Reasonable Doubt: How to deal with a traffic ticket in B.C.
I got a phone call this week from someone that needed some help disputing a traffic ticket. What I thought was a person interested in being a client was actually just someone looking for free advice. Perhaps naively, I explained everything then told her my rates. She told me then that she would probably just try doing it herself. Ah, c’est la vie.
At any rate, why keep this information to myself? I may as well share it with all of you.
So you’ve received a traffic ticket—perhaps for changing lanes incorrectly, texting, or speeding or anything else. What to do, what to do?
First of all, you need to decide fairly quickly if you want to dispute it. Some people feel that they were truly in the wrong and should pay the fine. Some of us are not so noble. Some of us realize, correctly, that the points that come attached to a particular ticket can mean increased premiums from ICBC or even a driving prohibition.
So, figure out your liability. Check out whether or not the offence that you’ve been ticketed for comes with points attached. You can do this on the ICBC website. Remember accumulating a certain number of points can mean continuous driving prohibitions from ICBC.
When you decide to dispute your ticket you have 30 days to send in your dispute form. Print it out off the Internet and fill it out.
Eventually, you will receive a court date from traffic court. This is your chance to be heard in court. Before you attend court that date, you have some homework to do. Sit yourself down, look at your ticket, and figure out which police officer issued you your ticket. Figure out which detachment he or she works at. Send a letter to that police officer requesting to have their notes. This is called knowing the case against you in order to make full answer and defence. You are entitled to these notes.
You may receive them before the hearing date or you may not. If you do receive them, study them. Has the police officer taken detailed enough notes to convict you of your traffic ticket? Are all the details correct?
Regardless of what you receive or don’t receive, you must appear in court on the date of your hearing. Show up 15 to 20 minutes before the designated time. This is when all the negotiations take place. Before you go, try to decide what would be a good result for you. Would you be willing to accept the fine, just not the points? If so then perhaps you can agree with the police officer to plead to a different offence that doesn’t have any points attached. Or plead to the ticketed offence as the registered owner of the car and not the driver. This way you pay the fine, but don’t get the points on your licence.
Or absolute best-case scenario, the cop does not show up. Or shows up, but tells you he is not going to call any evidence. This means you get off scot free.
The other situation, the cop shows up but forgot to send you his notes. In this case you’ll go into the court room and ask the presiding justice of the peace for an adjournment because you have not received the disclosure you requested on (insert date of letter).
When the court opens, you’ll be directed to go into the court room. Walk in and sit in the gallery—one of the many seats behind the wooden gate. The JP is the person sitting up on the high bench facing you. The JP will likely go through everyone in the court room and ask for their name.
Depending on the JP’s method of organization, he will call you up when he’s ready. You and the cop that gave you the ticket will proceed past the gate. The police officer will tell the JP what is going on, what he is prosecuting you for, if a deal has been reached, and whether or not there is going to be a hearing. Then the JP will ask to hear from you. How are you pleading—guilty or not guilty? Are you asking for an adjournment? If you are, be ready with the date that you would like to put the hearing to—usually something sometime in the next month.
If you are eager to proceed to having a hearing, good luck with that. Traffic court is a bit like a rodeo where anything can happen. The normal rules of evidence do not seem to apply and the law is interpreted loosely. All the best stuff happens at the negotiating phase.
You can ask for time to pay from the JP. Or you can proceed directly to the area where you have to pay right after your hearing.
Reasonable Doubt appears on Straight.com on Fridays. The column’s writers, Laurel Dietz and Nancy Seto, are criminal defence lawyers at Cobb St. Pierre Lewis. You can send your questions for the column to them at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A word of caution: Don’t take this column as personal legal advice, because it’s not. It is intended for general information and entertainment purposes only.