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Traffic Citation Procedure in the DMV

Traffic citations are never fun. Whether you’ve accidentally run a red light or weren’t paying enough attention to your speedometer, a law enforcement officer may give you a ticket that requires you to pay a fine, or write you a citation, requiring a court appearance. Most traffic tickets are the latter – but you can avoid your court appearance by pleading guilty and paying your fine within thirty days. But if there are extenuating circumstances to your citation, such as a plausible explanation for your actions or insufficient signage, you can take your chance in court.

In Maryland, Virginia, and Washington, D.C., traffic citation procedure can vary depending on your place of residency and the location of your incident. If you’re unsure where to start, it’s critical to have an attorney barred in the appropriate state to help you through the process.

So I’ve been issued a traffic citation – What can I do?

When you’re given a traffic citation in the DMV, you’ve got three options: plead guilty, plead “guilty with an explanation,” or contest your citation in court. 

What’s the difference?

While some traffic citations require an appearance in court, most give you the option to skip your court date by paying your fines in advance. This process, pleading guilty, is usually the simplest path for handling a citation. If you admit that you were going a bit too fast, or the circumstances surrounding your citation cannot be contested, you can pay your fine as instructed by mail or through the appropriate online ticket processing system.

In Maryland and the District of Columbia, you can choose to plead guilty with an explanation. If there were extenuating circumstances to your citation – say, you were driving over the speed limit because you didn’t see the appropriate sign – you may be able to plead guilty during your court case in order to accept a lesser fine, or receive less points on your license.

The third option is to contest the citation in court. If you believe you are innocent of the traffic violation, you can attend your court appearance and plead “not guilty.”

How do I “plead guilty” and pay in advance?

Follow the instructions on your traffic citation. The District Court of Maryland handles traffic citations in the state of Maryland, while both Virginia and the District of Columbia process their traffic citations through the appropriate Department of Motor Vehicles. In all three, you have the option of paying by mail, online, or in person at the appropriate department.

In Maryland, you have thirty days to pay your ticket:

  • online,
  • at a kiosk at your local DMV,
  • in person at your District Court,
  • by phone at (800) 492-2656,
  • OR by mailing a check or money order (NOT cash) to the address below:

District Court Traffic Processing Center
P. 0. Box 6676
Annapolis, MD 21401

In Virginia, you can choose to plead guilty in advance and pay your fine by no later than 3:30 PM one business day before your assigned court date. You can pay your ticket:

  • online,
  • in person at the District Court,
  • OR by mailing a check or money order (NOT cash) to the address listed on your citation. (In Virginia, this will typically be the local general or juvenile court.)

In Washington, D.C., you have thirty days to pay your ticket:

Adjudication Services
PO Box 2014
Washington, DC 20013

How do I “plead guilty with explanation” or contest my ticket?

If you believe you are innocent of your traffic violation, or want to plead guilty and explain your situation to try and lower your fine, you can do this by attending a court date to plead your case. Follow the instructions on your citation to arrange your court date.

What happens if I don’t take action within 30 days?

In Maryland, Virginia, and Washington, D.C., leaving a traffic citation unattended is not a good idea. After 30 days, the appropriate DMV can increase your fines or suspend your license. Driving with a suspended license is considered a criminal offense – a much more serious one than your original traffic citation – and can lead to severe fines or even jail time.

So what should I do next?

If you aren’t sure how to pay your citation, or you are considering contesting your citation in court, it’s critical to have a licensed attorney help guide you through the process. At Patriots Law Group, we are well-versed in the traffic laws of D.C., Maryland, and Virginia, and can help you reach the best possible resolution.

DISCLAIMER:  The information above is for general informational purposes only.  No attorney-client relationship is intended or created by this information.  Each individual situation is different and therefore a formal in-person consultation is necessary before any specific advice may be relied upon as appropriate and accurate for a given situation. Please call Patriots Law Group at 301-952-9000 to set up a consultation if you wish to obtain specific legal advice you may rely upon. We serve clients anywhere in the world, with in-person consultations available at our Suitland, MD office — right next to Andrews Air Force Base — for clients in Maryland, Virginia, and Washington, D.C.