The following are true stories about how
I fought a ticket with some
success. Please note that there is some updated information near
the end of the article.
Please note I am not an attorney and I am not giving legal advice.
Cruising west bound I-96 just past
I-275, nice warm summer early evening, windows down, radar detector on
with light traffic. I was driving a nice safe speed for traffic
conditions in the right lane.
My pleasant evening came to an abrupt end as my radar detector jumped
off the dash having received a large dose of instant on K-band radar
radiation. Sure enough, it was a Michigan State Trooper.
Checking my rear view mirror, I could
see him as he came roaring after me and I pulled over.
Here is what I recommend you should do when pulled over.
- Be respectful and polite at all times.
- Do what the officer asks - the officer has no idea who you are or
what your intentions are.
- If you are on your best behavior you may get off with just a
- Don't admit guilt! This will come back to haunt you since the
officer is probably taking notes.
- Ask the officer where he was and where you were when he
determined your speed.
- Ask him how he determined your speed. I do not believe it is
worth asking to see his radar or lidar reading as this will come down
your word against his in court.
- If the officer comes back with a ticket take it politely and bid
the officer a good day.
Now it is critical that you write down everything that just
- Where you were and the officer was when he observed you speeding.
- The location of any other vehicles between you and the officer.
- The weather and traffic conditions.
- Any other unusual circumstances such as if the highway runs right
to an airport.
So now I had my 75 in a 55 $110.00 ticket. My next step was to go down
to the local library and find everything I could about Michigan traffic
I found out that speeding is called a Civil Infraction in
Michigan. You can not be sentenced to jail for a civil infraction but
you certainly can lose your license and the green stuff in your wallet.
Civil Infractions follow different rules than offenses you can go to
There are three steps to fighting a speeding ticket and other Civil
1. The Informal Hearing.
you cannot have a lawyer present and unless
you have money to burn you do not want one anyway. The hearing is
presided over by a magistrate. It is important to note that a
magistrate is not a judge! The magistrate is not bound by the same
rules as a judge. In my case, the magistrate was an ex state police
officer, this was not good for me. You may have better luck and get an
You must call and/or write to the court listed on the ticket and
an informal hearing. They will mail you a court date. You should
prepare your case for the hearing. In my opinion it is not worth
preparing too much for the informal hearing because the system is
stacked against you. This doesn't mean that you should come unprepared,
but I wouldn't spend too much of your time in this phase of the
process. Your best chance is that the officer does not show up to the
hearing in which your case will be probably be dismissed! It is always
worth requesting an informal hearing because quite often the officer
does not show up!
You can also ask the court to delay you hearing. One
tactic is to delay the hearing as much as possible in the hope that the
officer will be transferred or not available for some other reason. You
also delay paying your fine and receiving your points. If you do delay
your hearing make sure you have a written confirmation from the court
showing your new hearing date.
If the officer does shows you will most likely lose the informal
because here is where the system begins to work in
Immediately after losing the
informal hearing, go to the
court clerk and request a formal hearing. You will probably have to
post a bond equal to the fine of your ticket. You will get some, all,
or none of this money back depending on how the formal hearing goes.
Many people give up at this point. The system is designed to get you to
quit! If you are persistent you will get results so always appeal to a
However, there are a couple of potential negatives that can happen at a
hearing you should be aware of. The judge could increase you ticket
speed to the speed the officer observed you at. So if the officer gave
you a really big break when writing the ticket you should take that in
to consideration. Also, the court could impose additional court costs.
Most courts probably won't do this but it might be worth asking the
court clerk if it is common practice if this is a big concern to you.
2. The Formal Hearing
The formal hearing will be held before a judge. You can not have a jury
trial for a Civil Infraction. The judge is bound by law to follow due
process. Lawyers can be used here.
If you opt for a lawyer make sure he
or she specializes in traffic law. If you are a member of the National
then use their lawyer referral service.
You do need to prepare your case for the formal hearing. I strongly
suggest you use the Traffic Defense Kit that the National Motorists
Association supplies its members. This is worth the low cost of
membership alone! This story will not go into the details of preparing
When you arrive for your formal hearing you will probably have the
opportunity to make a deal with the prosecutor. In most areas, they do
not want to try traffic infractions because they have more important
crimes to worry about. When I showed up for my hearing there were no
signs or instructions so I had to go find the prosecutors office. This
was easy because there was a large line of lawyers outside the door of
the office. Show up early and find the prosecutor, do not just sit in
the court and wait to be called, it will be too late to
make a deal
When you meet the prosecutor be professional and explain your case. If
you make a strong impression you are more likely to get a better deal
offered. You should dress in business attire.
Be aware that the prosecutor will
have ready access to your driving record (as will the judge) and will
take it in to consideration. If you have a clean record it will be a
very big advantage to you. This is why you should fight your very first
ticket - keep
that record clean!
Of course, you may not make a deal. They may not offer one, or you may
not want to take what they are offering. If this happens go in the
courtroom and wait to be called and be ready to present your case. Once
again I will not go in to details here but offer a couple of tips.
- If the officer is not there ask
the judge for a dismissal!
- Do not put yourself on the stand if you were speeding. Once
you are on the stand you will be under oath and the prosecutor will ask
you if you were speeding.
- Do not attack the officer directly. Instead focus on errors in
traffic conditions, target errors, and speed limits not in compliance
with Michigan law.
This was my first time at a formal hearing and I wimped out and took
the deal. They reduced it to 60 in a 55, 0
license points, and $50.00. If you take the deal it still has to be
approved by the judge so you still have to go in to the courtroom and
wait for your case to be called. Sitting in the courtroom and watching
several people get jail time for drunk driving and other crimes made my
$50 fine not seem so bad.
If there is a next time I will not take the deal. After going through
it once I feel confident that I can put on a good case. If you do go to
trial the Judge may still find you responsible but can also lower the
offense and fine.
3. Second Formal Hearing
If you lose the first formal hearing you can
appeal your case to a second hearing which will be held in a different
courtroom with a different judge and prosecutor. No new evidence can be
presented at an appeal. You would use the appeal if you felt that the
first hearing was biased or did not follow the law. Consult an
attorney at this point.
Even if you lose going through the process will be very enlightening
and worthwhile. Do not give up to unreasonable laws without a fight. If
you roll over to unreasonable speed limits you have no one to blame but
- February 2007
You can still fight that Michigan Ticket and WIN! Recently I
another ticket after a ticket free period of 13 years.
The ticket was issued on the M-14 Freeway in Ann Arbor, Michigan for
75 in a 55 MPH zone. My vehicle was clocked at 85 MPH with a laser
detection device at a distance of 1400 feet.
As soon as the officer turned on his overhead lights, I signalled and
pulled over as far right as possible while staying on the paved part of
the shoulder. It was night, so I turned on the overhead dome light and
placed my hands on the steering wheel. After a brief period, the
officer appeared and asked if I knew what the speed limit was.
responded 55. He said "what?" and I said "55, sir." Then the officer
said "Why were you driving 85?" to which I responded "No sir." I did
not directly answer his question because there was no way to answer it
without admitting guilt.
After I turned over my license, registration, and proof of insurance he
went back to his patrol car and wrote my ticket.
The ticket was for 75 MPH in a 55 MPH zone. He asked if I had any other
questions for him to which I responded "No sir."
Freeway speeding tickets are handled a little differently in Michigan
compared non freeway tickets. Tickets on limited access freeways have a
lower number of drivers liense points associated with them. The
schedule of points
for limited access freeways is listed in section 257.629c of the
Michigan Compiled Laws. On a freeway, sixteen to 25 MPH over the posted
limit is a 3 point violation and has a fine of $160. You can view the
Michigan Laws at www.michiganlegislature.org.
The officer will write
what section you have allegedly violated on the ticket. Go
www.michiganlegislature.org, look it up, and read the section
Not much has changed in how the system works in the last 13 years.
Speeding is still a civil infraction in Michigan. However, there has
been significant change to the law regarding how legal speed limits are
determined and posted. The law was basically rewritten in November,
2006, rendering many underposted speed limits unenforceable!
The new Michigan Speed Law sets up a system where posted speed limits
will be set based on engineering principles instead of political whims.
If these new principles have not been used then fighting a ticket may
be easier. The section of code changed is 257.627
The section of M-14 I was ticketed in is a 55 MPH zone. This zone is in
the city of Ann Arbor and is less than one mile long and the speed
limit is 70 MPH on both sides of this zone. At first, I figured that
this section did not comply with the new Michigan Speed Law. However,
with the help of some other NMA members, it was determined that this
section DID comply. So, unfortunately, I could not use the new
strategy. (2012 edit: the speed limit on this section has been
changed to 65mph).
At this point, I called the courthouse to set up an informal hearing.
The clerk was friendly but firmly told me that under no circumstances
could the hearing date be changed once set and that officers are
ordered to appear to all hearings. In addition, when I received the
ticket it came with a "Frequently Asked Questions" slip of paper that
also implied that officers always go to hearings. Then, to top it off,
I was told verbally that the judge would really frown on the 30 over
clocking and may increase the fine to that of 30 over even though the
ticket is for 20 over. Someone even suggested "You can go to jail for
30 over!" I knew you could not go to jail for a simple speeding ticket
in Michigan (Note - you can in some states!) but the judge raising the
fine is a possibility.
I actually had thoughts of just sending in the money at this point as
things looked grim but I decided to go on. Remember, the system
to get you to quit and send in the money!
The informal hearing was scheduled for three weeks after I called. I
went to the informal hearing expecting to lose. When I lost I would
appeal to the formal hearing. Since I had no real strategy to fight
the ticket on its merits, my plan was to meet the prosecutor and try to
get a deal. I would try and get them to change the ticket to a
non-moving violation of equal fine. This way they would get their
money, my driving record would stay clean, and my insurance rates would
not go up.
I thought that to do the deal I would first have to lose the informal
hearing and schedule the formal. So to the hearing I went.
Get to the hearing
In this court they schedule defendants in
half hour blocks so I went a half hour earlier so I could watch the
block before me. I was shocked to see that the officers were
approaching the defendants and making deals with them on their own.
They were lowering the charge in exchange for a "responsible" plea to
the magistrate. This was very effective as all defendants took the
deal. Of course, the fines were nearly identical on the lowered charge.
Drivers did receive less points on their license though. However, they
were still MOVING violations so their insurance rates will probably
rise! Ask for a
non-moving violation if you are going to make a deal!
The other shocker was for about 1/2 of the cases the officer did not
show and the tickets were dismissed! This despite all the propaganda
that officers ALWAYS show up to hearings. I guess 50% is "always" to
So now my hopes went up that maybe the officer wouldn't show or I could
make a deal with the officer for a non-moving violation. If that didn't
work out I would take the "loss" and appeal to a formal hearing.
To bring the tale to a quick end I got to hear the magic words from the
magistrate. "Since office Smith (not his real name) has failed to
appear we are dismissing this case." To think that I was considering
Excercise your rights - always go yo the hearings!
- Be respectful to the officer at all times. You do not want
to remember you negatively because then they will be sure to attend the
- Use the new Michigan Speed
Law to fight a ticket when the speed limit
sign does not conform. This is probably going to be at least 50% of the
- Always go the hearings. Don't let them convince you to not
your right under Michigan law.
- If you make a deal make sure it is for a non-moving violation.
- If you use a lawyer make sure they specialize in traffic law. Use
NMA referral guide.
- Don't give in to the propaganda that
you should just send the money in!
More random bits of information (updated October 2012).
- A friend of mine got a ticket for 35 in a 25 in a very lightly
travelled industrial area in Farmington Hills, Michigan. When he
went to the informal hearing the officer was not there. They
should have dismissed the ticket but instead they pressured him and
other defendents to take a deal even though the office was not
there. He took the deal which still resulted in a fine and
insurance points. If the officer is not there request a
dismissal. Personally, I would not take a deal at this point but
instead insist on dismissal. If they find you responsible anyway
appeal to a formal hearing. I highly suspect they will dismiss it
before the formal hearing.
- Novi, Michigan and other suburban Detroit communities are stopping
people for driving faster than the speed limit sign says. They
are then writing tickets for non moving violations instead of the
speeding. A common ticket is for "obstructing traffic."
Most of the speed limit signs are not in compliance with michigan
law. By writing this non moving violation they are getting their
money anyway. The benefit to you is the offense will not go on
your driving record.
- In 2009 I recevied a ticket for 87 in a 70 near Howell,
Michigan. The Livinston County Sheriff Deputy that wrote the
ticket did not show to the informal hearing so the ticket was dismissed.
Copyright 2012 Parker Thomas