Michigan Motorists Issues

How to fight a Michigan Speeding Ticket

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.
Now it is critical that you write down everything that just happened. Including:
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 law.

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 jail for.

There are three steps to fighting a speeding ticket and other Civil Infractions.

1. The Informal Hearing. Here 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 impartial magistrate.

You must call and/or write to the court listed on the ticket and request 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 hearing. Don't be discouraged because here is where the system begins to work in your favor.

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 formal hearing. However, there are a couple of potential negatives that can happen at a formal 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 Motorists Association 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 your case.

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.

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 yourself.

UPDATE - February 2007 You can still fight that Michigan Ticket and WIN! Recently I received another ticket after a ticket free period of 13 years.

The ticket was issued on the M-14 Freeway in Ann Arbor, Michigan for driving 75 in a 55 MPH zone. My vehicle was clocked at 85 MPH with a laser speed 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.

I 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 carefully. 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 tries 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 early. 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 them. 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 not going! Excercise your rights - always go yo the hearings!

To summarize:

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