need to realize is that by paying that fine they are actually pleading guilty to the citation. Often times the consequences do not go beyond the fine or points on a driver’s license. However many situations result in the suspension of a driver’s license or vehicle registration and the motorist doesn’t find out about these penalties until it’s (almost) too late.
It is important to realize there is a distinction between the imposition of criminal penalties such as fine and the imposition of civil penalties such as license suspension. Criminal penalties are readily apparent, usually just a fine. Civil penalties usually rear their head weeks after the fine is paid.
Rarely, if ever, does a police officer write a ticket and explain to the motorist the possibility of the civil penalties if the fine is paid. The unsuspecting motorist never thinks to contact an experienced traffic attorney and pays the fine to the district court without much thought until weeks later when they receive a notice from PennDOT informing him or her that their license or registration is being suspended.
This is where the uninformed motorist gets himself or herself in trouble. Included in the suspension notice is information on how to appeal the suspension. The motorist appeals the suspension thinking they can somehow convince a judge to dismiss the suspension and reinstate driving privileges. This is not the case, and this is where the relationship between the underlying offense in criminal court and the suspension in civil court become vitally important.
At this civil hearing on the validity of the suspension, the underlying traffic offense cannot be collaterally attacked. What this means is that merits of the ticket cannot be argued, the sole issue before the court at this hearing is whether or not the motorist was convicted of an offense which properly triggers a license or registration suspension. The regulations on license suspension are black and white and PennDOT is successful in upholding the suspension an overwhelming majority of the time.
In order to avoid the suspension, it is the citation itself which must be attacked in the criminal courts. After pleading or being found guilty of a traffic offense by a magisterial judge, the motorist has 30 days to appeal that decision to a court of common pleas. Even if the thirty days has passed there are other mechanisms to appeal the underlying citation to a higher court. This is where a motorist can save himself or herself the pain of a suspension. If the underlying citation can be dismissed, or changed to a lesser offense through negotiation, the suspension will be lifted and the civil hearing on the suspension is unnecessary.
The procedures are complicated for the lay person and the consequences of suspension too great to try this alone. An attorney experienced in these matters should be sought out immediately in order to protect your license or registration. For motorists caught up in this situation the prospect of losing a license can be a very stressful time as people rely on their vehicle for work, childcare and day to day tasks.
This stress could all be avoided if an attorney were contacted before paying the fine. Even if the offense would not result in a suspension an attorney can often negotiate with the officer to avoid points on a driver’s license, reduce fines or avoid multiple citations.
This is especially important for motorists holding commercial driver’s licenses. The stakes are much higher when a CDL is at issue. In any case, before paying that fine, contact an experienced traffic attorney, it’s much easier to avoid the suspension in the first place than it is to “undo” the suspension after the fact.
If you find yourself facing a traffic citation or you’re already facing a suspension contact the experienced Attorneys of Mooney & Associates. You can Count on Mooney, your Harrisburg capital region criminal defense team. Call today at 717-200-HELP. We have 16 offices spread throughout Central Pennsylvania for your convenience.