By Jed McKeehan

When you are pulled over for speeding or running a stop sign, or some other traffic violation, you will be told why you are being cited and you will be asked to sign the traffic citation as proof you understand the violations you have committed.

But, do you really have to sign it? What happens if you refuse?

A citation is not an admission of guilt nor is it something that should be ignored.  And yes, it’s absolutely annoying to agree to do anything, even sign a piece of paper, when you’re annoyed at the cop for issuing you a speeding ticket.

But let’s get back to the question of whether you have to sign the citation, that carbon copy piece of paper that you can barely read, that you are being presented.

First, let’s define exactly what a citation is.

In Tennessee Code 40-7-118, a citation means, “A written order issued by a peace officer requiring a person accused of violating the law to appear in a designated court or governmental office at a specified date and time. The order shall require the signature of the person to whom it is issued.”

There it is in black and white.  So yes, you do have to sign the citation. In fact, if your refuse to sign the citation, the officer can arrest you.  That would make a bad day turn in to a really bad day.

So, go ahead and sign the citation and try not to let the experience completely ruin your day.  There’s no need to risk getting thrown in jail because you lose your temper or decide to try to be cute and refuse to sign the citation.

Let me take this opportunity to remind you of my number one piece of advice when dealing with law enforcement is to be as nice as humanly possible at all times.  Throughout my career as an attorney, I have seen that there is nothing that officers remember more than when someone was rude or a jerk and they will go out of their way to make sure that person gets the worst possible punishment they are able to see them receive.  It’s okay to be frustrated on the inside or even afterwards, but be as polite as possible during the encounter with the police.


Jedidiah McKeehan is an attorney practicing in Knox County and surrounding counties.  He works in many areas, including criminal, personal injury, landlord-tenant, probate, and estate planning. Visit for more information about this legal issue and other legal issues.