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FAQs about Minor Traffic Violations in Maryland

Common Questions About Maryland Minor Traffic Citations

The following is provided for information purposes only and should not be relied upon as legal advice for any particular situation. If you have a matter involving a traffic citation, we recommend you consult an experienced attorney before making any important decisions.

What Is a “Minor” Traffic Ticket?

In Maryland, a “minor” traffic ticket is a charge for a traffic violation that does not carry the possibility of jail time as part of the sentence. If you have been charged with a minor traffic violation, the ticket or charge will indicate a preset fine that you can pay to avoid going to court. “Serious” traffic violations carry the possibility of jail time and will indicate “must appear” or “MA” in the penalty section because these offenses require your appearance in court.

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Is a “Minor” Traffic Violation a Criminal Offense?

Yes. Minor traffic offenses in Maryland are misdemeanors.

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Can I Just Pay the Preset Fine and Not Go to Court?

For “minor” traffic violations, you can pay the preset fine, without having to appear at a court date in front of a judge. For purposes of your driving record, paying the ticket will have the same consequences as pleading guilty or being found guilty. The citation will likely appear on your driving record. If the violation has “points” as part of the penalty, the points will also appear on your Maryland driving record. Under certain circumstances, minor traffic violations can trigger suspensions of your driving license/privilege. Traffic violations can affect your insurance rates. If your work involves driving, paying a ticket may have adverse consequences for your employment.

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The Ticket Gives Me Options to Either Pay the Ticket, Request a Contested Hearing, or Plead Guilty with an Explanation. What’s the Difference?

Paying the ticket means that you pay the preset fine and accept that the traffic violation will appear on your traffic record just as though you were found guilty. Requesting a contested hearing means that police officers and other witnesses (if any) will be summonsed to appear so they can be available to testify in an effort to prove you guilty of the offense(s). "Pleading guilty with an explanation" will cause you to be summonsed to court. When the case is called the judge will be expecting you to plead guilty. The police officers and witnesses are typically not summonsed. If you change your mind and decide you do not want to plead guilty, the judge will likely continue the case so the witnesses can be summonsed for the next court date.

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What Are “Points?”

“Points” involve an assignment of a numerical value for various moving violations. For example, driving through a stop sign is worth one point. Driving through a stop sign and causing an accident is worth three points. Reckless driving is worth six points. The Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration (MVA) can impose penalties for accumulating too many points within a two year period. The penalties can include driver improvement classes, driver license suspensions, and license revocation. Subject to several exceptions and conditions, accumulating five points within a two year period can trigger a points system conference at the MVA; eight points can trigger a suspension of a driver’s license; twelve points can result in a revocation of a license.

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What Happens If I Just Ignore the Ticket?

If you do not pay a minor trafficticket, or request a hearing, the MVA may send you a warning that you failed to pay the fine. You will also may be informed that if you do not address the unpaid ticket, your license and/or vehicle registration will be suspended on a certain date. If that letter is sent to the wrong address, or you see the letter, your license and/or vehicle registration may still be suspended. Ignoring tickets will eventually result in your driving privileges and/or vehicle registration being suspended.

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I Received Tickets That Carry the Possibility of Jail Time, Along with My Minor Traffic Tickets. Should I Just Pay the Minor Traffic Tickets First?

Maybe, but probably not. We recommend that you consult with an attorney first since some of the tickets do carry the possibility of jail and you will have to go to court. You attorney may be able to defend against a conviction for the tickets, or the attorney may be able to negotiate that some or all of the tickets be dismissed.

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I Have a Non-Maryland License. So I Don’t Have to Worry About Tickets I Received in Maryland; Right?

Wrong. Even though you may have a non-Maryland license, your failure to pay the minor ticket may result in the suspension of the "privilege" to drive in Maryland. So, you could be stopped and possibly arrested for driving on a suspended Maryland privilege although your non-Maryland license may still be valid. A suspension of your Maryland privilege might also trigger a “reciprocity” suspension of your non-Maryland license, or bar you from renewing your non-Maryland license. The motor vehicle departments of the 50 states all communicate electronically with one another. So paying the ticket will likely cause the conviction to appear on the driving record of your home state. You might also incur additional points. Some states (like Virginia) will assign their own point value to traffic violations committed in other states.

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What Are the Advantages of Just Paying the Ticket?

First, there is the convenience of not having to spend a morning or afternoon sitting in a courtroom? Because you did not appear in court, you will have said nothing about the incident that could be used against you in a related civil or criminal traffic proceeding. For example, if you were in an accident involving injuries to other people, your explanation of the accident in court might be used against you in a civil lawsuit filed later. Also, for most minor traffic violations, the preset fine listed on the ticket does NOT apply once the case goes to court. The maximum fine for most minor traffic violations IN COURT is $500. That means the judge can impose a fine IN COURT up to $500 for each ticket even though the preset fine might have been lower. (However, be aware that a judge in court can also reduce the preset fine).

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What Are the Advantages of Not Paying the Ticket, and Going to Court?

If you think you are not guilty of the offense, the only way you can challenge the ticket is to go to court. Even if you don’t have a defense, the ticket may get dismissed if the officers or witnesses don’t show up. If you are guilty but have an explanation you think is helpful, the judge may reduce the fine, amend the charge so you get fewer points, or grant you a disposition known as “probation before judgment” so you get no points. If the case resulted in an accident, it is sometimes helpful to hear what the other witnesses have to say, or ask them questions to prepare for civil lawsuit or related criminal case.

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Why Would a Judge Increase the Fine Over the Preset Amount?

For any reason the judge wants. You have too many violations on your record. The judge thinks you lied about your record. Your violation contributed to an accident and injuries to other people. The judge thinks your clothes were disrespectful to the court. He or she does not like your attitude. The officer told the judge you were insulting and disrespectful at the time of the traffic stop. You are young and the judge is trying to teach you a “valuable lesson.”

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What is a “Probation Before Judgment?”

With regard to minor traffic tickets, a “probation before judgment” (PBJ) essentially means that although you admitted you were guilty, or there were sufficient facts to find you guilty at a trial, the judge does not enter a final judgment of “conviction” in the case. If the charge carries points, you will not receive the points. The charge will also not appear on your regular driving record, but it will likely appear on your Maryland PBJ record. Law enforcement officers, judges, prosecutors, and other people will be able to see your PBJ record. It is possible your insurance company will learn about matters that resulted in a PBJ.

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I Want to Challenge or Explain the Violation, but I Can’t Be in Court?

In most cases involving ONLY MINOR Maryland traffic tickets, an attorney can appear in court without you being there. This is especially useful when someone was travelling in Maryland when he or she got the ticket but does not want to come back to Maryland to appear in court. In some cases, the attorney may be able to have a trial and defend the case without you. If the attorney appears and no witnesses show up, the attorney may ask to have the citations dismissed. If the witnesses do appear and you have no defense, the attorney may be able to convey your explanation and circumstances in an effort to get a more favorable outcome.

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Should I Have an Attorney for a Minor Traffic Violation?

That depends on your circumstances and your comfort level with regard to paying tickets or going to court without first consulting an attorney. Minor traffic offenses can have consequences far beyond the payment of a fine including, but not limited to: increased insurance rates or termination from insurance; suspension and revocations of licenses; suspension and revocation of commercial driver’s licenses; MVA penalties related to provisional drivers licenses; termination from employment; and adverse consequences for related criminal or civil cases. An attorney can help evaluate how a minor traffic ticket may impact your situation. Most of all, an attorney may help you defend the case. Many traffic citations are charged incorrectly. Police officers are not aware of all the elements of proof that are required for certain traffic violations. If a civilian witness fails to appear, your attorney will know when to object to inadmissible hearsay being offered by a police officer or another witness. When attorneys are not present, a judge might overlook technical details of a trial that otherwise mightresult in a "not guilty" for your case. Conversely, an attorney may advise you that a defense you think you have, will not work. Non-lawyers sometimes anger judges by making argumentsor commentsthatcan only be described as foolish.An attorney can also be helpful in dealing with police officers, witnesses and the judge once you are in court. Even if you are guilty, an attorney may be able to suggest things you can do before going to court to possibly lessen the fine and/or points.

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