Before the Case
Typically, you find out about a traffic ticket when an officer hands it to you, leaves it on your windshield, or you get it in the mail. You may also find out about the ticket when you receive a "Courtesy Notice" in the mail from the Court.
What is a Courtesy Notice?
After giving you a ticket, law enforcement sends the Court a copy of the ticket to start a traffic court case. Once they get the ticket, the Court will mail out another Notice. The notice has information to help you take care of your ticket. This is called a "Courtesy Notice."
This Courtesy Notice will give information about:
- Whether you have to go to Court or if you can handle the ticket by mail, phone, or online
- The deadline to respond to the Court without additional fines or fees
- The amount of money due to the Court for this ticket (called the “bail”)
- If this is a correctable offense (a "fix it" ticket) or if you may be able to attend traffic school
- Options for how to ask for a trial
NOTE: Even if you do not get a courtesy notice, it is your responsibility to get information about deadlines or amounts due. If you do not receive a courtesy notice, contact the court before the “promise to appear” date on your ticket. Ask a clerk to let you know what you need to do. Find contact information for the court in your county.
Read the "Notice to Appear" section on the ticket.
- The law you have been accused of breaking;
- The deadline to pay the ticket or go to court;
- The name of the court that will decide your case, and
- What you must do to respond to the ticket.
TIP: DO NOT ignore a traffic ticket. Fees and other penalties will be added if you miss your deadlines.
1. Parking tickets
Tickets for illegally parking, often left on your car windshield or mailed to you, are handled by the City or Agency that gave you the ticket. The Court does not handle these type of tickets.
- Follow the instructions on the ticket for how to pay or contest the ticket.
- If you contested a parking ticket through the City or Agency and lost, you have the right to appeal their decision in Superior Court. There is a $25.00 filing fee. You can't appeal to the Superior Court unless you first contested the ticket through the agency that gave you the ticket.
2. Infraction traffic tickets
An infraction is a minor offense that is usually punished with a fine, traffic school, or community service. It is not punishable by jail time.
Examples of traffic infractions:
- Moving violations – driving too fast or running a red light.
- Driving without proof of insurance for your vehicle.
- Car registration or driver’s license violations.
- Having broken equipment that you need to fix.
3. Misdemeanor traffic tickets
A misdemeanor traffic offense is a more serious offense, like reckless driving, driving under the influence (DUI), or driving on a suspended license. These offenses may be punished with jail time. These cases are heard in the Criminal Division of the Court. In any criminal case where you may face jail time you have a right to an attorney, even if you can't afford one. If you can't afford one, the Court will appoint you one.
The Traffic Section of this website only addresses infractions. If you are facing a misdemeanor traffic offense, go to your local court's website to find information about the Criminal Court Division and how to get appointed an attorney.
There are many ways to handle a traffic ticket. Below are some options to consider. Each Court handles tickets a bit differently, so check with your local Court to find out more about these options. You can often find more detailed information on the Court's website.
If You Want to Plead Guilty and Pay the Fine
1. Pay the full amount and have any issues fixed before the due date (unless the courtesy notices says you have a mandatory appearance).
- Payments may be made in person, by mail, or on-line.
- If the ticket also requires proof of vehicle registration or insurance, or proof that an equipment violation was fixed, you will need to get proof that you had the issue fixed. Instructions on how to get proof are on the back of the ticket you received.
2. Request Traffic School and Pay the Fine.
- If you qualify, you can ask to attend traffic school. You will need to pay all the fines and fees, in addition to the cost of the school.
- The advantage is that points won't be added to your driving record.
3. Appear in Court and Plead Guilty.
- You can go to Court before the deadline and plead guilty.
- The judge will then set the amount of money you owe and give you a due date.
If You Want a Trial
4. Plead not guilty and request a trial by the deadline.
- You may request a trial in person in Court or at the Traffic Clerk’s Office.
- You may also request one by mail.
- You may have to pay your fines before trial. If you are found "not guilty," the Court will return the money.
5. Plead not guilty and request a trial by written declaration
- You may request a trial by written declaration in person at the Traffic Clerk’s Office -- or by writing to the court to request this kind of a trial -- before the due date.
- You must pay your fines and fees when you submit your request. If you are found "not guilty," the Court will return the money.
- People often choose this option if they live far away from the court.
If You Cannot Afford to Pay
Ability to Pay Determination If you are unable to pay for your basic needs and the full ticket amount, you can ask the Court to consider your ability to pay. Some Courts require you to ask in person, others have forms you must fill-out, or information you must provide. Call or check the Court's website to find out how to get the Court to consider your ability to pay.
If the Court finds that you are unable to pay your full ticket amount, the Court may (1) lower the amount you owe, (2) set-up a payment plan, or (3) give you community service.
- Find a phone number or Court website for your court to find out how to get an Ability to Pay Determination.
Below are some of your basic rights in a traffic ticket case.You have the right to:
- Know the charges against you--meaning what laws you are accused of breaking.
- Know the maximum possible punishment if found guilty.
- Enter a plea, such as, guilty or not guilty.
- Have an attorney represent you in court.
- The court will not give you one, but you can hire one.
- A trial - in front of a judge or by written declaration.
- Once you ask for a trial, the trial must take place within 45-days, unless you agree to a later date.
- Present witnesses or evidence to support your side.
- You can subpoena any witnesses or documents you may need.
- Ask questions about the witnesses or evidence the other side may bring.
- The other side can bring their own witnesses and evidence. You can ask these witnesses questions and see the evidence the other side brings and ask questions about it.
- Testify for yourself.
- If you want, you can tell the judge your side. This means the judge and the other side will get to also ask you questions.
- Remain Silent.
- You can choose to not testify and say nothing.
- Your silence can't be used against you. Meaning just because you don't tell your side doesn't mean the judge can assume you are guilty.
For a "Notice to Appear" ticket, call the court listed on the ticket.
There is a lot court staff CAN do for you including:
- Explain and answer questions about how the court works;
- Provide the number of local lawyer referral services;
- Give general information about court rules, procedures and practices;
- Provide court schedules and information on how to get a case scheduled;
- Provide information from your case file;
- Provide court forms and instructions that are available;
- Usually answer questions about court deadlines and how to compute them.
REMEMBER: Court clerks are not attorneys. They cannot give you legal advice, predict what the court will do in your situation, or tell you what you should do to clear your ticket. They also are not judicial officers. They cannot reduce your bail or dismiss your case.