Chloe Lewis believes a police officer’s judgement is fair, but speeding-ticket fines are not.
When Lewis was pulled over for driving more than 15 mph over the speed limit, she received a warning.
“I didn’t have any points or anything,” the St. Clair sophomore said. “I was honest, not being mean, lying or crying. I had no excuse, I just wanted to go get a slushy.”
Although police officers are free to use their discretion on what types of tickets are issued, they are not responsible for how much the ticket costs, said Mount Pleasant Police Department Public Information Officer Jeff Thompson.
Thompson said many people falsely believe police officers have a “ticket quota” they need to make.
“We’ve all heard expressions about quotas and stuff like that,” he said. “The courts said long ago that we can’t have quotas. It creates an atmosphere where you’re taking discretion out of an officer’s hands. In regards to whether or not somebody gets a ticket, that is 100 percent up to the officers. The law allows that.”
What police look for
When a police officer pulls over a vehicle, it is because they spot a safety or speeding violation, said Central Michigan University Police Captain Fred Harris.
“That’s what they’d make their stops for,” Harris said. “It’s officer discretion as to whether they give a verbal warning or issue a citation. They will base that on when they check their driver’s license, insurance and things like that.”
Out of the 451 total citations issued in 2013 by CMUPD, 99 of the tickets were MIP-related, meaning the remaining 352 tickets were moving-vehicle violations such as speeding, rolling stops and seat belt violations. MPPD issued 1,126 tickets for traffic and various misdemeanor offenses in 2013, and 303 tickets in 2014.
Depending on the situation, police don’t normally factor in anything the driver says to the officer when deciding to issue a ticket, Harris said.
“If somebody runs a red light, they might have a reason for that,” Harris said. “Some officers will have their minds made up when they stop. They don’t base it on attitude or anything like that. If they felt like they got their point across, they’ll give them a verbal warning. If they’ve been stopped multiple times for speeding, they may issue them a citation.”
When police witness someone driving over the speed limit, some officers might not take action, depending on the area the vehicle is speeding through.
Thompson said MPPD often establishes whether or not officers will write a violation based on the seriousness of the infraction, time of day, or location.
“Going over 10 mph on a highway is not going to be that big of a deal,” Thompson said. “Going over 10 mph in a school zone when schools are getting out is a big deal. I might decide to start writing (a ticket) for speeding 10 mph over (the speed limit) while the officer next to me will write them up for going 15 over.”
What is the cost?
Anybody who receives a ticket should be able to know how much their fine is worth by calling the Isabella County Court at (989) 772-0911 or at their website.
For a ticket issued for speeding anywhere from one to five mph above the speed limit, the fine is $115. Six to 10 mph costs $125, 11 to 15 mph costs $135, 16 to 20 mph costs $145.
Being pulled over with no proof of insurance is a $135 fine, while seat belt violations cost $65, failure to yield costs $125, improper lane use costs $120 and being pulled over with an expired registration costs $125.
Thompson said all the money goes to the state, with none going to the police department or the officers.
“What goes into determining that cost has nothing to do with police officers,” Thompson said. “The police department doesn’t get anything from it. The state is the only one who gets anything from it.”
Options in court
Every ticket displays instructions and rights for those issued tickets on the back for civil infractions and misdemeanors. If someone who has been issued a ticket doesn’t believe they deserve it, they can plead in one of three ways.
The first option is to plead guilty with an explanation. Thompson said if the driver admits in court they were speeding, but were in an emergency situation, they might see leniency from the court.
The second option is to admit you are guilty and pay the fine.
The third option is to plead not guilty and have either an informal hearing with just the defendant, the citing officer and the magistrate, or a formal hearing with lawyers and a judge.
Thompson said the majority of people in this situation chose a formal hearing without a clear understanding of how it works. They have also chosen to do the hearings thinking the police offers won’t show up and they will get out of paying a ticket.
“Ninety-nine percent of the time, we show up,” Thompson said. “It’s part of our policies and procedures that if we have court, we’re going. If I’m on my way to court and something big happens, I notify the court and they reschedule it.”