Court costs are one of the most frustrating things for people to understand. At least once a week, we get a call in the office from someone who wants to know why they have to pay more court costs on their most recent ticket compared to their prior ticket. Or, and this one is my personal favorite, why their friend who had the exact same type of ticket, paid less in court costs. The answer to all these questions lies in understanding the 4 factors that can determine traffic court costs. Here they are:
Your driving history
The type of ticket
Your attitude towards the officer who pulled you over
The judge or traffic magistrate hearing your case
Your driving history is one of the biggest things that can determine the amount of your court costs. The reason is simple. The courts are always on the lookout for "crazy drivers" and try to nip in the bud, any future "crazies."
If you have only been driving for a few years and have already racked up 3 or more tickets and they are all "dangerous" activities like speeding over 100mph or passing a stopped school bus, then you are a judge's dream defendant, because he/she gets to make an example out of you, in front of everyone. You will most likely get one of the higher traffic court costs of the entire day from that judge.
Conversely, if you have been driving for 40 years and this is your first ticket, you will probably be rewarded for your great driving history and merely get a slap on the wrist.
Now, truth be told, the person who appears to have a "perfect" record, my be a worse driver, and may have received numerous tickets in his/her lifetime, but if all those tickets were taken to court and dismissed, they would not appear on a driving record and it can look as if that person never had a ticket. This is another reason why it's so important to fight your tickets and not to just pay the fine.
The next factor is the type of traffic ticket you received. Clearly, we can all agree, that not all traffic tickets are the same. As mentioned in the previous paragraphs, certain violations like speeding in a school zone where children are present are much worse than making a right turn on red when no one was on the road at 2 a.m. Even speeding tickets all vary in severity. Going nine miles over is clearly not as bad as going 39 over. This is common sense and should be no surprise to anyone.
The third factor is the way you behaved to the police officer who wrote you the ticket. Personally, I feel the first amendment provides you the right to call the officer a name as long as it's not threatening in any way (believe me, I've heard what the officers call you guys when they pull you over, and it ain't pretty), but the courts do not agree with me and will absolutely punish you more severely if you are anything but nice to the officer. They are only doing their job (yes, they have ticket quotas) and don't need to be told that they should "get back to the donut shop."
What I always tell people is to roll up the window after the officer gives you the ticket, drive away, and call him every name in the book if you feel the need to get it off your chest. But please, bite your tongue and your urge to tell the officer how you really feel. It will save you money in the long run. Oh, and please, please, for the love of God, do not say "My attorney will see you in court!!" We love the vote of confidence, but you're not helping your cause.
The last factor is the actual judge or magistrate that hears your case. Judges are people too and just like people, they have good days and bad days, some are nice and some are not as nice. The judge is given great discretion on an appropriate punishment and here's another case where two identical violations, with two identical records, can wind up with two completely different results.
Most attorneys know when they see who the judge is going to be, what the result will probably be. And "no" we can't pick who your judge is going to be. That's called forum shopping and it's a no-no, but there are still a few tricks most attorneys know to try and work the system, but it's not foolproof.
I hope I've been able to give you some insight into your traffic court costs. If you have any questions or comments, I'd love to hear them.