Going to Court
Something has happened. Being polite was not enough for police to just give your client a warning and a ticket has been issued. The first thing will be to determine what kind of ticket it is. In Ontario, there are three ways for a ticket to proceed after being issued. Part 1 tickets do not have court dates but there is an option on the back of the ticket to plead guilty and pay the set fine, plead guilty and make submissions about fine, plead not guilty and sometimes there is an option to speak to a prosecutor. Part 1 matters are prosecuted by the municipality in which they occurred and generally are less serious than Part 3 matters but can still have significant consequences on insurance or civil consequences if there were damages or injuries that occurred. Part 2 matters are parking tickets and proceed somewhat similarly to Part 1 but with different rules for certain types of evidence. Part 3 matters will have a court date noted and require attendance at court. They are prosecuted by the province. Failing to appear can lead to further charges, being found guilty in absentia or even arrest and detention.
on the face of the ticket could lead to the case being thrown out though this is becoming rarer with police using prepopulated forms to issue tickets. As well, making sure that the charge alleged has not already been reduced may be important before making the decision to fight it. For example, most police who reduce a speeding charge from a higher speed at roadside will put something in the “Code” box such as R138 which would indicate that they have already reduced (R) the speed (from 138) so fighting a speeding ticket of 115 in a 100 km/hr zone may not be wise if this code is present. At a trial, the prosecutor my ask for the charge to be amended to the original speed to accord with the evidence provided, leading to a worse result than had the ticket been paid. This requires evidence to be called so a plea on the date of trial can avoid this risk in most circumstances so long as evidence has not been called.
While Part 1 matters give the opportunity to deal with the matter outside of court, the decisions to be made are very similar to those in a Part 3 matter. Pleading guilty is sometimes the best answer and should be considered especially if the charging officer has already reduced the charge at roadside. Pleading guilty and asking for a reduced fine works in many circumstances but the consequences to insurance and demerit points exist even if the fine is reduced. By pleading not guilty and speaking to the prosecutor, sometimes a lesser charge can be agreed to. It is important to know your client’s record and how a conviction will affect their driving ability and insurance before advising.
The first step in defending a traffic case is typically to obtain disclosure. It is important to obtain any police notes, the client’s driving and a copy of the ticket. Depending on the type and complexity of the case this could range from a page or two to huge volumes. It helps to be realistic when reviewing the disclosure and determining potential resolutions. Managing client expectations is sometimes the hardest part of a case. The prosecutor is not likely to withdraw all charges but may agree to a lesser charge or a charge which has different effect on demerit points or insurance. Having a goal when entering into such negotiations is important. It may be as simple as asking for a lesser speed on a speeding ticket but it may be more complicated in a matter where an accident or damages occurred. Avoiding demerit points can be important but some offences with no demerit points have huge impact on insurance costs.
If no acceptable resolution is offered, then consider a judicial pre-trial where a justice might help mediate a resolution. While more common in criminal cases, they are often of some use in traffic matters as well. If this does not help then a trial may be necessary. If you do not regularly appear in a local court, it is often of great benefit to consult with local counsel or paralegals to get the lay of the land. As well, the technicalities and complexities in traffic court such as knowing when to raise an issue like a wrong date so that it is too late for the prosecution to amend it can be the difference between winning or not. While traffic court may seem simplistic, knowing the procedural rules can mean a lot in the result obtained.