Ever since I obtained my driver's license at age 15, I have been under the impression that if I got a ticket, when I go to pay it I need to plead "no contest". I assumed it meant I was not admitting to anything, but that is not true in Texas.

When you get a ticket and you're about to sign for it, the officer always say something like, "Signing the ticket is not an admission of guilt but that you agree to take care of this within the next 10 working days." So if I'm not admitting to wrongdoing, why is it that in Texas, paying a non-criminal traffic ticket IS an admission of guilt?

I just learned that a "no contest " plea is an admission of guilt. Furthermore, depending on the violation you could be fined or given an alternative sentence like community service, or maybe even do jail time.

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According to the DMV.gov, there is a difference between pleading guilty, pleading no contest, or pleading not guilty. The latter of the three will cost you a lot more because you will have to seek legal counsel and pay extra court costs, fines, and fees until after the case is solved.

Even more interesting is that depending on your traffic violation, you may be able to pay your ticket online, by the phone, or even through snail mail. Of course, paying it by any of those three methods is an admission of guilt.

The Texas DMV and the website TexasLawHelp.org have broken down the difference between pleading "guilty" or pleading "no contest":

Pleading Guilty

  • By pleading guilty, you are essentially admitting to the crime.
  • You will be convicted and sentenced on the same day.
  • You lose your right to a trial, but your case will be resolved quickly.
  • The usual consequence is a fine and court costs will be imposed.
  • If you can't pay immediately, the judge may consider alternatives like a community service sentence.
  • Be aware that if you plead guilty but fail to pay your fines, a warrant will be issued for your arrest, and you may not be able to renew your driver's license until the matter is completely solved.
  • Additionally, certain traffic violations like driving with an invalid license, running a red light or stop sign, and speeding can lead to additional fines and additional license suspensions.

Pleading No Contest

  • This plea is very similar to a guilty plea.
  • You agree to be punished as if you were guilty without explicitly admitting to any guilt at all.
  • You will be convicted and sentenced on the same day.
    However, your case will be set for a trial at a later date (but not on the same day).
  • When you plead not guilty, you will have the right to a jury trial, where a jury of your peers will determine if you are guilty or innocent of the offense cited.

What I found humorous is that the Texas DMV website says, "Remember that paying a fine does not necessarily mean you are admitting guilt in a criminal sense. It's a legal process to resolve the matter but it's essential to understand your options and rights before making a decision." Okay, I still don't get it, but I'll pay my fines.

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