What to Expect at a Mitigation Hearing for a Traffic Ticket
A driver who receives a ticket in Washington State has 15 days to choose from among three options:
- Pay the ticket
- Contest the infraction
- Ask for a mitigation hearing
In 2018, law enforcement officers issued 738,746 traffic tickets to drivers in Washington State. More drivers – about 13% of all those ticketed – requested mitigation hearings than contested hearings. This is unfortunate because most people simply don’t understand what a mitigation hearing is.
In the long run, a fine reduction won at a mitigation hearing is nothing compared with the cost of higher insurance rates and the other impacts of adding a ticket to a motorist’s driving record.
What is a mitigation hearing?
In a mitigation hearing, the driver agrees an infraction was committed but then explains the circumstances – how and why it happened – in the hope that the judge will reduce the fine.
For example, in a speeding infraction case, the driver admits to speeding but wants to explain why. It’s important to understand that even if the reason seems quite legitimate, the judge won’t dismiss the ticket at a mitigation hearing.
To get a ticket dismissed, a driver should request a contested hearing to argue that the infraction didn’t occur.
A common mistake I see: people believe that because they have a good driving record, the judge maybe will give them a break. This could not be further from the truth! The judge is there to determine whether the driver committed an infraction on that particular day. Past driving habits and records are irrelevant.
When should I request a mitigation hearing?
It only makes sense to request a mitigation hearing when dealing with certain non-moving violations, such as driving without insurance or with an expired registration. Typically, when a driver shows the court that that the problem has been rectified, the judge will significantly reduce the fine. For example, a no-insurance infraction in Washington State carries a $550 fine. The judge often will reduce that fine by $300 or more if the driver shows they purchased insurance after the fact.
Do I get points on my license when I mitigate my traffic ticket?
Washington State does not use a point system; we are one of the few states that don’t. We do have limits about how many tickets a driver can accrue before incurring a license suspension, but we do not have a point system in the traditional sense.
Should I Request a Mitigation Hearing?
In Washington state, there are three ways in which an individual can respond to a traffic ticket. The three options include:
- Simply paying the ticket;
- Requesting a mitigation hearing; and
- Requesting a contested hearing.
Today we will delve into the details of option number two a Mitigation Hearing. We will discuss what a mitigation hearing is and also share our thoughts on why you should not go with a mitigation hearing except for special circumstances.
What is a Mitigation Hearing?
A mitigation hearing in Washington State is a hearing where the defendant (you) has a chance to explain the circumstances of the incident to the judge. At a mitigation hearing, you will not have the chance to dispute the charges of the traffic citation.
Typically, there is no prosecutor present and you will not see attorneys representing their clients there either. Instead, you will be there to agree that you committed the infraction with the understanding that the infraction will go on your driving record. However, you will have an opportunity to explain why you were driving that way.
What Will Happen at a Mitigation Hearing?
You will be requesting that the judge reduce the fine of your ticket. However, the judge has no obligation to do so and there is no guarantee that the judge will agree to reduce the fine at a mitigation hearing. In most cases, the choice to reduce the fine is up to the judge. However, there are some traffic infractions the judge is prohibited from reducing by law. A common infraction that cannot be reduced is speeding in a school zone.
Once again, you will not have the chance to dispute the charges you are simply asking to explain the circumstances. If the judge does agree to reduce the fine on the ticket it will still be found committed and it will go on your driving record. A reduction in the fine is not the same as a reduction of the charges.
Do I Have to be Present in Court for a Mitigation Hearing?
For many courts, you can complete a mitigation hearing by mail or online. To complete a mitigation hearing by mail you would simply submit a written statement or letter to the court explaining the circumstances of the incident and request for a reduction in the ticket fine.
If you complete a mitigation hearing by mail you will not have to attend a court hearing in person. It is important to note that requesting a dismissal of the charges at a mitigation hearing (either in person or by mail) is ultimately going to be a waste of your time.
Should I Choose a Mitigation Hearing?
A mitigation hearing is not the hearing to try dispute the infraction or request a dismissal. If you are trying to fight the charges on the ticket you should request a Contested Hearing, rather than a mitigation hearing.
At a contested hearing you could have the chance of a dismissal or an amendment to a non-moving violation, which would keep the ticket off of your record. With either of those results could also come a lower court fine. Be sure to check out our next post for more on that and the ins and outs of a contested hearing!
Although a mitigation hearing is typically not what we recommend, there are a few limited situations where a mitigation hearing may be the best choice for you. If you are cited for a non-moving violation such as expired tabs or operating a motor vehicle without insurance, a mitigation hearing may be the best way to go.
Generally, non-moving violations do not affect your insurance rates. Therefore, it is often simpler for you to take care of the infraction with a mitigation hearing rather than contesting it or hiring a Washington State traffic ticket lawyer.
You may also have the option to defer the infraction if you have a non-moving deferral available.
What if I Have Multiple Charges on the Same Ticket?
Keep in mind that if there are other charges on the ticket in addition to a non-moving violation choosing a mitigation hearing will not allow you to dispute the moving violation(s). For example, if you were cited for both speeding and no insurance on the same ticket and you opt for a mitigation hearing you will be admitting guilt to both charges.
Although the no insurance charge is a non-moving violation and unlikely to raise your insurance rates, the speeding charge will go on your driving record and most definitely raise your rates. In a mitigation hearing, the two violations will not be addressed separately. However, if you were to ask for a contested hearing, you could fight the speeding ticket and ask to reduce (mitigate) the no insurance infraction.
Can I Still Hire an Attorney if I Have Already Requested a Mitigation Hearing?
If you have already requested a mitigation hearing you can still hire an attorney on the case and it is probably the better option for you overall. If you have received a traffic ticket in Tacoma, WA or throughout the greater Puget Sound and have requested a mitigation hearing or thinking of requesting one give us a call first! If you choose to hire our firm after the free consultation, we will contact the court to change your hearing to contested so that we can dispute the charges. Just make sure that you contact us before the mitigation hearing takes place and do your best not to miss any hearing you have scheduled with the court.
Once the hearing has been changed to a contested hearing, our firm will do everything possible to keep the infraction off of your driving record. Typically we achieve either a dismissal or an amendment to the original infraction which prevents the charge(s) from becoming part of your driving abstract.