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Payment of a Traffic Citation – Is it Admissible as Evidence in a Civil Lawsuit?

January 2, 2015 By Jennifer A. King

In civil proceedings arising out of motor vehicle accidents, plaintiffs’ attorneys often ask whether a defendant was issued a traffic citation for the accident.  Because most people simply pay the fine, the plaintiffs’ attorneys want to use that as evidence of liability for the accident.  However, the more relevant question is whether the defendant pled guilty to a traffic violation.

Generally, admissions, in the form of words or acts of a party-opponent, may be offered as evidence against that party at trial.  In Maryland, a guilty plea to a traffic citation is admissible in a subsequent civil trial arising out of the same accident.  The courts have determined that the probative value of this evidence outweighs any prejudicial effect it may have on the party because it is an express acknowledgment of guilt. 

In contrast, however, the payment in satisfaction of a traffic ticket is not admissible as evidence in a subsequent civil proceeding.  Although payment of the fine is considered a conviction of the traffic infraction, payment of a traffic fine is not the equivalent of a guilty plea and is not an express acknowledgment of guilt.  The courts have recognized that people often submit payment of the fine for convenience and expediency rather than as an admission of guilt. 

If you are involved in such a case or handling a case where a traffic ticket is an issue concerning liability for an accident, the attorneys at DeCaro Doran can provide assistance in assessing the likelihood of the citation being admissible and in developing strategies to counter the use of a citation as evidence.