Traffic Court Seattle blog post (534 x 300 px)

Roadmap to Justice: How to Navigate Traffic Court

If you want to challenge a traffic violation, your destination is traffic court. 

Traffic court is quite different from criminal court. Instead of pleading your case to a jury, a judge calls the shots. Instead of worrying about time behind bars, the harshest penalty is usually a fine. 

If you’ve received a ticket and when to contest it in traffic court, here’s what you can expect: 

Your Arraignment

Your first court date is usually called an “arraignment.” We recommend getting to the courthouse early to find out what courtroom you’ll be in. There, a clerk or bailiff will give you the lay of the land. Then, the judge takes the bench and starts flipping through the docket. When your name’s up, you declare your plea: guilty or not guilty. 

If you plead guilty, that’s your green light to pay up. You may get a discount if the judge is feeling generous, but don’t expect it. 

By pleading not guilty, you are requesting a traffic court trial. Fighting the ticket is usually better than paying for it, even if you’re at fault. The consequences are often greater than just paying your fine. The judge sets a trial date and summons the officer who tagged you, letting them know they have a court date. 

Your Traffic Court Trial

Traffic court trials are like a stripped-down version of criminal court. However, they can still be challenging for someone without a legal background. 

Traffic court trials tend to follow a similar formula: 

1. The Officer Presents Evidence and Testifies

First, the traffic officer takes the stand and provides testimony regarding the alleged violation. Their testimony usually includes details of the incident and any evidence gathered, like radar readings or eyewitness accounts. They may also present relevant documents, such as photographs or the ticket itself. 

2. Cross-examination of the Officer

You or your legal representative have the opportunity to cross-examine the officer. You can ask questions to clarify points, challenge their testimony, and highlight inconsistencies or doubts. 

3. The Officer Concludes Their Testimony

After the cross-examination, the officer has the opportunity to clarify any points you or your attorney raised. If the judge has any additional questions, they’ll ask them before excusing the officer from the bench. 

4. Your Chance to State Your Case

In both traffic and criminal court, you have the chance to defend yourself. After the officer makes their case, you have the option to make yours. You can provide your perspective on the incident and present any relevant evidence or witnesses to support your case. However, if you’re not a legal professional, we strongly recommend having a ticket attorney plead your case for you. 

5. Judge’s Decision

After all the testimony and evidence have been presented, the judge considers it and renders a decision. The judge evaluates the evidence, considers your testimony and that of your witnesses, and applies relevant legal standards to determine whether you are guilty or not guilty. Typically, they announce this decision in court, concluding your trial. 

Your Day in Traffic Court

We strongly recommend hiring a ticket attorney if you don’t have a legal background. The stakes of traffic court may not be as high as they are in criminal court, but you’ll still want to tip the scales in your favor. Don’t pay the fine. Hire a professional to get it dismissed instead.