First Person: The Cost and Benefit of Fighting a Citation from Municipal Court

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Ignoring a municipal court summons or notice can damage a person's credit and raise auto insurance rates. How I saved money and learned lessons by spending a morning in municipal court.

A few years ago, I received a citation by mail for allegedly improperly disposing garbage. The notice included a photograph showed the offending garbage put out on the curb before noon. Only it did not look like my garbage at all. My new neighbor was throwing out his trash before heading to work, conveniently close to my property line.

Cost of each ticket

The fine for improper garbage disposal was about $50 so I debated whether I should fight this ticket in municipal court. The costs seemed to outweigh the benefits until I received a second violation notice two days later. Included was another photograph, however it was not even my own sidewalk.

$50 a day in tickets was going to quickly get out of hand. If I entered a guilty plea for one (by paying the ticket), I would be setting a bad, potentially costly precedent. I never bumped into my neighbor, so I had to put a stop to these violations by fighting the citation in court. I called the number stated on the ticket to inform them that I was going to enter a plea of not guilty.

Cost of photographic rebuttal

Since pictures speak louder than words, I took photographs showing where my garbage is usually disposed and where the offending garbage was. I used black garbage bags, the offending bags were white. My garbage was disposed near the curb in front of my garage door, while the offending garbage was over 150 feet away. Finally I drew a line on one of the photographs showing that the offending garbage was beyond my property line. The total cost of developing the photographs was a couple of dollars.

Cost of alternate childcare

On court date, I presented the photos before the prosecution. The counsel was able to conclude based on my photographs that it was not my garbage and dismissed both tickets. The judge simply called my name, stated both tickets were dismissed and I owed nothing. The entire process took about an hour and half. As I am the primary caregiver for my child, I paid $20 for a baby sitter while I was in court.

Savings included hundreds of dollars in future tickets

My court appearance taught me how important it is to pay attention to summons and notices from municipal court, since ignoring them can damage a person's credit, raise auto insurance rates and even suspend driving privileges. I was amazed to learn that $85 ticket for a moving violation could become a $378 ticket including additional penalties, fines and court fees. I also saw how the prosecution often offered a higher fine with no points as a plea for moving violations that carried a point penalty (which can raise auto insurance rates), raking in additional revenues for the municipality.

Even though I saved only $80 in the process of fighting my municipal garbage violation and went through the stress of an appearance in court before a judge, the experience helped me win alleged traffic violations in the future that I was not guilty of, that would otherwise have cost several hundred dollars. I have two bags of my neighbor's garbage to thank for that.

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