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Traffic fine in the US - any experiences anyone? Pay, appeal, or simply ignore?

Traffic fine in the US - can I simply ignore it as I am leaving the country soon or will that come back to me somehow?
12 years ago, April 11th 2010 No: 1 Msg: #108440  
B Posts: 120
Does anyone have any experiences in dealing with traffic fines in the US as a foreigner? I have just received a 130$ (!) fine for jaywalking, unbelievable!

Now the big question is what to do? Can I simply ignore the whole thing, or will that come back to me in the future? Does the US follow these things up internationally, and could that jeopardise any future travels to the US? Or even result in a criminal record? If it does somehow get attached to my name/ passport, does anyone know after how many years these things are taken off your record? Does an appeal have any chance of success?

Any help would be much appreciated! Reply to this

12 years ago, April 11th 2010 No: 2 Msg: #108447  
Hello Ben 😊

I had the being fined experience when I lived in Canada. If there is a court case, then go to it, and if the police dont show up to be witnesses you might be let off the hook and not have to pay anything. If you dont show up, you still owe the fine. I dont know if they fine you more for not showing up or not. If the police show up to be witnesses you still owe the fine.

I personally wouldnt just ignore it. They add interest onto unpaid fines so they add up to more over time, and maybe that will cause problems for future trips to the US.

For my fine in Canada, I payed late, and they had added on the interest to the fine while the check was on the way. Then I got a letter saying I owe 5 cents. I ignored it, until I got a letter saying I owe 7 cents, because of the interest added on to the 5 cents. I sent them a check for 7 Cents, because I dont want to return to Canada decades later and be presented with huge problems because of owing a lot of money to the government there.

Does the US follow these things up internationally,...

I seriously doubt that.

Or even result in a criminal record?

If it is the same as Canada, there wont be a criminal record kept on you, after you pay. I dont know if there would be if you dont pay or not.

Also, my ex(Canadian) was given a choice between 3 days in jail or to pay his 200 dollars worth of fines plus interest. He lives in Canada all the time though, so didnt have the option a tourist has, if disappearing to another country.

Does an appeal have any chance of success?

Appeals are for those who are not guilty as far as I understand. You are guilty, arent you? 😉


Reply to this

12 years ago, April 11th 2010 No: 3 Msg: #108458  
i'm appalled that this happened to you! JAYWALKING? SERIOUSLY? unbelievable. accept my apologies as an American for having to deal with this while here. wish i could offer good advice but i think Mell covered it pretty well. if i was ever ticketed for jaywalking i think the first thing out of my mouth would be ARE YOU SHIT*ING ME?! are there no meth labs, domestic disputes, people driving 100mph, bar fights, serial killers to go harass?! Reply to this

12 years ago, April 11th 2010 No: 4 Msg: #108463  
Hmmm...part of me says we should either respect the laws on the books or change them, and could see the argument that jaywalkers could cause an accident so there is a public safety hazard. The other part of me says, "are you sh***ing me!?" $130 is probably a fine to try to make up for our American overspending ways and every branch of government going bankrupt, but to continue on that vein would mean I would be digressing...

Mell's advice is probably spot on...it's unlikely the US will follow up on it, if you pay it unlikely to be a criminal record for a petty crime such as jaywalking, but if you don't probably theoretically could come back to haunt you if the local government happens to coordinate enough with the US Dept. of State (which is a big question)

if you are guilty, then probably just pay it and be done with it. I guess it also depends how much time/effort you want to invest in this event. Frankly, the amount of time you'll have to sit in whatever city waiting for a hearing, appeal, etc - unless you are going to be there anyway - means you'll spend more money on lodging, etc then just paying it. Reply to this

12 years ago, April 11th 2010 No: 5 Msg: #108473  
B Posts: 120
Hey guys,

thanks for the quick replies, and thanks Mel for the detailed answer! As Gary pointed out, I do feel that one should accept the law, but 130$ for something that literally everybody does seems a bit steep. I have been told by a French girl working here that the US doesn't share the information interstate, and that the offence disappears after 7 years on your record. So if that is correct I would be barred for 7 years from coming to Hawaii, which is pretty unlikely and I would be willing to take the risk. But there is no way of knowing if that is correct...hm.

I gather that an appeal is pointless, as I walked across the street right in front of the cop's car - I had no idea at all that it was illegal. So there is no way of denying it really.

As for the fine itself and if the cops don't have anything better to do: I did ask the same question and was threatened with arrest twice, so I stopped arguing. Right at the end however I managed to get him to take off his sunglasses and threated me with arrest one more time when I told him "Welcome to the US" after he had handed me the ticket. :-) I had been in the country for less than 4 hours. He didn't think it was very funny I gather. Reply to this

12 years ago, April 12th 2010 No: 6 Msg: #108485  
Ben, I agree $130 is pretty steep for a petty crime, and probably the only reason the cop even bothered was because you walked in front of his car - plus he must have been bored. I also don't know that it goes on your record at all for something so trivial, so I think you could take your chances next time in Hawaii. Finally, I wonder as long as you weren't becoming physically threatened to the officer whether he would really have gone through the trouble to arrest you. It's a lot of paperwork and time off the street to take you in for something petty, and to listen to his officer buddies possibly giving him crap for a big jaywalking arrest. Of course, if the cop was bored enough to stop you for jaywalking, who knows?

Well...look beyond one jerk cop. There's more to the US than just him. Okay, off to read a few more of your posts (I really only started recently so I have to play catchup). Reply to this

12 years ago, April 12th 2010 No: 7 Msg: #108497  
As regards the appeal, there is the risk that they will make you pay something for that too, if you are guilty, because they will see it as you wasting their time. I would only appeal, in cases where you have not done what they accuse you of. ie if the cops are behaving unfairly because of your race or something like that.

If they drop the criminal charges after 7 years, does this mean they will drop the financial debt you owe? That would be another thing it would be wise to find out. Reply to this

12 years ago, April 12th 2010 No: 8 Msg: #108498  
B Posts: 120
Ah I see. I was thinking of appealing and asking them to please downgrade it to a warning, on the grounds that I honestly didn't know it was illegal as so many people are doing it. Hm, not sure now, maybe you are right.

And I really have no idea if they drop the debt, that's just what another traveller told me. It would be great to find out for sure, but how? I think if they dont exchange information inter-state the decision is easy - Hawaii is very much out of the way. If it was in NY or California seven years would be a long time from being barred to come back. Also, if they do exchange information between states that would also make a big difference.

Oh, and btw, jaywalking is illegal because it is so super-dangerous, but riding a 200 horse-power without a helmet is perfectly legal here - there are no laws that require you wear a helmet. Weird! Reply to this

12 years ago, April 12th 2010 No: 9 Msg: #108502  

...but 130$ for something that literally everybody does seems a bit steep.

As fines go, it can be worse. When we first moved to Munich, Germany, we were fined almost 2000 Euros for not paying our rent. We had set up a standing order with the bank, so they would automatically pay the rent from our account every month. They didnt manage to get it right for 3 months, even though we reminded them. We explaned it to the apparment agents, but they still went ahead with engaging a lawyer and even after we payed, the courtcase still went ahead, and we had to pay for it all.

And the most awful one I heard of happened in the Netherlands. A women had an accident on the street. The fire department took her to the hospital, where her insurance payed all the medical fees. Then she got a bill from the fire department, charging her for the costs of cleaning the blood off the street. It was all over the media, and the mayor eventually waivered the costs so she didnt have to pay anything.

When I was in Canada, I was charged with trespassing. In reality, what happened is me and my ex went into the building where his mother lived without permission, to get his car which he had parked in the basement parking lot. His mother had given us permission, but she wasnt home and we didnt have premission of the people who ran the building, which we were apparently supposed to have. The security man wanted us to be charged with attempted car theft as well as tresspassing, but luckily his mother showed up before the cops left with his car registration papers. Speaking of jerks, the security man of the building handcuffed my ex to a chair and put a salvating rothweiler sitting in front of him, until the cops showed up. The security man was going to let me go, so I should have gone instead of waiting for my ex, because the cops wouldnt let me go, when they showed up, and I was charged with trespassing, along with my ex.
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12 years ago, April 12th 2010 No: 10 Msg: #108503  
B Posts: 120
Wow, Mel, that is really scary stuff! I have seen the trespassing sign all over the place here in Hawaii, and I guess the Canadian approach is similar. How super-ridiculous. That's what happens when too much power lies in the hands of one person. Sometimes I really wonder what is happening to this world. And the Munich-story is just plain stupid as well, though I dont see why you should pay if it was the bank's fault. Reply to this

12 years ago, April 12th 2010 No: 11 Msg: #108504  

I dont see why you should pay if it was the bank's fault.

I suppose we could have objected along that line, but legal arguing is expensive, and the banks are likely more experienced with it, then we are. We didnt want to risk it, so we just payed and tried to forget about it.

It was particularly annonying at the time, because we were in a lot of debt already, and this just added to it. I wondered at the time, if we would ever again be out of debt, let alone have the type of money needed for travel. But, we are out of debt, and are managing to gather enough savings to do some travels.

At least the high standard of living in Germany means people can afford to pay lots of fines. Reply to this

12 years ago, April 12th 2010 No: 12 Msg: #108505  
B Posts: 120
Hm, OK. BTW, legal insurance is only about 80EUR a year, I have it for cases like that and I think it is money well worth spent! It provides worldwide cover, so you are covered on your travels as well! Reply to this

12 years ago, April 12th 2010 No: 13 Msg: #108515  
The computers don't forget if you are in that jursition again and you get pulled over you will go to jail until you can pay that old fine plus interest otherwise nothing will happen as it is not a felony. Reply to this

12 years ago, April 12th 2010 No: 14 Msg: #108565  
I don't think an appeal is out of the questions - if you went in and respectfully said 'hey, i'm from Germany and didn't realize it was a crime, i'm terribly sorry and believe me it won't happen again...' who knows, if you had the time and inclination it might be a 50/50 shot, depending on who the judge is and what kind of day they're having. if the cop wrote that you were a belligerant wise-ass on his paperwork it might be harder (i was written up as such during a traffic stop - yippee) but hey, who knows, at the least it will be an interesting education on the American judicial process...for all of us I dare say! Good luck Ben! Reply to this

12 years ago, April 13th 2010 No: 15 Msg: #108569  
Things would be oh-so-different if they were still the British Sandwich Islands. 😉

I'd appeal this myself - you're in the country only 4 hours; you're not a local - you're a tourist - and the copper couldn't just advise you that it's illegal what you just did and wave you on with a 'have a nice and safe holiday'?

The choice is whether you can be bothered to do this or pay the fine and happy jaywalking elsewhere/eyes peeled for cantakerous cops type-deal. What would Larry David do I wonder?
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12 years ago, April 13th 2010 No: 16 Msg: #108573  
You may want to check with the local city or county you received the ticket from to see if they have a hearing center as opposed to a full court trial. When the Gardiners mentioned respecfully going to explain you're a tourist and saw many other people doing the same thing without being stopped so you reasonably believed it was legal, it reminded me of a time I contested a ticket on my automobile of the time. In the State of Minnesota, you must have a license plate on the front and back of the vehicle, and my front plate was sitting on the dashboard of the vehicle versus affixed to the front bumper. I contested the ticket saying the state law doesn't specifically say where on the front of the vehicle, only the front. I argued the dashboard is on the front of the vehicle. Anyway, we had a ticket hearing center where you don't make an appointment but rather meet with a more clerical officer authorized to hear in a more casual matter and they can amend the ticket before going to a judge if you make a reasonable argument. You can then decide to accept an amended ticket or ask for a court trial. In my case, I didn't outright win the argument because the law says the plate still has to be affixed to the vehicle so it can't slide (and I didn't prove I taped it down or similar), but the officer reduced the fine.

Ben, it will depend if where you are has something similar and, again, if you want to invest the time and effort...but an idea to inquire on that might be less time consuming then waiting for a court date and can help you decide how much you want to fight the ticket. Reply to this

12 years ago, April 13th 2010 No: 17 Msg: #108577  
B Posts: 120
Thanks for the advice. I don't see how I could attend a court hearing in any case, as they have given me 21 days to appeal or pay, and I am only in Hawaii for two weeks or so. I don't mind doing the appeal at all, since $130 is a fair amount of money considering my budget, though of course in the grand scheme of things it won't make that much of a difference. I will check out the hearing centre for sure, and if there is nothing like that I will write them a polite letter and hope for the best. I will surely fill you guys in, no matter what happens! Reply to this

12 years ago, April 13th 2010 No: 18 Msg: #108603  
B Posts: 580
Hi Ben,

Firstly, let me say I'd have EXPLODED and been arrested for sure, so you're already in a much better situation than I would have been.

My main concern would be that with the uber security these dates in the States post 9/11 I would be concerned about this coming back to bite me in the ass. As you well know "freedoms" have eroded a little over the years and there seems to be no abatement, and you don't know how far this fine will carry or how big it may become.

I'll give you my emotional reaction first "screw em!" ..."live by the seat of your pants"..."Don't let that unreasonable cop have the last laugh" ..."Fight it" ..."don't roll over"..."If you tolerate this..."

Now the passive observer; "pay em - with a SMILE!", and put it down to experience: you'll be able to tell this story for years to come; it is beautifully symbolic of hypocritical claims to "freedom" and thus worth more than $130 bucks, in my opinion. Also, if you don't pay, you will always wonder whether you should have paid it...in 21 days, in 21 months and every time you come to the states in future whilst you line up at those immigration lines and are having your fingerprints and photo taken by that officer as he checks you out on his computer. You'll be asking yourself "Do they know"? "Will they let me in"? in the long run $130 bucks ain't worth that kinda stress...I wanna be on a level playing field when dealing with those bureaucrats: don't let them have that little extra power; even if it cost me 130 bucks!

Incidentally, I once got pulled over in Seoul for driving w/o a helmet (I was just popping round the corner on a Sunday morning to buy some Dunkin Donuts). I was annoyed cos I ALWAYS wore a helmet and many Koreans do not. I was annoyed that I even stopped for the cops; the only reason I did was because I didn't think they'd give me more than a warning. However, they took me to the station cos I had no ID. They then discovered I didn't have an international driving licence and then charged me for that as well. I was pissed. I appealed the on the grounds of foreign ignorance by writing a rather long persuasive essay. Couple months later I got a letter: ALL CHARGES DROPPED (In Korean of course;-)

I would walk into a police station or an official Tourist Information Office and ask them your options and any possible consequences. Because at the end of the day, if you ask a US Citizen, you'll not really get all the answers because if they don't pay they ultimately face different 'domestic' ramifications...they don't have to stand in THAT line at the airport!

My honest advice: Pay it or fight it, but don't run from it (cos it'll always be there in your mind). But remember the more energy you put into fighting it, the more it will burn if you then lose. Reply to this

12 years ago, April 13th 2010 No: 19 Msg: #108612  
B Posts: 580
By the way,

I reckon you'll have a better time of it with the Police on Maui; the pace is a little more chill on that island!

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12 years ago, April 14th 2010 No: 20 Msg: #108681  
Ben, do you have the option of mailing in the fine? If so you may have some luck that worked for me one time. I sent half of my fine to the traffic court and asked to work out a payment schedule for the remainder. the court accepted the half payment and never followed up for the remainder. You still got a raw deal but 65 bucks is better than 130 No? Good Luck Reply to this

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