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Reading My Traffic Ticket

Virginia Uniform Summons

A summons is the piece of paper you sign when you receive a traffic ticket. Often, it is a yellow carbon copy.

The Virginia Uniform Summons is the standardized traffic ticket used across Virginia by many different law enforcement agencies.

Do I Have to Sign my Traffic Ticket in Virginia?

In Virginia, a summons is a promise by the driver to appear in court at a specific time. When you sign a summons, it does not mean that you are admitting guilt. It only means that you are promising to appear in court for your traffic ticket.

If a driver in Virginia refuses to sign a summons, the officer can take the driver into custody and put them in jail where they will appear before a magistrate. A summons is basically a bail bond; only instead of paying money to be released from police custody, you are simply making a promise to show up at court. Refusing to sign a summons is considered obnoxious by officers and judges and they may be harsher on you in court if you refused to sign one. Remember, signing a summons is not an admission of guilt; it is just a promise to appear in court.

Failure to Appear in Traffic Court (Trials in Abstensia & Bench Warrants)

In Virginia, if a driver does not appear in court, either the judge will hold a trial in abstensia (in the defendant's absence) or the judge can issue a bench warrant (also known as a capias) and then charge him with the additional crime of "failure to appear." Failure to appear is a Class 1 misdemeanor in Virginia and can be punished by up to 12 months in jail and $2,500 in fines.

Typically, the courts in Virginia will issue a bench warrant only if the original charge is something that includes the possibility of jail time. To find out whether you were tried in abstentia or issued a bench warrant (capias), view your court case online.

If you are tried in your absence, the court will charge approximately $35 in additional court costs.

How Do I Find my Traffic Court Trial Date?

View where the court date appears on the Virginia Uniform Summons.

Your court date will appear on top left of the Virginia Uniform Summons and should appear below the court's address. This court date is your original court date. If that date is changed by the officer, the court or your attorney, the new court date can be found on your online court case file.

Learn more about changing your court date (also known as a "continuance").

How Do I Find my Courtroom?

View where the court address appears on the Virginia Uniform Summons.

Make sure you know the court in which to appear. In many areas of Virginia, there are several different courts that service the same area.

For example, a traffic ticket in Fairfax County could require a driver to appear in one of five different courts — each at different address.

  • Fairfax County General District Court,
  • The Fairfax County Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court,
  • The General District Court for the Town of Vienna,
  • the General District Court for the City of Fairfax, or
  • The General District Court for the Town of Herndon.

If you show up to the wrong courtroom, you probably will not make it to the correct traffic court in time. Always check the court address on your traffic ticket.

Why Can't I Prepay my Virginia Traffic Ticket?

View where prepayment information appears on the Virginia Uniform Summons.


If this box on your summons is not checked or if you cannot prepay your traffic ticket, you have probably been charged with a criminal offense, not a traffic infraction and should contact a local traffic attorney immediately.

Your Traffic Attorney May Appear Instead of You in Traffic Court

If you are charged with a criminal traffic offense or a traffic ticket, you may be able to avoid coming to court if you hire a local traffic attorney. Your lawyer can make a motion with the court to request that your appearance be waived.

Know the Consequences of Conviction Before You Prepay Any Traffic Ticket

Prepaying a traffic ticket may result in a DMV-issued license suspension. Many traffic tickets can have severe effects on insurance and even employment. Get a free consultation from a traffic attorney before you prepay a traffic ticket.

Can I Fight a Traffic Ticket If I already Pre-Paid?

If you prepay a ticket and later want to contest the charges, hire a local traffic attorney immediately. Your lawyer may be able to revoke your plea of guilty or appeal your case to the circuit court. Do not prepay a ticket unless you are sure you understand all the consequence of pleading guilty. If you are not sure how a ticket will affect you, consult a local traffic attorney immediately.

What Traffic Offense Am I Charged With?

View where the traffic charge appears on the Virginia Uniform Summons.

The police usually (but not always) list the charges against you in two forms:

  • the section of the law code you have violated, and
  • the common name of that section.

An example is "46.2-862 Reckless Driving". In this case, "46.2-862" is the section of the Virginia State Code which has been violated and "Reckless Driving" is the common name of that section.

Sometimes, however, police may charge a driver under a local code rather than the Virginia State Code. For instance the Fairfax County police may charge someone who is driving 80 in a 55 mph zone with 46.2-862 or they may charge them with reckless driving under the Fairfax County code 82-4-3. On the summons, the officer can sometimes choose both codes (e.g. "82-4-3 46.2-862 Reckless Driving").

If you want to know exactly which law you are accused of breaking, go to the Virginia State Code website and search by code. If you are charged under a county or town code, you can often find those codes online or by calling a local traffic attorney.

Make sure you always communicate to your attorney which code section is listed on your summons. Even though many of the local codes are similar to the Virginia State Code, there can often be a major difference that may affect the outcome of your case.

What's my Officer's Name?

View where the officer's name appears on the Virginia Uniform Summons.

It is important to know the name of your officer because your courtroom and your court date is often determined by officer. If you want to move your court date or know which court room your case is in, you may need to know your officer's name.

Will Errors and Mistakes on my Traffic Ticket Affect my Traffic Case?

If an officer makes an error on your summons, it can benefit your case if the officer writes the incorrect charge, offense, trial date, or trial location. Other errors rarely make a difference and are mostly clerical.

What if I Don't Have A Copy of my Virginia Traffic Ticket?

If you lost your copy of your summons/traffic ticket, you can get a copy from the traffic court clerk's office prior to your trial. If your summons was never given to you, consult a traffic attorney immediately.

Arrest Location

When you received a summons in Virginia for a misdemeanor, you were arrested.

Even though it may only be a reckless driving ticket, you were arrested. It is important to remember that being arrested is different than being taken into custody. You can be arrested without ever seeing the inside of a jail or police car. When your summons is for a traffic infraction instead of a criminal charge, the arrest location means the place where you were pulled over as opposed to the place where you committed the infraction.

The Traffic Cop Was Rude, What Can I Do?

View where you can find the phone number to report abusive or unprofessional behavior by an officer on the Virginia Uniform Summons.

On the back of your summons, in the lower right hand corner, is a box that says "TO COMMENT TO THE LAW ENFORCEMENT AGENCY REGARDING THE PROFFESIONAL BEHAVIOR OR DEMEANOR OF THE OFFICER ISSUING THIS SUMMONS PLEASE CALL ______." There should be a typed or hand written phone number to call on that line. If there is not, you should take note of the officer's name and badge number on the front of the summons and call the internal affairs office of the agency for which the officer works.

If you are considering complaining about an officer's behavior in regard to your criminal or traffic case, consult an attorney before making any phone calls or filing any complaints.

my Officer Wrote "Clear" on my Traffic Ticket but it was Raining

The Virginia State Police (the "Highway Patrol" or "State Troopers") have an agency rule against using radar or lidar devices when it is raining or snowing. If you received a speeding offense while it was snowing or raining, or if you notice that the trooper wrote "clear" when it was raining or snowing, talk to your traffic attorney about this.

What Does S-Radar, M-Radar or Laser on my Traffic Ticket Mean?

View where the "Notes" section appears on the Virginia Uniform Summons.

The officer may choose to write notes in the Notes section of the Virginia Uniform Summons. Anything written in the Notes section is important to your case.

In the Notes section of a traffic ticket, the officer often records the type of device used to measure your speed. He may write "Radar," "S-radar," "M-Radar," "Lidar," "(L)," "Laser," "Pacing," "Pace," or "(P)". In Lidar cases, the officer may record the distance from which he measured you, and in pacing cases the officer may record the distance from which he paced you.

An officer may also use the Notes section to record a punishment enhancement, which is any fact which will lead to a more severe punishment. Examples include: "2nd offense," "construction zone" and "minor in car".

Other times the officer uses the space to record miscellaneous important information such as the ID number for the specific speed measuring device the officer used. Anything an officer writes in the Notes section of your summons is very important and it should be communicated to your traffic attorney.

What is a HSC or "Highway Safety Corridor?"

View where the Highway Safety Corridor box appears on the Virginia Uniform Summons.

If an officer checked the box for "HIGHWAY SAFETY CORRIDOR" on your summons, it means he is accusing you of committing the offense in a section of highway that has been designated as a "safety corridor." This means that your fine will be doubled if you are convicted. Highway safety corridors are designated for areas with high numbers of traffic accidents or fatalities.