An insurance agent friend referred a 17 year old driver and his family to me. The driver had received a speeding ticket that alleged that he traveled 57 miles per hour in a 30 mile per hour zone.
In this matter, the ticket was for an infraction so the ticket is also an envelope. In Connecticut’s statutory scheme, there is a class of offenses, including many vehicular offenses that are considered to be ‘infractions.’ The penalty for an infraction is never other than a fine and the offense is not considered to be a crime. If you receive an infraction ticket, you may choose to avoid spending a morning in court and send in the fine. Of course, you can also plead not guilty and wait to have a court date assigned to contest the charges or bargain for a better outcome.
In a subsection of Connecticut’s Traffic FAQs entitled, “What happens if I pay my ticket?” the Judicial Department informs,
“If you pay your ticket, it will be considered a plea of Nolo Contendere (no contest), which means that you do not admit or deny the charges, and has a similar legal effect as pleading guilty.” and
“The ticket will be reported to the Connecticut Commissioner of Motor Vehicles. If you are an out-of-state driver, your home state will be notified of the case disposition by the Commissioner of Motor Vehicles.”
If you just pay the ticket the State of Connecticut collects revenue for the violation with little cost. What the accused gets is convenience. The Nolo Contendere plea is designed to make it easier for individuals who question the basis of the charges against them to decide to pay the fine rather than choosing to go to court. A Nolo Contendere plea is not an admission. However, the important disclosure is that a Nolo Contendere plea has the effect of the guilty plea and brings with it all the consequences of such a plea.
Like most people, my client and his family made their decision as to whether to challenge an infraction ticket with the objective of achieving the least expensive and most convenient way to dispose of the problem presented by the ticket. In cases like this, parents may also be looking to teach important lessons to their children about taking responsibility and about the consequences of violating the law. This family made the decision to pay a fine of $216, which the ticket said was the “amount due.”
After pleading no contest and mailing in the payment, the driver received notice from the Connecticut Department of Motor Vehicles that his license was suspended and he was to have no driving privileges for 60 days. The notice also indicated that there would be a $175 restoration fee charged at the end of the suspension before the license was reinstated allowing him to drive again.
The family called their insurance agent for advice about the notice and the agent pointed out that the insurance company writing the family policy might take into consideration that one of the authorized drivers had a suspension when underwriting the policy at the renewal date. In other words, the suspension could lead to an increase in the cost of the family’s automobile insurance. Worse, the increase could be part of the underwriting process for a period of years.
Drivers in Connecticut are subject to the motor vehicle laws of the state, such as the prohibition against speeding that led to the initial charges referred to the Judicial Department. Connecticut’s executive branch also has an administrative per se procedure through the Department of Motor Vehicles that can suspend the privilege of driving or impose conditions on the ability to drive. The administrative per se process is illustrated by charges of driving under the influence. An allegedly intoxicated driver faces not only charges for violating the laws against driving under the influence drugs and/or alcohol, but also administrative sanctions for the same offense and both the court and Commissioner of Motor Vehicles can impose sanctions.
That is what happened to my client. The Judicial Department was satisfied by the fine, but the legislature provided further that the Commissioner of Motor Vehicles was to impose the suspension.
Fortunately, there is a procedure for asking the Superior Court to open judgments and/or permit the withdrawal of a plea. Whether the judge determines to grant or deny the motions requesting such relief is within the individual judge’s discretion based, of course, on the facts and law. The procedure is somewhat technical and reported decisions reveal cases where the judge declined to allow the accused to contest the charges after pleading Nolo Contendere and paying the fine.
In my clients’ case, I filed three motions and a memorandum of law and relief was granted. The judgment was opened, the plea withdrawn and the case was placed on the court docket. I was then able to negotiate a more favorable disposition for my client. If he is not accused of wrongdoing for 13 months, the case will be dismissed and he will not receive a mark on his driving record. The Department of Motor Vehicles was ordered to “rescind” the suspension and the Assistant State’s Attorney entered a nolle prosequi. This outcome will pay dividends long into the future as school and job applications may ask, “has your license to drive ever been suspended.” Further, I was able to persuade the judge to order that the fine paid with the ticket be refunded.
There are other “trap door” cases that expose young drivers to undisclosed suspensions and additional costs. Care needs to be taken when considering pleading Nolo Contendere to infractions in Connecticut. The charges that may include an undisclosed administrative suspension include speeding, reckless driving, evading responsibility, using a cellular telephone and not stopping when directed.
It would have been cheaper to resolve this matter if the family had sought my advice before pleading Nolo Contendre. We are currently offering a free half hour initial consultation. If you have a ticket, contact us before deciding whether to just pay the fine.