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Safe streets: Citations a serious ordeal

May 9, 2011

Getting a traffic ticket in North Carolina can be a serious ordeal. Not only will it affect your driving record, but it will also impact your wallet. In addition to fines and court costs, insurance companies have their own points systems, separate from the DMV's. So your insurance rates could skyrocket for common violations like speeding.
Court visits are a personal inconvenience, and depending on the violation, your privilege to drive may be suspended or revoked.
Traffic tickets or citations are orders for you to appear in court on a certain date and time. They are given so that law enforcement does not have to take you into immediate custody. When you receive a traffic ticket, the law enforcement officer will cite the motor vehicle statute(s) you allegedly violated. Many offenses are waivable, meaning you can plead guilty, pay your fines, and waive your court appearance.
If you pay the fine, you are admitting that you are guilty and the system can add points against your driving record. If you want to contest the charges, by yourself or with an attorney's help, you can do so by appearing in court.
More serious offenses are non-waivable. If any or all of your charges are non-waivable, you will have to go to court, whether you are pleading guilty or not guilty. For these offenses, there is no choice to enter a guilty plea and pay a fine. Your appearance in court is mandatory, and if you fail to appear, a judge can order that you be arrested.
Courts that handle traffic citations vary by county. For example, some counties have their own traffic courts while others are handled by district courts. The court you are summoned to will be in the county where the alleged offense occurred. When you plead guilty and pay a traffic ticket, you can pay it to the clerk of whichever court is listed on your citation. Otherwise, that is the court where you will have to appear.
In our state, different courts may handle your traffic tickets. Depending on the county where the violation took place, you might appear in a traffic court, or court may be held in a state district courthouse. The vehicle code that you allegedly violated, as well as the name and location of the court, will be listed on your citation. If you are unsure of where to go, you can look up the particular court on the official North Carolina Court System website.
The payment and contact information will also usually be printed on the citation itself for your convenience.
When you pay fines and court costs, you will pay them to the court clerk of the court that handles your case. You do not pay the fines to the Division of Motor Vehicles.
The court and DMV do share information, however, and if your violation is part of the points system, you will receive points against your driver license. This can lead to different points on your insurance policy as well. If you choose to contest the charges and have a lawyer represent you, naturally you will have to pay attorney fees on top of whatever charge the court applies.

Brett Williams is a traffic enforcement officer for Newton Police Department.

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