As we continue in our series focusing on the various ways you can respond to a traffic ticket in Washington state, we wanted to address some common questions related to choosing a contested hearing for a traffic ticket. If you decide to fight your infraction there can be a lot of things to consider, and the process can often be a bit confusing, especially if you are not familiar with general court procedures. Take a look at some of our recommendations and responses to frequently asked questions related to a contested hearing for your traffic ticket below.
What is a contested hearing for a traffic ticket?
First things first, what is a contested hearing and what does that mean? If you choose to challenge the traffic infraction you were cited for, you are choosing to fight the charges, and you are trying to prove to the court that you were not guilty of committing the infraction as it was charged. Selecting a contested hearing is the way to go if you are trying to keep the infraction from becoming part of your driving record or driving abstract and also subsequently affecting your insurance rates.
As we mentioned in our previous post, choosing a mitigation hearing does not provide the correct hearing for you to contest or fight the ticket. If you select a mitigation hearing, you agree that you committed the infraction, but you are requesting an opportunity to explain the circumstances to the court. Only a contested hearing will provide the proper setting for you to fight against the charges you were cited for in a traffic infraction.
I sent in my ticket requesting a contested hearing, now what?
After you send the ticket to request a contested hearing, the court will schedule a hearing date. Every court is different regarding how quickly they will schedule the hearing for your case. Some courts such as Pierce County District Court will schedule your hearing very quickly – typically within 30-45 days. However, other courts such as Thurston County District Court often schedule court hearings at a much slower rate – usually within 90 days.
It is important to note that you are entitled to a speedy trial, which means that the court is required to set your hearing within 120 days of the infraction. This is required by IRLJ 2.6(a)(1) The court will mail a notice of the hearing date to you at the address you wrote on the ticket when you mailed into them, so keep an eye out for it. You do not want to miss your court hearing date!
I received my Court date back in the mail, but I can’t make it. Can I reschedule?
Yes, it is usually possible to request a one-time continuance of the court hearing date. Most courts are willing to reschedule the date if you ask them within a reasonable time frame. You can call, go to the court, or mail a request to get a new date. We suggest requesting a new court date as soon as you find out you are unavailable. If you wait until the last minute such as the day of the hearing, it is possible that your request will not be granted.
Some courts such as Seattle Municipal Court require that a request is made at least two weeks before the hearing date. The earlier you can contact the court to request a new date, the better! Typically, most courts will only allow a continuance of the hearing date one time. If you have to continuously request a new hearing date more than once, the court may choose not to accommodate your requests.
What happens if I miss my scheduled court date?
If you miss your scheduled court date the court will impose some additional consequences. First, most courts will add a late fee of $52 to your ticket fine. Second, the infraction will be found committed. Third, the court will issue an FTA/FTR, which stands for Failure to Appear/Failure to Respond. When an FTA/FTR is issued, the court sends a notification to the Department of Licensing and a process to suspend the driver’s license will be started.
Also, if the FTA/FTR is not addressed within a few days of the missed court hearing, the court will also send the balance due (the ticket fine + the late fee) to collections. The Department of Licensing will send a letter to the address that you have registered with them (typically the address that is listed on your driver’s license, unless you have updated it) informing you of the date of the pending license suspension. Usually, the pending license suspension date with be 30-60 days from the date of the missed court hearing.
What should I wear to my hearing?
You want to dress in professional attire when attending your court hearing. For men, a suit or dress slacks and a nice, clean button down shirt with a tie is a good choice. For women, business professional or business casual attire is preferred. If you do not have a suit or business casual attire that is okay but try to avoid wearing shorts, jeans, tank tops, or clothing with logos or graphics. A plain shirt and dress pants is a good choice for men or women if you do not have a suit to wear to court.
What will happen when I arrive for my hearing?
When you arrive, you will enter the courtroom with all other defendants that are scheduled on the docket (legal word for calendar) that day. All hearings for that particular courtroom and judge are scheduled for the same time, and the judge calls each case in the order he/she sees fit. That means that if your hearing is scheduled for 9:00 AM you may not be called at 9:00 AM. It just depends on where you fall in the order of the docket.
Typically, the judge or the judicial assistant present will do a roll call before any cases are heard. When your name is called simply indicate that you are present so the court can make a note of that. When the judge calls your case you will make your way to the front of the courtroom. If you are not the first case called, you will have to wait in the courtroom until the judge calls your name.
If the docket is short on the day or your hearing, you may not have to wait long. However, if there are a large number of cases on the docket, you may have to wait quite a while. Some of the smaller municipal courts tend to only host hearings on 1 or 2 days of the month, so there may be a large number of cases to address that day. Be prepared to wait for your turn – it is unlikely that you will be in and out of court within an hour or less. Plan the rest of your day’s schedule accordingly, so you are not rushed.
Will the officer be there?
Unless the prosecutor or you have specifically requested that the officer be present at the hearing by issuing a subpoena, it is unlikely that he/she will be there. If you would like the officer to be present at the hearing, an official subpoena must be issued to him/her at least seven days in advance of the hearing. In some cases, the prosecutor may choose to subpoena the officer without notifying you. This is usually because it will benefit their side of the argument in court. However, for most minor infractions with no extenuating circumstances, it is unlikely that the officer will be present.
If the officer does not show do I get my ticket dismissed?
This is something that a lot of people often get confused about. There are two possible scenarios here, and with one of them, yes, there is a good chance that your ticket will be dismissed. If you properly subpoena the officer and he/she does not attend the hearing, AND he/she does not have a reasonable excuse for not making it, then your case can be dismissed with a proper request to the court. Determining whether or not the officer’s excuse for missing the hearing is reasonable is up to the judge. If the officer is not able to make the hearing it is may be rescheduled to accommodate his/her schedule.
It is important to note that to get a dismissal based solely on the fact that the officer did not show (and had no reasonable excuse not to), an official and proper subpoena must have been served to him or her. As mentioned above, unless the officer is subpoenaed, he/she is not required to be present for the hearing. Therefore, if no subpoena was issued and the officer does not attend the hearing, then there would be no grounds for a dismissal based on that alone.
Will the prosecutor be there?
In the State of Washington, prosecutors are not required to be present at a contested hearing for a traffic ticket. Some prosecutors have chosen to be present at these hearings while others have not. Each court is different. In courts where there is no prosecutor, you would argue your case directly to the judge. However, most courts in the greater Puget Sound area do have a prosecutor for infraction cases. However, he/she may or may not be present depending on how the court handles their calendar.
Some courts only choose to schedule infraction cases to dates when a prosecutor will be present if the defendant has hired an attorney to represent them. If the defendant is handling the case on their own (pro se) the court may choose to schedule the hearing for a calendar date when the prosecutor will not be present. Still, for other courts, the prosecutor is present for all infraction cases regardless of whether an attorney will be representing the defendant or not.
The judge called my case, what do I do?
When the judge calls your case you will make your way to the front of the courtroom and take a seat at the table that is set up at the front of the room. Once the judge verifies your name and contact information you will have an opportunity to make any motions to suppress evidence and subsequently share your arguments against the traffic infraction charge against you.
One thing to keep in mind when you are making arguments is that the judge and the prosecutor are concerned with the facts of the case, not the background information or reasoning related to why you were doing what you were doing. For example, the judge and/or prosecutor are not going to be interested in hearing your statements about the fact that other cars in the fast lane were speeding as well and you were just keeping up with the flow of traffic. Try to keep your arguments related to the facts of the case and always be polite and courteous when speaking to the judge and/or prosecutor on the record.
The prosecutor is asking me questions at my contested hearing do I have to answer?
If the prosecutor has chosen to be present at your contested hearing for a traffic ticket, they may call you as a witness and ask you questions regarding your traffic infraction. Now you may be thinking why can’t I simply plead the Fifth? However, since this is a civil case, not a criminal case you do not have a 5th Amendment right to remain silent. This right can become available in limited circumstances but largely will not apply in the most traffic infraction cases.
Therefore, depending on your case, be prepared to answer questions such as, How fast were you going that day? What color was the light when you entered the intersection?
The judge is about to make a decision. What is the burden of proof?
This is another area of confusion for most people. While you often hear that a defendant is presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, that is not the case with traffic infractions. Instead, a preponderance of the evidence has to be established to find an infraction committed. That means that just 51% of the evidence indicates that the defendant was more likely than not to have committed the infraction for the Judge to rule against you.
In other words, the majority of the evidence provided (by you, the city, the prosecutor, the officer, and any other parties involved) supports the fact that the defendant did, in fact, commit the infraction. If you cannot provide enough evidence to support the fact that you did not commit the infraction as it was charged it is likely that the ticket will be found committed.
I lost my contested hearing for a traffic ticket…now what?
If you lose your hearing, you will be required to pay the fine for the ticket, and the infraction will be found committed. Typically, most courts give the defendant 30-60 days or more to take care of the fine payment. Also, some courts will allow you to set up a payment plan so that you can make payments over time until the balance is paid in full. Be sure to inquire about that at the time of the hearing if you do not think you will be able to pay the full amount within the allotted time frame given.
Once the infraction is found committed that information will be reported to the Department of Licensing and the ticket will become part of your driving abstract.
In addition, once an infraction gets reported to the Department of Licensing it becomes visible and available to insurance companies. Most insurance companies will raise your rates after a ticket is found committed or an accident is designated on your driving record. Even a minor speeding ticket of just five mph over the limit could result in a significant increase in your insurance premiums, especially given the fact that committed infractions stay on your driving record for three years in the state of Washington.
This is so confusing; can I hire a traffic ticket lawyer to do this for me?
Absolutely! Honestly, we feel that is the best option for most defendants dealing a traffic infraction. If you hire a local traffic ticket attorney, like us, you will not have to attend the court hearing for your case. The attorney will be present on your behalf, and your attendance will be waived in court. You won’t have to worry about taking off work or what you will say to the Judge when your case is called because you will not have to attend. We take the stress of the court appearance off of your plate so you can focus on more important things.
We have years of experience dealing with traffic ticket cases in dozens of courts all over Washington. We understand the procedures for all of the different courts that we practice in, and we know how to use that knowledge to your advantage in each case. We have long-standing, positive relationships with the prosecutors and judges in each court as well. This allows us to have a much higher level of success than those that choose to defend themselves in court.
Our overall success rate for keeping traffic tickets off of the driver’s record is over 98%, and our experience is unmatched to most in the surrounding area. If you have recently been cited for a Pierce, King, Kitsap, Thurston, Lewis or Snohomish traffic ticket and would prefer to have an attorney represent you instead of dealing with the case yourself, give us a call at (253) 201-2001. If you have other questions that we did not address in this article, feel free to contact us. We look forward to serving you soon!