Student Legal Services, Inc.

Traffic Matters

This page is intended to help you understand the dynamics within and your legal rights during traffic stops.  The information is further intended to help you  mitigate your damages including monetary costs and/or jail sentence received.


Any time a law enforcement officer stops a motor vehicle you are driving/operating, obey all orders and/or signals as quickly and precisely as the conditions and common sense dictate:

1.Stop your vehicle immediately;
2. Move your vehicle out of moving traffic if possible, if not just stop;
3. Provide the officer with the following:
     * Your driver license;
     * Your vehicle registration (keep a copy, not the original, in your glove box) and;
     * Your proof of insurance card.
4. Cooperate with the officer. “Cooperation” is defined as answering any questions you are comfortable answering. If you are in doubt, request an attorney and state that you want any further questioning to be done in front of your attorney.

In general, your driver’s license is a privilege, not a right.  Your driving privileges are subject to the rules and regulations of the Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles Registrar. Compliance with those rules is necessary for maintaining your driving privileges.

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If a bona fide law enforcement officer has stopped you, you should follow that general rule and “cooperate”.  Provide the officer with all of your basic information, including your drivers license, vehicle registration, proof of insurance card.  You can also request an attorney to be present during questioning.  Generally comply with the officer’s requests, even if the stop seems “unfair” or “illegal”. The time and place to “fight” the ticket is in the courtroom with the benefit of legal counsel.  Please note however, you do not need to allow the officer to search your vehicle.  If a citing officer asks for your consent to search your vehicle, ask the officer if you are free to leave.  If the officer indicates that the stop is concluded, you may leave the scene of the stop.

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Although it may be difficult due to the excitement brought on by the lights and siren(s), try to concentrate.  If possible, mentally keep track of the events; remember details; the time sequence of events; landmarks and any discussion with others. To keep the events fresh, , put all descriptions and all other information in writing and contact an attorney as soon after the event as possible. (Is the stop light working properly? Is the stop sign visible?) You may want to consider taking pictures of the area where you were stopped or draw a diagram of the area where you were stopped. Make notations regarding the amount of lighting in the area, the weather and the location of the officers.  Note the location of any posted speed signs, and note if they are clearly visible or blocked by trees or overhanging bushes. Finally, obtain full names and addresses of all witnesses.

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Some of the more common traffic misdemeanors are speeding, stop sign violations, parking tickets, improper turning and lane changes, expired drivers license or license plates, and minor automobile equipment violations.  If this is your only traffic violation within the last 12 months, it is a minor misdemeanor with a maximum potential penalty of a fine of $150.00; no jail time can be imposed.  If you have had two or more traffic violations with in the last 12 months, the possible penalties could increase to a possible jail sentence of 30 days and/or a fine up to $250.00 depending upon the number of prior violations.  If you are unsure as to when you received your last traffic ticket, go to the Bureau of Motor Vehicles office at 4420 Heatherdowns Avenue, Toledo, Ohio  43614 and get an abstract of your driving record.

If you are charged with a minor misdemeanor, you do not have to appear in Court unless you wish to contest the charge.  Most minor misdemeanor fines are determined from pre-established fine schedules, which have been instituted by Judges for purposes of uniformity in sentencing.  Judges are not bound to follow the schedules in every case and may deviate upward or downward depending upon the facts involved and the defendant’s prior record.  Frequently, these schedules are printed on the ticket or citation, and you can pay the fine to the Violations Bureau by mail in lieu of appearing in Court.  Payment of a fine without a Court appearance constitutes a guilty plea to the designated offense, which may be used against you in a subsequent civil proceeding.

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  1. You have the right to remain silent.  Do not give explanations, excuses, or stories. Save your defense for when you are in court.  Tell the police nothing but your name and address.
  2. You have the right to have a lawyer.  If you cannot afford to hire a lawyer, you have the right to a free lawyer.  Ask to see a lawyer immediately.  Never talk to the police without a lawyer present.  Do not make any decisions about your case without talking to a lawyer.
  3. You have the right to make phone calls.  When you are arrested, you are entitled to make phone calls within the local area to a lawyer, bail bondsman, a relative or any other person.  It is a good idea to call a relative or friend first who can make other calls for you.
  4. You have the right to appear before a judge on the next court day for a hearing on to establish bond. You may ask the judge to lower your bond or to be released "on your own recognizance" (without bail).  Do not hesitate to present to the Judge the reasons why you should not remain in jail pending trial, even if you do not yet have a lawyer.

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If you want to contest the traffic citation, you must appear in court.

1. The arraignment:

Your first scheduled court appearance before a judge is called an arraignment.  At this hearing, your identity will be orally confirmed, you will be informed of your constitutional rights by the Judge, and the charge against you will be read. You will be asked how you wish to plead: “guilty,” “not guilty” or “no contest”. If you plead guilty or no contest the Judge will impose the sentence. If you plead not guilty, the matter will be set for a trial at a later date.

2. The trial:

At your trial, the Judge will often only hear testimony from all witnesses, with the State proceeding first.  After each State’s witness testifies, the defendant is given the opportunity to ask the person questions if the defendant so chooses (cross-examination).  The defendant is not required to call any witnesses when he/she presents his/her own case.  If witnesses do testify for the defendant or the defendant testifies, such persons are also subject to cross-examination by the prosecuting attorney.

A defendant who represents himself/herself should carefully prepare his/her case in advance, including preparing all questions to be asked of each witness.  The questions should be asked in a concise, objective, and non-argumentative manner. Diagrams prepared before trial are sometimes helpful in traffic matters.  If a defendant is not represented by counsel and chooses to testify, the testimony can be in narrative form.  The narrative should be clear and concise, focusing upon issues directly relating to why the defendant is not guilty.

If a person is found ‘not guilty” by the Court, there is no conviction and there can be no sentence.  Sometimes, no witnesses appear at trial for the State.  If this occurs the defendant should ask the Judge to dismiss the case against him/her “with prejudice” (forever) because of the State’s failure to prosecute.  The judge will normally grant this request.

3. Sentencing:

If you are found guilty, the Court will normally consider the circumstances of the offense, your past record, and any other helpful information before passing sentence.  You should be prepared to present such information to the Judge in an objective manner before the sentencing occurs.

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DISCLAIMER: The information on this website does not constitute legal advice, nor is it intended as a substitute for legal advice. UT students who have questions concerning the law or their legal rights may contact Student Legal Services, Inc. to arrange an appointment.  In order to maintain the confidentiality of your legal matters we request that you do not send us e-mails about your case or to request legal assistance.  Please contact us by phone or in person.

Last Updated: 6/26/15