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How to Beat a Red Light Ticket

UPDATED: December 17, 2019

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There are so many things that can cause you to get a red light ticket; the yellow light is too short, the car coming up behind you is going to hit you, or the traffic signal may be obscured from your field of vision. These same reasons for running the red light may be the best way to defend yourself if you get a red light ticket.

The First Step: Traffic Court to Contest Your Red Light Ticket  

Running a red light is a traffic offense, a red light ticket therefore will be handled in traffic court unlike traffic misdemeanors or criminal offenses which are typically handled in criminal court. If you want to contest the red light ticket, typically, you must elect to go to traffic court. This is a specialized type of civil court. In some jurisdictions, you can appear by affidavit, which involves making a written statement submitted to the court before your court date. You may also have the option of having an attorney appear on your behalf. You lose the right to challenge the ticket if you pay without going to court. 

Traffic offenses are strict liability offenses. The State only has to prove that you committed the offense, not that you had the intent to do so. Red light tickets are usually enforced in one of two ways. An officer can view you committing the offense or a camera monitoring an intersection can take a picture of you committing the offense. 

In either situation, if you can show that the traffic signal was malfunctioning, the yellow light was too short to avoid running a red, or your field of vision was obscured through no fault of your own, the judge may see a reason not to uphold the ticket. Also, if you can show that you would have committed a greater harm, such as hitting another car or a pedestrian by not running the red light, the judge may not uphold the ticket. If you ran the red light because you were trying to avoid harm to yourself and your vehicle, it is the judge’s decision whether to uphold the ticket. 

Disprove the Officer Who Gave You the Red Light Ticket

You have less of a chance of winning a case that involves an officer. Magistrates or judges rule on traffic cases. They are more likely to believe an officer. You may be able to show through evidence, including eyewitnesses, photos, and testimony about where the officer was positioned, that the officer could not have seen you committing the offense. This puts the officer’s credibility at issue. The judge may then be more likely to believe you.  

You can also argue that you did not run the red light, but the officer issued you a ticket for the offense because he or she has a personal vendetta against you. In addition, you can argue that the officer has poor eyesight and could not have seen you run the light. In any of these situations, you should bring in evidence to prove your point. 

Challenge the Camera  

Cameras can take pictures that are not clear, and sometimes the ticketing agency gets license plate numbers wrong. If you can prove the person in the picture was not you, the vehicle in the picture is not your vehicle, the light was not red, or your vehicle was part of a funeral procession, you may be able to beat the ticket. 

In addition, you can challenge the right of the entity ticketing you to issue the citation. In many states, only the State has the authority to ticket you for traffic offenses. Cities are often the parties who put up the monitoring cameras. If there was not legislation in effect at the time of the offense that allows the city to use the equipment, the judge may throw out the ticket. In addition, if the city has not ratified its contract with the business that runs the monitoring equipment at the time your ticket was issued, the judge may declare your ticket invalid. 

You can also make constitutional arguments against monitoring equipment. These include the idea that the use of monitoring equipment violates your due process right, because it puts the burden of proof on the accused; and that traffic laws should be uniform across a state, and different cities’ laws violate this concept. If a judge sees these arguments your way, they could throw out your ticket. 

The End Result 

If you do not like the decision that the judge makes, you have the right to appeal the judge’s decision. You must file the proper paperwork in a timely manner. 

Defenses for running a red light vary between states. They also vary within a state between circuits. You should consult an experienced traffic attorney if you want to represent yourself effectively, an attorney can argue on your behalf or assist you with an appeal.

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