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How to Handle a Mistake on Your Traffic Ticket

I guess people think “car lawyers” should handle tickets too. So, in 24 years of practicing law I have handled several hundred traffic tickets. And one of the most common questions I get asked during the first phone call is, “If the officer made a mistake on my ticket, will it get thrown out?” Short answer: No. Although my legal specialty is Lemon Law, I get a lot of phone calls about traffic tickets.

I know there are some people who have never been ticketed but most of us have seen a citation or two. They vary from state to state in form but they generally contain the same elements. The top of the ticket contains the name and address of the offender, as well as information about the vehicle being driven and then the alleged traffic violation. Many of these things are confined to small boxes which a law enforcement officer is filling out on the side of the road at 1:00 AM.

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Some of it he or she is taking from a driver’s license which might be in rough shape and it may be near the end of a shift. Mistakes get made. I spell my name “Steven” and the ticket reads “Stephen.” Blasphemy! Or, he transposes a few digits of your driver’s license. Hey, he got the color of your car wrong. It’s not brown, it’s taupe!

I have even seen traffic tickets where the officer wrote the wrong citation number for the accused violation. Under the description he listed “Improper Lane Usage” but the code actually referred to an “Improper Turn.” Clients ask if these things aren’t Get Out Of Jail Free cards.

People wish this was the case because it would be fun to not have to pay for our driving misdeeds. Plus, many people think that the legal system is rife with technicalities and legalese and somehow a missing comma or an extra dot can ruin an otherwise-sound case. But that’s not how it works. What you are promised in this country is Due Process and that is not as much as many people think. It really boils down to this: You get notice of the charges against you and the opportunity to dispute them. Does your ticket do these things? If so, you’re on the hook.

When a defendant shows up in court for a traffic ticket, he or she can complain about the mistaken ticket. And the court can usually amend the ticket – that is, simply correct it. Most of the things I’ve described above are merely clerical in nature. They don’t really harm you in any way. After all, the ticket is simply a description of a charge against you and a notice for you to appear and answer that charge.

The only possible way this could matter is if the officer wrote the wrong appearance date on the ticket. If he wrote for you to appear on the 14th when the court date was the 10th. You’d show up late but the court would probably forgive you since you had good cause. They would then reschedule you for a later date. If it was the other way around – he wrote the 10th but you were not due until the 14th, you’d show up early. “Sorry, come back in 4 days.”

I have heard of one or two extreme cases where massive errors on tickets apparently caused the tickets to go away. Like where an officer wrote the wrong name, address, license number and car description all on the same ticket. The best we could determine was that the officer accidentally got his information from a previous traffic stop and handed it to this driver. In that case, if that ticket was submitted to the system that way, then there is a chance it will go away. Of course, it could also mean that the actual ticket was not handed to the driver – but still existed somewhere – and bad things could happen if the traffic stop were completely ignored.

But simply put: Scrivener’s errors – what civilians call “typos” – will not void your ticket. Sorry but it’s true.

Steve Lehto is a writer and attorney from Michigan. He specializes in Lemon Law and frequently writes about cars and the law. His most recent books include Preston Tucker and His Battle to Build the Car of Tomorrow, and Dodge Daytona and Plymouth Superbird: Design, Development, Production and Competition. He also has a podcast where he talks about these things. 


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