When you receive an infraction you have the option to request a contested hearing. When you check the box requesting a hearing and mail it back to the court, the court clerk will set a court date. The court will mail you notice of that court date in the mail. Generally you will receive about a week’s notice. It could be longer.
You must show up to court on the date and time that the court has chosen. If you opt not to show up, the infraction will be found committed and you will have pay the fine. If you fail to pay the fine, the court will send you to collections. This not what you want to happen! This can lead to having your license suspended and a series of other events that can lead to very bad news. Moral of the story is that if you choose to contest your infraction, you should show up to court.
When you receive an infraction, the officer will give you the ticket but does not actually give you the narrative report. The only way you can receive a copy of this report is by filing a demand for discovery at the appropriate prosecutor’s office.
What happens when you get to court?
When you show up to court there may or may not be a prosecutor present. The judge will normally take a roll call to see who is in court. Normally the judge (though I have seen the prosecutor do it) will have a colloquy and explain what options you have and how the contested hearing works. Every courtroom is a little bit different.
You may have heard of the term “burden of proof.” What does this mean? The burden of proof for infractions is on the State or City. All they have to prove is that you committed the infraction by a “preponderance of the evidence.” This is a pretty low standard. As long as they can prove about 51% you committed the infraction, the judge will find the infraction committed.
What about subpoenaing the officer?
If you have subpoenaed the police officer, then the officer who gave you the infraction will be there. In order to do this, you need to contact the court. There are certain steps that need to be followed in order to ensure you have properly subpoenaed the officer. If the officer fails to appear, your ticket will get dismissed. However, officers get paid overtime to go to court so it’s usually in their best interest to appear. If the officer does appear, she will take the stand and testify.
When it’s your turn you will take a set at the defense table. The judge will ask if you have any preliminary motions – these are legal reasons why something should be kept out or that the entire case should be dismissed all together. After this, if there is an officer she will be put under oath. If there is a prosecutor the prosecutor will examine the officer and then you will have a chance to cross-examine. Then you will be put under oath and have a chance to testify. Again if there is a prosecutor, she can question you.
The judge then considers all of the evidence and makes a decision. If you are found committed, you will have to pay the fine. If the case was dismissed, then there will be no fine.
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Christopher Small is the co-founder and owner of Emerald City Law Group, a full service Seattle traffic ticket law firm. Give us your problems, we have you covered.