Reasonable Doubt: Five things you need to know about fighting your traffic ticket

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      No one enjoys receiving a traffic ticket, particularly when it is undeserved. Fighting your ticket can be a challenge, depending on your level of familiarity with the process. Here are five things you need to know about fighting your traffic ticket in British Columbia.

      1. How to dispute your ticket

      Understanding how to dispute a traffic charge can be confusing, and the process depends on the type of ticket and how it was issued. There are two main types of charges you may receive at the roadside: (1) a violation ticket pursuant to the Motor Vehicle Act (MVA), or (2) an Appearance Notice pursuant to the MVA or the Criminal Code of Canada.

      Violation tickets involve minor infractions under the MVA. The process for disputing violation tickets is found in Section 15 of B.C.’s current Offence Act. You may dispute either the alleged offence or the fine imposed. You must deliver a Notice of Dispute within 30 days in person to the provincial-court registry indicated on the front of the ticket. You may also mail your Notice of Dispute, and the address will be provided on your ticket. The dispute process for violation tickets is fairly informal, requires a hearing, and will be held in front of a justice of the peace on date that is scheduled after you have served the Notice of Dispute.

      Appearance notices cover more serious offences, which are set out in what is called an Information and require your attendance in court. Informations are more complicated and deal with serious offences. They require your attendance in provincial court even if you do not intend to dispute the charge. It is possible to receive a summons some time after the roadside stop, which is either served by an officer or sent to you in the mail.

      At your first appearance (which will happen on the date you are first required to attend court), you may choose to do any one of the following: plead guilty, plead not guilty and fix a trial date, or ask for more time to decide whether to hire a lawyer or to consider whether you will plead guilty or not guilty. It is important to note that at your first appearance you will receive what are called “particulars”, which set out the evidence of the police regarding your alleged offence.

      You may wish to enter a guilty plea at your first appearance, but it may be wise to review your particulars before entering your plea, in order to determine whether you may have a defence to the charge or whether the Crown prosecutor may not be able to prove that you committed the offence due to some gap in the evidence. Therefore, it is wise to ask for a week or two to review the particulars before you enter a guilty plea.

      Some MVA offences are also municipal-bylaw violations, which often have lower fines, no penalty points, and are not counted on your permanent driving record. For example, some speeding violations and running a red light might also be bylaw violations. Therefore, you might be ticketed for the bylaw violation as opposed to the MVA offence, saving you money and demerit points. A sympathetic police officer might decide to ticket you with the municipal violation instead of the MVA offence, so it pays to be polite and courteous to the officer, explain why you made a mistake, and kindly ask if there is anything the office can do to help you out. Try not to specifically ask for a lower penalty. Disputing municipal-bylaw violations usually have shorter deadlines than disputing violation tickets, so read the information you receive very carefully.

      If you have questions regarding the various dispute processes, attend your nearest court registry within a day or two of receiving your ticket. This way, you will be able to meet any disputing requirements regardless of the varying deadlines.

      2. Errors that might void your charge

      Many people believe that any error on your ticket will cause the ticket to get set aside. Unfortunately, this is not the case for small errors such as an incorrect vehicle registration number, a misspelled name, an incorrect time or place of the alleged offence, or the fact that the wrong MVA or Criminal Code offence section number is listed. These types of small errors may be changed, or amended, at any time during your hearing or trial. If you are prejudiced in your defence by not having notice that the error would be amended, you may ask the court for an adjournment, and you will be able to set a new hearing or trial date, allowing you time to adjust your defence.

      On the other hand, the following errors may lead to your ticket being set aside: no defendant name is listed, no offence date is shown, the description of the offence does not match the wording of an actual offence, or the police officer did not sign the ticket. As well, if the following items are not listed on the ticket, it may be set aside: there is no statement of the alleged offence, there is no fine amount listed, or there is no street address listed where you may personally deliver a Notice of Dispute.

      It is important to note that even if the ticket has a flaw that may get it set aside, you must dispute it. Your ticket will not be automatically set aside even if it contains an error the judge would say voids your charge.

      3. Disputing the charge

      If you do not agree with the alleged offence, you will want to dispute it. Depending on whether it is a violation ticket or an Information, you may wish to request disclosure from the police (in the case of a violation ticket) or the Crown prosecutor (if you face charges in an Information) setting out any evidence that may not have been included in your particulars. For example, there may exist some audio or video recording of the offence; you may wish to request the police officer’s notes; or there may be witnesses you would want to speak with. Remember that you will receive particulars from the Crown when you attend your first appearance. Follow-up requests for disclosure would be directed to the Crown for evidence that may exist but that is not contained in the particulars.

      Many people believe that it is a good idea to dispute a ticket in the hopes the officer does not attend the hearing or trial. It would be wise to have a plan if the officer does attend, because if he or she does, your hearing or trial will proceed and you will be required to provide a defence. If you have no defence, the justice of the peace or the Judge may become frustrated with you for taking up court time and resources. Remember that ignorance of the law is no excuse; that is, it is not a defence to say you didn’t know you were doing anything wrong.

      If you do not have a defence to the charge, you may wish to focus on disputing the fine.

      4. Disputing the fine

      Even if you do not want to dispute the alleged offence, you may decide to dispute the fine amount if you will have difficulty paying it. The Court may take into consideration your financial means and may reduce the amount. The Court may also grant you an extended length of time to pay your fine, and extensions are available through a justice of the peace if you have been making at least some payments, even if they are very small amounts. However, if your time to pay has expired and you have not made any payments, you would be required to make a Court application to extend your time to pay.

      5. Negotiating with the Crown prosecutor

      In some circumstances, you may be able to negotiate with the Crown prosecutor and arrange what is known as a “plea bargain”. Plea bargains are advantageous if you are facing more than one charge, or are facing a charge that may be reduced to a lesser included offence in exchange for a guilty plea. For example, if you are charged with excessive speeding, the Crown might agree to reduce the charge to speeding in return for a guilty plea. In this case, you are taking responsibility and, in return, you receive a reduced penalty. The Crown might also reduce the amount of a fine if you communicate your financial circumstances but are taking responsibility for your actions. In all cases, the sooner you negotiate with the Crown, and the sooner you enter guilty pleas, the more lenient both the Crown and the court will be in the circumstances.


      A word of caution: you should not act or rely on the information provided in this column. It is not legal advice. To ensure your interests are protected, retain or formally seek advice from a lawyer.