An $800 fine over your computer glitch? Thanks LA Superior!

This is a post in our 2009 Back to School series. You can see all of the posts here.

Unfortunately, there are times in school when you are caught doing something stupid. Sometimes alcohol might be involved, sometimes you might be in a rush. I was awarded a jaywalking ticket last March by LA’s finest and had to take a crash course in dealing with Johnny Law. $164 later, I’ve learned my lesson (maybe). But this is HackCollege, and hell-be-damned if I’m not going to weasel my way out of the next one. This post how to get out of a ticket at its various stages.

Talk the officer out of it

It takes a cold, cold person to give a ticket to a starving student. Most reasonable human beings will let it slide once they’ve realized they are dealing with a student. Unfortunately in the near-bankrupt city of LA, officers have probably been instructed to hand out tickets like a clown hands out candy at a parade.

There are a few keys to goading an officer out of a ticket, and they all have to do with body language and “interpersonal communication.”

Be assertive, but not forceful. The officer is never going to consider cutting you a break if you don’t ask.  Unless he or she is power-tripping. (Watch this, Carl. I’m going to totally scare the shit out of this kid.) One of the first steps is to bring it up in the conversation. Take a note from social engineer and magician Brian Brushwood and include the following

  1. State it as a polite request and
  2. Offer a reason

So in our case, try using the sentence

Officer, I would like you to cut make a break this one time because I am [a student, late for work, going to save the world].

According to Brian, “because” is the magic word. Humans a prone to go along with something if we are given a reason, even if it makes no sense. (We had to declare war on Iraq because we thought they had weapons of mass destruction.) Remember to remember this trick because it could save you from a ticket.

Brian gave an excellent talk at SXSW 2009 about getting out of a ticket. He also recommends trying to make the officer laugh.

Contest the Ticket

But what if you were a bit sluggish on the day of your ticket or were in no capacity to make your case to the officer? Now you get the wonderful honor of dealing with the justice system! This was an utter nightmare in Los Angeles; I would recommend keeping all activities unquestionably legal in the city.

(I’ll try to cover this as quickly as possible. I was going to try to contest my jaywalking ticket via Trial by Written Declaration. LA Superior Court received my check, cashed it, received my Trial by Written Declaration request, thought I wanted to schedule an in-court appearance, scheduled an in-court appearance and then had missed my in-court appearance. Of course I figured all of this out when my parents received a letter informing me of all of this nonsense and letting me know that a $1000 bail had been set for my head, there was a warrant out for my arrest and that my driver’s license was suspended. After two hours on hold the next day, I was told, “Oops. Looks like we had a computer glitch.” Thanks, LA!)

But innocent until proven guilty, right? Well, not quite when dealing with traffic tickets. Some states like California will cash your ticket payment even if you haven’t been proven guilty yet. This automatically puts it into the Well, they already have my money, so why bother? mindset. Ugh. So depending on how much you value your time, you can make the decision to contest it or not. Unless it’s going to leave a permanent stain on your record, I would advise in most cases just letting it go. The amount of time spent on dealing with the judicial system is not worth anyone’s time. But if you don’t value your time or you have a lot of it, you have two main methods of contesting a ticket.

Trial by Written Declaration

Trial by Written Declaration (TBD) is the one saving grace in the judicial system. It is exactly what it sounds like: “attend” a trial via a neatly typed piece of paper. The nomenclature required in one of these things is highfalutin and almost indecipherable, but this is 2009. Because this is the future, we have access to TBD templates and examples at our fingertips. When trying to contest my ticket, I referred to this forum post and this site.

The rules vary by state, but usually the officer won’t show up in court and your piece of paper wins. Or sometimes the officer will be able to submit his own declaration and the judge just makes a decision right then and there.

The goal of the TBD should be to paint as clear a picture of the events on that day.

As with any court dealings, never ever lie. You can embellish. You could “conveniently” leave a part out of the story. But never fabricate information. That is a felony, ya know.

Go to Court

I had a few friends in high school that went to court for speeding tickets. Again, it’s a great deal if you have the time. I don’t have any experience with this but there are a few basic steps.

  • Request a trial date
  • Get a trial date
  • Go to court

Again, it’s kind of a gamble as to whether the officer shows up or not. In most cases, when the officer is a no-show, you win.

If the officer does show up with all sorts of video and audio evidence, be prepared to barter. You’ll be backpedaling at this point, but make the case for community service rather than paying. Again, good if you don’t value your time. (For a $300 speeding ticket, you might get a few dozen hours of community service.)

Or you could do something extremely irresponsible…

…and never pay the ticket. I’ve had friends do this if they were moving states or just believed in the disorganization of the legal system. My ticket probably could have fallen through the cracks, but that was before they issued a warrant for my arrest. I’ve got friends with nearly half a grand in unpaid parking tickets. Be aware that ignoring a ticket will get you in serious trouble.

This is not a method I would endorse by any means. But it has worked in the past…

A few general tips

  • Always save every single document and record every transaction with the court.
  • Consider getting a lawyer if it’s really bad. No HackCollege article will help you escape 25-to-life.
  • While you’ll be fuming over the ticket, look at it as objectively as possible. You’ll be sinking 10 hours into dealing with a ticket. Is it really worth it for a $80 parking ticket? Probably not. You’re college-educated and your time is worth more than that. Yeah, it sucks.

Nothing in this article constitutes actually legal advice and probably should not be followed. Unless you have a sense of adventure.

How have you dealt with legal issues as a student? Let us know in the comments!