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PAYING A VIRGINIA TRAFFIC TICKET MAY COST YOU MORE THAN YOU THINK

When you receive a traffic citation in Virginia for a relatively minor offense, you might consider just paying it off to put the negative experience behind you. However, prepaying a fine may do you more harm than good in the long run.

What happens? You receive a traffic citation in Virginia such as Failure to Yield the Right of Way or Failure to Obey Signal. Your citation will tell you that you are required to appear in court for your hearing which is usually scheduled a couple of weeks or months after you were cited. Many choose to prepay their fine in order to avoid a long list of inconveniences – waiting in line to go through security, halfway undressing in public, sorting through forms in the clerk's office, having to take a day off work, and much more. Instead, you can just find the right website, whip out your credit card and make this overwhelming nightmare disappear. Agreed, prepaying a fine is quick and easy and thus very desirable; however, I warn that it must be done with careful consideration and often times, with the help of an attorney.

What is the big deal about prepaying a traffic citation? Virginia Code Section 19.2-254.1 states that when an accused tenders payment such payment shall itself be deemed a waiver of a court hearing and the entry of guilty plea. In essence, prepayment of a ticket is an admission of guilt. "So what's wrong with that?" you may ask. First, an admission of guilt can have collateral civil consequences you're not aware of. In addition, you could be setting yourself up for enhanced penalties in future traffic, criminal citations or convictions.

Civil Consequences

Virginia Code Section 8.01-418 states that a plea of guilty or nolo contendere in a traffic case will be admissible in a civil action arising out of the same occurrence AND pre-paying your traffic ticket IS pleading guilty to the infraction. This means that if a traffic violation caused an accident or some other harmful event, the driver COULD become a defendant in a civil suit. OK, you may say, this is something to think about if I am involved in a civil suit. The trouble is, in most instanced a driver charged with a traffic violation won't be notified of a civil lawsuit against him or her until sometime after the traffic hearing has ended.

DMV and Insurance Consequences

Demerit points are also assessed when you are convicted of a traffic offense. The demerit points remain on your DMV record for a period of two years. The conviction, however, may remain on your DMV record for an even longer period of time depending on the offense. If you accumulate too many demerit points in a specified period of time, your license will be suspended. Many people are shocked to see that after they pay a fine, they receive a notice in the mail from the DMV telling them that their driving privileges have been suspended. Also, you better believe that as soon as the DMV is notified of your new demerit points – your insurance will get notified, as well.

Long Term Criminal Consequences

If you make an admission by prepayment of a ticket or plead guilty to what may seem like a relatively minor offense, you can be setting yourself up for enhanced penalties for the same offense if you are charged with it again in the future. For example, in Virginia, driving without a valid operator's license is a Class 2 misdemeanor with a possible jail sentence, fine, and license suspension. A second and third offense of driving without a valid operator's license is a Class 1 misdemeanor, which of course is more serious with a higher maximum penalty and may result in a longer jail sentence and/or license suspension. Therefore, if you can avoid an initial conviction, particularly with the help and expertise of an attorney, you will be limiting possible adverse consequences in the future.

Moral of the Story

Yes, whipping out your credit card for a quick $100 charge – an early holiday gift to yourself - may give you short term relief from avoiding rambunctious lines, security check, the daunting legal process and save you from an appearance in front of a judge – but BEWARE, a prepaid ticket is an ADMISSION and could come back to haunt you in a soon to follow civil suit, a future citation or criminal conviction and even by way of DMV demerit points which will ultimately increase your insurance payments. In total, paying a Virginia traffic ticket may cost you way more money and time in the long run.

Attorney Soulmaz Taghavi

Soulmaz Taghavi handles immigration, criminal defense and family law in the Richmond, Virginia office. Please call our Richmond office to set up your free initial consultation today.
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