North Carolina Traffic Pleas
I handle traffic tickets in Buncombe, Henderson, Madison, Haywood, and Polk counties. The District Attorneys in each county allow individuals charged with speeding to plead to an amended lesser charge. They do this to move cases and avoid trials. The available pleas differ from county to county but in each case there are standard pleas and fines for various situations.
In North Carolina speeding convictions result in both DMV driving points and Safe Driver Incentive Plan insurance points. Excessive driving points will cause your license to be suspended or revoked. Insurance points cause significant increases in your insurance premiums. You should try to minimize the number of points assessed to your license.
Below are the available amended pleas. Not all counties offer all pleas and not all pleas in a particular county will be available to you. Usually your remedy is conditional on your speed, the speed limit, and your driving history. To give you an idea what pleas are available to you and how much they will cost please use my ticket cost calculator.
- Reduction of Speed
By statute for North Carolina drivers reducing your speed to 9mph over the limit will not increase your insurance rate provided:
- The offense is not in a school or work zone,
- You have not had a moving violation in the past 4 years,
- Your ticketed speed is less than 90mph in Haywood or Buncombe Counties.
- Your ticketed speed is less than 95mph in Polk, Henderson, or Madison Counties.
For North Carolina drivers if you do not qualify under these conditions your insurance rate will increase by 45% for 3 years.
As a result of this insurance statute a reduction to 9mph over the limit by the DA has developed by custom. However if your state has a different standard and you need a further reduction to, say, 5mph over the limit this is usually available depending upon your original speed.
Driving points differ from Insurance points. In North Carolina your driving privileges will be suspended if you are convicted of the following violations:
- Speeding 16mph - 24mph: 60 day suspension.
- Speeding 25mph or greater: 365 day suspension.
- Speeding PLUS Reckless Driving: 365 day suspension.
NOTE: In each case above, after 1-4 months you are usually eligible for a hearing with the NC DMV to have the suspension time reduced (with probation).
Thus a plea agreement reducing your speed to 15mph or less will usually save your license.
SPEEDING 90mph or Greater
When your speed is 90mph or greater the District Attorneys in all Western North Carolina counties become tougher to negotiate with and may or may not help you depending on the circumstances of your stop and your driving history. Some counties insist you must plead "as charged" to speeding; others may insist you take an 8 hour defensive driving course just to get a speed reduction. But always there is a larger fine. So if your speed is 90mph or greater I cannot quote you an exact price. Instead I must first meet with the DA to see what your circumstances are and whether the DA will help you. It is extraordinarily unusual for a DA to help you if your speed is 95mph or greater.
With a plea to speeding 90mph or greater, North Carolina will suspend your driving privileges for 365 days. During this time you are usually allowed a Limited Driving Privilege ("LDP") to drive anywhere you need to go in North Carolina between 6:00am and 8:00pm. If you need to drive during other times you must show the driving is necessary because of your employment. I charge an additional fee for the preparation and processing of a LDP. The Court also charges a special surcharge.
- Prayer for Judgment Continued (PJC)
A PJC is a North Carolina drivers ONLY remedy. It is a finding of guilt without a judgment being entered. You are admitting guilt but since no judgment is entered in the record you technically haven't received a conviction and no points (either insurance points or DMV points) are assessed. This is North Carolina's version of Deferred Adjudication used in other states. Note that your ticket does not disappear; it is reported to the NC DMV and it will show up on your record. However, you will not be penalized provided that:
- Your speed was less than twenty-five mph over the limit.
- You do not have a CDL.
- Nobody on your automobile INSURANCE POLICY — not just you — has had a PJC in the past four years.
- You have not received more than two PJCs in the past five years.
It is very important that all of these criteria are met as otherwise even if you are granted a PJC at the courthouse it may ultimately be considered void, or your insurance company may end up assessing you insurance points anyway. Eligibility for a PJC varies by DA, Judge, and county, but in general offenses considered serious — such as passing a stopped school bus or DWI — are not eligible. The presiding Judge has the final decision regarding whether or not to award a PJC, however in practice the Judge will follow the DA's recommendation.
The key phrase above is "Insurance Policy". Obtaining a PJC affects EVERYONE on your Insurance Policy. Rather than YOU being granted a PJC it is more accurate to say your Insurance POLICY may be granted 1 PJC every 4 years without the underlying ticket increasing the policy insurance rates. So before requesting a PJC check with everyone on your policy to make certain no other PJC has been granted in the past 4 years. Your insurance agent should be able to pull the driving histories of everyone on the policy to check this for you.
Reducing a future ticket to less than ten mph over the limit does not "activate" a prior PJC.
Non-NC residents: A PJC does not work for out-of-state drivers. While a PJC functions like deferred adjudication - a common remedy in other states - this is not what is reflected on the electronic summary of the ticket which is ultimately sent to your state. I cannot predict what another state will do with a reported judgment where you plead guilty to the speed as charged and no "judgment" was entered but I believe your state will simply treat the plea as guilty as charged.
- Improper Equipment
If you are eligible for IE it is almost always your best plea option.
Improper Equipment is a non-moving violation. In North Carolina it carries neither insurance points nor DMV points and thus does not increase your insurance rates. A plea to IE modifies your Speeding charge into Improper Equipment — from a charge that results in insurance points to one that doesn't. Since 2007 IE does show up on your NC DMV record but as a non-moving violation. This allows the court to keep track of how many IEs you have recieved, however it does not otherwise negatively affect your driving record.
Whether IE is available in a given county — and how frequently you can take advantage of it — depends on the policies of the particular county DA. Most DAs will only allow one IE every three years and will require some additional action on your part such as completing a defensive driving school or paying a higher fine. You can't plead IE if your speed was greater than 25mph over the posted limit.
Though it is possible to be directly charged with IE by the patrol officer if something is actually wrong with your vehicle and you weren't speeding, by far the most common scenario is that a driver charged with speeding will instead later plead guilty to IE, taking it as a lesser plea. In this case, there doesn't have to be anything wrong with your vehicle. This process is fully understood by the state, you do not have to provide any evidence of vehicle malfunction, and you are not doing anything illicit by taking a plea of IE even if your car works fine. In particular, a speedometer calibration is not required.
In 2011, the revenue-starved State of North Carolina instituted a $50 surcharge on Improper Equipment pleas. This surcharge is in addition to any court costs or fines already imposed generally making your court costs $240 to start with rather than $190.
- Unsafe Movement / Exceeding Safe Speed
If you find that as a result of prior violations none of the above remedies will help you avoid insurance points, a DA may allow you to plead to either Unsafe Movement or Exceeding a Safe Speed instead. The goal at this point is to minimize rather than eliminate your insurance increase. A highway ticket for speeding—over 10mph— creates a 45% increase; Unsafe Movement or Exceeding a Safe Speed creates a 25% increase. In both cases the increase lasts for three (3) years. Unsafe Movement and Exceeding a Safe Speed are grouped under "all other moving violations" for DMV and SDIP point purposes. The DAs know this is a last resort for individuals with prior traffic violations, so you should expect a higher fine. I only offer this remedy on a case-by-case basis.
Some useful definitions:
- Commercial Drivers License
A Commercial Drivers License is a special driver qualification necessary for operating large trucks, buses, or other commercial vehicles. If you don't know what this is, you most likely don't have one. Whether or not you possess a CDL is important for eligibility for some pleas in some counties, even if you were only driving a regular passenger car at the time you were ticketed.
- National Safety Council
The National Safety Council is a nonprofit, nongovernmental public service organization dedicated to protecting life and promoting health in the USA. They have a focus on traffic safety issues. For you, it is enough to know that when you are required to attend a driving course as part of a plea for a traffic matter, make sure the course you attend is NSC-certified or it will not meet the criteria to be accepted by the court.
Courses are avaialable both in North Carolina and out-of-state. A search engine can also help you locate a course near you.
- Moving Violation
A Moving Violation is a violation of the law committed by the driver of a vehicle while it is in motion, such as speeding or reckless driving. These types of violations are defined in N.C. §58-36-75(f). Convictions for these violations accrue points towards increasing your insurance costs or having your license revoked.
Examples of Non-Moving Violations are equipment violations such as a broken taillight, or paperwork violations such as expired registration, inspection, or insurance.