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If I’m guilty, should I pay my traffic ticket and get it over with?

Traffic tickets are expensive, but fighting a ticket in court might seem like more trouble than it is worth. For most people, putting a check in the mail or paying the fee online is much easier and lets them forget it ever happened.

Except that it isn’t that simple. Under Virginia law, a guilty plea on a traffic ticket for a serious violation will add demerit points to your driver’s license. With enough demerits on your record, the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles will suspend your driver’s license, require you to take a driver improvement clinic, and report your demerits to your auto insurance company.

Consider your options

None of this means you must fight every traffic ticket issued to you. But before you write the check, you should be aware of the potential consequences. If your driving record is clean (or relatively clean) and you rarely get ticketed, maybe paying it is the better choice. But if you have several demerit points already, it may make sense for you to speak with an attorney.

For one thing, it is possible that the police officer who gave you the ticket made a mistake. You can discuss the details with your lawyer, who will help you decide whether to take the matter to trial. A trial over a traffic ticket is typically brief, and you may be able to get it dismissed or get found not guilty, especially if the officer who ticketed you does not show up to testify.

Reaching an acceptable settlement

Negotiation is another option. The prosecutor may be willing to make a deal where you plead guilty to a lesser charge in exchange for the prosecution dropping the original charge. That would save demerit points on your record and possibly let you keep your driving privileges. Working with an attorney gives you the best chance at negotiating a fair plea bargain.

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