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Understanding Traffic Hearings In Washington

At Heritage Law Office, we are often asked by clients about hearings and the process of contesting a traffic ticket.  When you receive a traffic ticket, you may challenge it at a contested hearing.  If you do not wish to contest the ticket, you may request a mitigation hearing to seek a lesser fine.

Your Options at a Court Hearing

At Heritage Law Office, we are often asked by clients about their options after receiving an infraction.  When you receive a traffic ticket, you may challenge the ticket at a contested hearing, request a mitigation hearing to seek a lesser fine, admit to the violation by paying the fine or request a deferral.  

Contested Hearings

A contested hearing is like a trial, but on a smaller scale.  A judge will hear legal motions and arguments from your attorney (or from you directly if you have not retained counsel) and from the prosecuting attorney, if one is present for the hearing (some prosecutors decide not to appear at contested hearings).  Thereafter, the parties will present testimony or other evidence.  

Your attorney may challenge the sufficiency of the report, subpoena the officer to appear at the hearing to testify, or offer evidence on your behalf, and you may testify if you choose to do so.  The prosecutor may subpoena the officer who wrote the ticket to testify, but often the prosecutor will rely on the officer's report.  

After hearing all of the evidence, the judge will make a committed finding or not committed finding (like guilty or not guilty, but these terms are not used for minor traffic infractions).   A traffic infraction is a civil charge, not a criminal charge, so the prosecutor has the burden of proof, but unlike a traditional criminal trial, in which the state must prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, the state must prove by a preponderance of the evidence (more than 50 percent likely) that you committed the traffic infraction.

Mitigation Hearings

If you do not want to contest your traffic ticket, you may choose a mitigation hearing.  At the mitigation hearing, you will admit you committed the infraction and then explain why you did so or why you hope the judge will reduce the fine.  The judge may or may not reduce your fine.  The judge will consider your explanation, the officer's report, and your prior traffic or criminal history, including any prior tickets you have received, even those dismissed.  If the judge reduces the penalty, it is generally not reduced significantly because the bulk of these fines are sent to the State, while the county only keeps a small portion of each fine.  For example, a ticket for $136 might be reduced to $100 because the State will receive about $90 out of that $100.  The infraction will appear on your driving record and can have sometimes have significant ramifications on your license, insurance rates or eligibility, or even employment.

Paying Fine in Lieu of Contesting or Mitigating

By paying the fine on the ticket without contesting or mitigating the infraction you are admitting you committed the infraction. The infraction will appear on your driving record and can have sometimes have significant ramifications on your license, insurance rates or eligibility, or even employment.

Deferral

Washington State allows you to defer a moving violation and a non-moving violation once every seven years, however, the option for the deferral at the judges discretion.  With a deferral, the infraction will be dismissed at the end of the deferral period as long as you meet the terms of the deferral.  If you want to defer, you may contact the court directly by phone or through their website to discuss the terms.  Each court has different terms for deferring a traffic infraction, but generally include the following:

  • Paying a fine, which may be as low as $100.00 or as high as $575.00 (some courts require fine to be paid within 30 days, some longer). 
  • Deferral period of 6 to 12 months.
  • Receiving no moving (and sometimes no infractions of any kind, including non-moving violations such as expired tabs or inattention) infractions during the deferral period 
  • Completion of a 4 hour online driver safety class and provide proof to the court within a specified period of time.
  • Some courts will defer the entire ticket, meaning multiple charges, while other courts will only allow you to defer one charge of multiple charges.   
  • If you have an out-of-state driver's license, the court will likely require you to provide them with a copy of your driving record from your home state at the beginning and at the end of the deferral period.
  • Failure to timely complete any one of the above requirements (if ordered), will cause the deferral to be used and the ticket will go on your record.

There are times when a deferral is the best option for you to take and times that you should not use it.  As a general rule, unless the infraction is a very serious infraction, we do not recommend a person take a deferral on a non-moving violation nor on your first moving infraction. Before making the decision to use your deferral, please contact Heritage Law Office for a free consultation so that we can provide you with an honest recommendation about whether a deferral is a good option for you.  


Helpful Tips

If you have already chosen a mitigation hearing rather than a contested hearing, we may be able to help you request a contested hearing, but time is of the essence, so please contact us immediately.  Please also note that once a court finds that you have committed a traffic infraction or once you start arguing at a hearing that you did not commit the infraction, you may lose your opportunity to obtain a deferral or mitigate the fine.  

Don't wait until you receive a court date to hire an attorney, as this may prevent your attorney from subpoenaing witnesses or using other tools of the profession.  Visit our frequently asked questions page to learn more or to complete a Representation Agreement to begin the process of retaining Heritage Law Office click the link below and complete the online form.  We will then email you within one business day to confirm that we have received the information and are working on your case.

Link: Representation Agreement

Heritage Law Office has not been retained to represent you in this matter until you have completed and submitted the online agreement or PDF agreement and made payment.  If you do not receive an email confirmation within 3-4 days after submission please contact us by phone at 509-899-5375 or by email

 

Contact Heritage Law Office Today

We serve clients in Kittitas County and throughout Eastern, Central and Western Washington.  For a free consultation, contact our law office in Cle Elum.  For assistance, call 509-899-5375 or by email.

Counties We Serve

We serve counties and cities throughout Washington State, including Kittitas, Benton, Chelan, Douglas, Grant, King, Lincoln, Okanogan, Othello, Pierce, Ritzville, Skagit, Snohomish, Spokane, Thurston, Walla Walla, Whatcom, and Yakima. Contact Heritage Law Office for more information.

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