Breaking the traffic laws is a crime and most states treat traffic violations that way. However, contesting your traffic ticket in traffic court doesn't have to be overwhelming, if you know what to expect.
When you contest a traffic ticket, the first time you appear in court is called an arraignment, first appearance or notice hearing. This is your chance to plead guilty and pay your fine, or plead not guilty and set up a trial date. In some states, there's a more streamlined process for nonserious traffic violations, such as speeding tickets, running red lights or failing to stop at stop signs. An arraignment or the presence of a prosecutor may not be needed.
It's important to go to your arraignment at the time scheduled on the ticket. Otherwise, it could end up costing you more in the long run and the judge might issue a bench warrant against you. A bench warrant can lead to an arrest and time in jail.
You should be prepared to post bail at the arraignment, usually not more than the amount of the ticket. Some courts allow you be released on recognizance, which means you promise to show up at trial and bail isn't needed.
It's important not to waive your right to a fair and speedy trial. Your trial must occur within the time the law allows or the charge against you must be dismissed.
If the ticket is invalid on its face - such as with mistaken identity or it lists no charge - you can try asking the judge to dismiss the case at the arraignment. This should be done respectfully and quickly, so as not to rile the judge.
Discovery is the legal term for uncovering the details of the case against you. With traffic tickets, the discovery process is less formal than in other courtroom trials. However, there are still some rules you have to follow.
You can send the prosecutor a request for production or discovery request. This is a written request to get a copy of evidence the prosecutor will use at trial. Some examples include:
- A copy of the police officer's notes, including both sides of the ticket
- A list of witnesses, their phone numbers and addresses
- A copy of any photos or videos taken at the scene
- A copy of any diagrams or maps to be used by the prosecutor at trial
- Any other written evidence to be used at trial
Your request should be served on the prosecutor in a manner that proves the prosecutor received it. Your traffic court clerk may be able to supply you with forms and details on how the request must be served. It's important to keep a copy of your request just in case you need to show it to the judge later. Request a copy of the evidence soon after you get your ticket so you receive the evidence before your trial date.
If the prosecutor doesn't respond within a certain number of days (which varies by state and court), you can ask the judge to dismiss the case. The traffic court clerk can tell you when to file a motion to dismiss and help you set up a hearing date for your motion.