(A Little) More on Traffic Court

It's my blawg, so I will answer all of the issues raised here, in response to this post, here in a new post rather than in the comments. Because I can.

First, no you're not entitled to an attorney in traffic court (under the Constitution I believe you must be facing jail to be entitled to an attorney, but individual states can set lower standards if they'd like). But that doesn't mean you can't be represented by an attorney. In honor of all private attorneys trying to make a living out there, I'd like to state that you can hire an attorney for pretty much anything you'd like to. Seriously, if you want to hire an attorney to come into the bathroom with you and make sure everything comes out ok (yes, dirty pun intended), you can do that, if you can find at attorney willing to do that. And I'm sure you could. In fact, there are some attorneys (I'm sorry, but we call them "rotunda rats") who will take your money to do just about anything.

Second, as far as whether or not you'll get a public defender in traffic court, I'm gonna say no. You're not entitled to one, that's pretty clear. And, as far as this idea about a public defender volunteering to do it - I agree with the poster who said that this would probably violate their malpractice insurance contract. That doesn't mean that a PD can't represent himself or a friend in traffic court, but he'd probably have to get permission to represent a friend, and representing a whole slew of strangers would probably be frowned upon.

However, I don't see any reason why a lawyer who's trying to start out on his own couldn't do this kind of thing to get some business rolling. The court, if significantly slowed down, might try to dissuade you, but I can't think of any ethical reason why you couldn't set up shop in the hallway of traffic court.

Finally, someone mentioned working on a $50 contingency fee. Eh... I don't really like that idea. I know, I know, parkingticket.com does it, but I know that it's considered an ethical violation to represent someone on a criminal matter on a contigency fee. I'm not sure that the same applies to traffic court, but it might. I'm not going to do the research right now, but maybe if I have some gunners in the audience who aren't kept busy enough by studying for finals, maybe you could look into it and post a comment?

Either way, you could make some good money I suppose. Most people would probably rather pay an attorney than the court, and, at the very least, avoid points on their license. And traffic trials are quick - I recently saw one that took about 20 minutes. An officer came, he said that he saw a driver change lanes in the middle of an intersection, nearly hitting another car. The defendant had brought an attorney, primarily, I believe, because he was a cab driver and a reckless driving ticket could hurt his career. The defense attorney asked a few questions of the officer - where were you when you saw it, how fast were they going, how fast were you going, how much later did you stop him, etc. The defendant then testified that, basically, he cut into his lane, and he moved slightly to one side to avoid hitting that car, but that he didn't move far enough to effect traffic in the next lane. The judge took a minute, flipped through the code books, and came back with an acquittal. My guess is that she probably erred in the defendant's favor, not simply because the prosecution had the burden of proof blah blah blah, but because she didn't want to see this man lose his livelihood.

Ok, that's enough about traffic court. (Although, blogging about traffic court has been HUGE for my numbers, thanks in no small part to this link on volokh.com - today was my highest traffic by, oh, about 20 times over.) Anyway, I'm through with traffic court, and I'm now moving onto bigger and better things - picking a jury!


  1. Contingency fee on the defense side unethical? I know no one does it, but unethical? I'll have to think about that one.

  2. Some jurisdiction's ethical rules specifically prohibit contingency fees in criminal defense.

  3. There is a Asst. DA in my county that used to deliberately put my appointed cases at the bottom of the pile (in N.C. the DA determines the order the cases are called for trial).
    This pissed me off so much that I was ready to go in to misdemeanor court and volunteer to represent free anyone who wanted to plead not guilty and force her to try as many cases as possible. I did not do it, but I was very close.
    Without the fee angle there would be no ethical problem. If that story is not true, I'm sure it has happened at some point.

  4. As for not being entitled to a PD in traffic court, it depends on the charge -- although that might be state specific, as you point out. When I was a puppy lawyer I was appointed (my state has mandatory pro bono) to represent someone charged with reckless driving and driving without insurance. It was in municipal court, and neither charge allowed for incarceration.

  5. Rufus is right. I have represented people charged with Reckless Driving and Driving with a Suspended License. Both of which are misdemeanor criminal charges here and are heard in criminal court. So, I guess that really depends on your jurisdiction.

    My case was a parking ticket. I'd like to know if anyone knows of any jurisdictions where you get a lawyer for parking tickets.