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The Anatomy of a Traffic Ticket: From Start to Finish

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The Anatomy of a Traffic Ticket: From Start to Finish

Hutchison & Tubiana have successfully handled literally thousands of traffic infractions for clients throughout the years. Generally, non-criminal traffic infractions (eg. speeding tickets, red light violations, stop sign violations, suspended driver’s license without knowledge, no proof of insurance, no proof of registration, etc.) are heard before a special hearing officer designated by the court. Because counties hear tens of thousands of traffic infractions every year, the hearing officer’s role is very important as he or she handles a significant portion of the court system’s docket.

How does the process start you wonder? Well, there are special rules that govern the practice and procedure in any traffic case and specifically apply to practice and procedure in county courts and before civil traffic infraction hearing officers. Anytime an individual has been issued a traffic ticket he or she has three options:

Option 1: Pay the fine. Many offenses can be resolved by simply paying the fine on the face of the ticket. However, some charges, such as driving 30 MPH over speed limit mandates a court appearance. Nevertheless, should you have a qualifying offense (this will be indicated on the face of the ticket), you can pay the amount of the ticket to the clerk of court either by mail or in person. Some counties allow you to pay over the internet. Once you have paid, then this completes the process. However, by choosing to pay the ticket  causes several ramifications. For example, by paying you are admitting guilt and are convicted of the offense. This means that you will receive points on your driver’s license. The repercussions of points against your driver’s license depends on the state where your driving privileges are issued. If you receive enough points, then your driver’s license could be suspended for a certain period of time. In addition, your auto insurance premiums can greatly increase, as the insurance company assumes that you represent a greater liability.

Option 2: Elect to Enroll in Traffic School. Assuming you are faced with an eligible offense, traffic school is a way to control your own destiny when faced with a civil traffic infraction. Within 30 days of the offense, the ticketed driver can contact the clerk of court’s office and indicate to the clerk that he or she wishes to enroll in traffic school. The clerk will advise that you must pay a certain amount of the fine associated with your offense. Once you have successfully completed traffic school, either online or in-person, you must provide to the clerk proof of completion within the requisite time period. Once you have done so, then you are not convicted of the offense. This is referred as adjudication being withheld. In other words, you do not have points on your driver’s license. However, be sure to be careful whether to elect this option. Depending on the state where your driver’s license was issued will determine how many times you can elect to take the traffic school option when faced with an eligible civil traffic offense.

It is important to note, that just because you did not receive points against your driver’s license does not mean that your insurance company won’t hold that against you. Oftentimes insurance companies will ask you if you have ever been charged with a driving offense. This can be very deceiving due to the nature of the question. Here, the insurance company is essentially finding you guilty of the offense just because you have been charged. As you can see, the scope of the hypothetical question was limited to whether you were accused of wrongdoing, not the outcome of the accusation. Be sure to carefully read a copy of your auto insurance policy to determine how traffic infractions may impact you.

Option 3: Request a Hearing. Should you decide to neither pay the face value of the infraction, nor elect to attend traffic school, you have the right to request a hearing before a hearing officer. In the alternative, you can elect to have a county court judge hear your case instead of a hearing officer.

Unlike criminal charges, civil traffic infractions do not afford you the right to a jury trial. Instead, the hearing officer determines your guilt or innocence. You can proceed pro se and represent yourself, or you can retain a lawyer. If you retain a lawyer, your appearance at the hearing is not required. However, should you wish to attend, you certainly have the right to do so. Your appearance is especially critical in the event you wish to testify on your behalf.

The court has 180 days from the date of the infraction to provide you with a hearing. If this does not happen, then your right to a speedy trial has been violated and, as a matter of law, your infraction must be dismissed. Once a hearing date is issued, the clerk of court issues a subpoena for the ticketing officer’s appearance in court. If the ticketing officer has been properly notified of the court date, and has not requested a continuance, your attorney may make an ore tenus motion to dismiss for failure to prosecute. This simply means that your lawyer is making a verbal request to the hearing officer than the charges against you be dismissed because of the officer’s failure to appear in court to prove the offense for which you were cited.

If the officer is present, then you can approach the officer to ask to inspect his copy of the infraction, view his maintenance log of his speed detection device, etc. These represent some of the methods you can employ in your attempt to show the court that the ticketing officer cannot meet his or her burden of proof. Unlike other states, civil traffic infractions in Florida are prosecuted by the ticketing officer and not the elected state attorney, through one of his or her assistant state attorneys. This means it is you against the ticketing officer.

If you are unable to raise pre-trial motions to the court in your effort to dismiss the infraction, then you can proceed to trial against the officer. The officer testifies first. He must establish that the event occurred in the correct jurisdiction, that he/she made contact with the driver and established the identity of the driver by way of driver’s license or other form of identification, and then attempt to prove the infraction for which you were ticketed. Once the officer rests his or her case, then the driver can cross-examine the police officer and offer competing forms of evidence either in the form of testimony or other visual evidence. Keep in mind that it is not enough to testify that you were not speeding. The presumption of correctness lies with the ticketing officer. If it was this easy, very few people would ever be convicted of an infraction! So, if possible, it is very helpful to have a witness testify on your behalf.

At this stage, the hearing officer will determine whether the ticketing officer has met his or her burden of proof. If so, you then proceed to the sentencing phase. If not, then the case against you is dismissed. If you are found guilty of the offense, then it is important to ask the hearing officer that adjudication be withheld. This means that you are not convicted of the offense (i.e. no points issued against your driver’s license). The hearing officer will look at your previous driving history in determining whether to convict you of the offense. If you have an out-of-state driver’s license, then the hearing officer does not have access to those records and you will get the benefit of a good record. However, if you have an in-state driver’s license and received infractions in the last couple of years, then the hearing officer will strongly consider convicting you of the offense charged. At the end of the day, anytime that a civil traffic infraction ends with adjudication being withheld, then we are satisfied with the outcome for our client.

Warning! As previously indicated, you have 30 days from the date the infraction has been issued to request a hearing. If you do not pay the fine, elect traffic school, or request a hearing within 30 days from the date of the infraction, then your driver’s license will be suspended. If you are subsequently pulled over and you haven’t reinstated your driver’s license, then you may face a charge of driving on a suspended license with knowledge. This is a misdemeanor and may result in a fine of up to $500 and one year in jail. As you can see, while a traffic ticket can appear harmless, it can quickly spiral out of control if not properly addressed.

Should you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact our office.