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The U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Highway Administration conducted a study in 2009 that found that 210 million residents (both citizens and non-citizens) maintained valid driver’s licenses in 2009 up from 112 million in 1970. The Bureau of Justice Statistics found that 26.4 million drivers in 2011 reported receiving a traffic ticket or speeding ticket as their last encounter with law enforcement.

So what happens when you receive a speeding ticket or traffic ticket? Usually, there is a time and court location written on the bottom of your ticket informing you when to show up to court. However, most states will allow certain tickets to be paid online and excuse you from any court appearances. In Georgia, paying your ticket online results in what is called a “bond forfeiture.” The Official Code of Georgia Annotated (O.C.G.A.) § 40-13-58 considers paying your ticket online as the same as showing up to court and entering a guilty plea.

For those who have been to court after receiving a traffic ticket you may already know that you have three ways to plead. The first two are self explanatory. By pleading not guilty, you are telling the State that the charges against you are wrong and that you would like either a jury trial (trial by your peers) or a bench trial (trial by the Judge only).

By pleading guilty you are admitting that the charge or charges on your traffic ticket are true and you will accept the penalties associated with those charges. Depending on your traffic ticket, pleading guilty may add points to your license which could cause you to lose your license or the penalty for the ticket is to suspend your license for a period of time.

Instead of forcing people to plead guilty or pursue a bench trial, most states have created statutory ways to pay your fine without admitting that you are guilty of the facts that support the traffic ticket. Georgia allows you to use nolo contendere as a plea to most traffic tickets once every five years. However, the Judge who presides over your traffic ticket has the right to reject or accept your plea of nolo contendere. The Judge’s power to accept or reject a plea agreement is absolute and Judges often deny nolo contendere plea agreements in automobile collision cases with severe bodily injury or if the charges are DUI or drug related.

A plea of nolo contendere is not considered an admission of guilt and is not admissible in any civil litigation that stems from the traffic ticket or speeding ticket. Pleading nolo contendere also could prevent your case from being reported to the Georgia Department of Driver Services. The Georgia DDS maintains seven years of your driving history which impacts your insurance rates and if you accrue enough points as a result of traffic tickets your license could even be suspended. The  Georgia DDS conveniently lists all the violations which are reported to them after a guilty plea or a guilty verdict after trial. The list can be accessed by clicking here. 

If you have received a speeding ticket or traffic ticket and do not know whether you should plead guilty, not guilty, or nolo contendere you may need to consult with an attorney to determine the effect your plea has on your driving history or in any future civil litigation.

Additionally if you have already used your nolo contendere plea within the past five years you may hire an attorney who can negotiate with the prosecuting attorney to amend or change the charges written on your ticket to something that doesn’t carry points or get reported to the Georgia Department of Driver Services.

Renée Morgan is a criminal defense attorney who defends traffic, misdemeanor, and felony felony cases in all Metro Atlanta surrounding counties and continues to provide comprehensive representation in both Civil and Criminal matters.