Unfortunately, sooner or later most of us have that awful moment when you get pulled over by a police officer and you realize “I am about to get a ticket.” So you have your ticket, you have a court date, and your day is ruined: what now? Should you just pay the ticket? Should you show up on your court date? Do you need a lawyer? Every case is different but an experienced attorney can make a significant difference in the outcome of your case.

First, it is helpful to understand how tickets work under Wisconsin law. There are many kinds of traffic tickets and tickets are never crimes. Common tickets include speeding, operating with expired registration, and operating without insurance. However, numerous traffic offenses in Wisconsin are crimes, including Hit and Run Causing Injury and second offense drunk driving. Finally, some offenses can be criminal or noncriminal depending upon your driving record and the circumstances of the incident, including Operating without a License, Operating after Revocation, and Reckless Driving. An experienced attorney can help you to understand the nature of the citations and the possible consequences.

Assuming you receive a ticket for a non-criminal offense, you still face significant consequences. There are financial consequences, including the fine itself and possible additional court costs. There are consequences for your driving record, as many offenses cause you to lose points against your license. You can readily find information about the Wisconsin “demerit points system” online. If the offense is reported to the Department of Transportation (DOT), you can safely assume that your auto insurance company will find out and increase your rates accordingly. And perhaps most seriously, a single major offense, or repeated minor offenses, can trigger a suspension of your operating privileges by DOT. The municipal court that handles your ticket will not be in a position to advise you of all of the potential consequences of your offense. But an experienced attorney will be able to explain the various consequences to you, and they will also work to resolve the case in a way that avoids the most serious consequences.

There are some situations with complicated and serious consequences that are very risky to handle without a lawyer. These situations include first offense operating while intoxicated; any traffic ticket for a person who holds a commercial driver’s license or out of state license; and any ticket that prompts the DOT to send you a “habitual traffic offender” warning letter. There are many ways to mishandle these situations and put yourself in a position where you lose your license, your job, and lots of money. If you contact an experienced traffic attorney right away, you may be able to avoid the worst of these consequences. Finally, whatever the offense, an attorney can give you peace of mind by analyzing your case and appearing for you in court so you can get back to your job, your family, and your passions.