Traffic Law FAQ
Where are traffic cases heard? What sort of cases are heard at the Motor Vehicle Administration?
The District Courts around the State of Maryland hear traffic cases. The Office of Administrative Hearings sets cases before the Motor Vehicle Administration. If you are arrested for drunk driving, or drugged driving, you will have the option to go before an OAH Judge. These Judges hear cases involving a person’s driving record in cases involving driving suspended, driving on a revoked license, and drunk driving cases.
I received a traffic ticket. What can I do?
If you receive a payable traffic ticket where jail time is not a possibility, you have several options: either pay the ticket online or through the mail, pay the ticket in person at the District Court nearest you, request a waiver hearing and “plead guilty with an explanation,” or plead not guilty and have a hearing before a Judge. For these final options, it is often helpful to hire an attorney to try and avoid high fines and points on your traffic record.
What happens if I didn’t do anything with the ticket I received?
Ignoring a ticket is never the right answer. The Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration may assess points on your license if you plead guilty or the court finds you guilty of the violation. If you don’t respond within 30 days, the District Court will notify the Motor Vehicle Administration to begin the driver’s license suspension process. If the police officer did not check “This is a payable citation” on your traffic ticket, you must appear in court for trial (for example, in a DUI case). The court will mail you a summons informing you of the trial date.
What happens at traffic court where none of the tickets I received have a possibility of jail time?
If you requested a waiver hearing or trial, the District Court will mail you a date to appear in court. In a waiver hearing you can ask the Judge to reduce or waive your fine. You can also ask the court to give you probation instead of a conviction. There is a possibility that your fine could be increased, up to a maximum of $500. You can explain to the judge why you committed the offense, or explain extenuating circumstances.
What does it mean to request a trial?
The officer who issued your ticket will testify, and you will have an opportunity to present your side of the case. You may present witnesses’ testimony or other evidence. You are responsible for alerting your witnesses of the date, time, and location of your trial. You may choose to have a lawyer represent you. After hearing all of the evidence, the judge will decide whether you are guilty or not guilty. If the court finds you guilty, you have the right to an appeal within 30 days of your trial date. There are non-refundable court costs for filing an appeal. If you change your mind and decide you don’t want to go to court, you can pay the fine at any time up until your court date to avoid going to court. If you don’t appear for your court date, the District Court will notify the Motor Vehicle Administration to begin the driver’s license suspension process.
What is a trial like in a case where I’m charged with a crime that could send me to jail?
See a lawyer right away. A lawyer will explain any defenses you may have to the crimes for which you are charged. Do not ignore your tickets. If you don’t appear in court on a charge that carries a potential jail sentence, the court will issue a warrant for your arrest, called a bench warrant. A bench warrant allows any peace or law enforcement officer in a State in which the warrant was issued to arrest you and take you before a Commissioner for a bond.
What if I receive a Notice to Appear as a witness?
If you receive a Notice to Appear as a witness in a traffic case, the date, time and court location appears on the notice. Call the court the day before the trial date to confirm that the case is still on the docket. If you are unable to appear on the scheduled date, notify the court in writing prior to that date by mail. Include the citation number, defendant’s name, trial date and location, a brief explanation of why you are unable to attend, your name and your daytime phone number.
How long do trials/hearings take?
The length of your trial or hearing can vary by county, and can depend on the number of cases scheduled. Many courts are trying to reduce the time you have to spend in traffic court by scheduling cases on an hourly basis.
I got a Red Light ticket and/or a Speed Camera Ticket. Now what? How and where do I file a complaint against red light or speed monitoring traffic cameras?
The red light, speed monitoring, school bus monitoring, and electronic toll cameras are installed and/or operated at the expense and direction of the locality or municipality or, if on a state highway or toll facility, by the Department of State Police or Maryland Transportation Authority. Complaints about the location or operation of these cameras should be sent to the address on the citation. In most cases this is the address of the police or state agency.
Will I be assessed points if found guilty of a red light, speed monitoring, school bus monitoring, or electronic toll violation camera citation?
As stated on the red light, speed monitoring, school bus monitoring, and electronic toll violation citations: “Payment of the penalty amount for the violation will not result in points and cannot be used to increase your insurance rates.”
How do these red light, speed monitoring, school bus monitoring, and toll violation cameras work?
Various vendors manufacture the cameras used in red light, speed monitoring, school bus, and electronic toll traffic programs. For information on how these cameras operate, contact the local police department in the municipality where the camera is located or, if on a state highway or toll facility, the Maryland State Police or Maryland Transportation Authority.
For any other questions, contact the Customer Service number on the back of the citation or the jurisdiction where the citation was issued. These citation programs are operated by local and municipal governments (or, if on a state highway or toll facility, the Maryland State Police or Maryland Transportation Authority. Maryland courts only handle these citations if the person who was issued a citation requests a trial date or disputes liability.
What does it mean to plead guilty in Traffic Court? What are the different pleas?
In District Court cases, you may plead “guilty” or “not guilty.” There is no Not Guilty Agreed Statement of Fact. And, there is no plea of “innocent.” A guilty plea results in the charge becoming a part of your record. In the case of a traffic ticket, MVA could assess you points. In traffic cases, you may plead “guilty with an explanation” and appear for a hearing. The hearing presents you with an opportunity to explain to the judge why you committed the offense and request that your fine be reduced or waived or ask that you be given probation rather than a conviction because of extenuating circumstances. Lowering your fine is at the discretion of the judge. There is a possibility that your fine could be increased, up to a maximum of $500. If the judge renders a guilty verdict, you have the right to an appeal. There are non-refundable court costs for filing an appeal. If you wish to plead “not guilty,” you must request and appear for a trial where the officer and any witnesses will be present.
What is a verdict? What happens at the end of a case?
When a verdict is rendered— either by a jury or judge—the actual decision is either “guilty” or “not guilty.” There is no finding of “innocent.” If there is a finding of “not guilty,” it simply reflects the fact that the prosecution failed to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Common resolutions of cases other than by findings of “not guilty” and “guilty” include:
- Nolle Pros. The State opts to end the prosecution and dismisses the charge.
- Stet. A stet is like an inactive docket, where the charges sit on a back burner, assuming the defendant does what he or she is supposed to do. The State may reopen the case without the need for the defendant to be recharged, if the defendant has not lived up to his or her end of the bargain. A case may be reopened because of the defendant’s arrest on additional charges or his/her failure to live up to some agreed-to-condition within a reasonable time after the entry of the stet. Often times, a stet will come back to life as a criminal case when a person fails to pay fines, gets arrested again or fails to finish a drug/alcohol treatment program or alternative community service hours.
- PBJ-Probation before judgment. This is a common resolution in many District Court trials and is done pursuant to Courts and Judicial Proceedings, Section 6-220. The defendant is found guilty or pleads guilty. However, the final entry of judgment is technically suspended. This gives the defendant an opportunity to request expungement of his record upon successful completion of the conditions or probation. Note that traffic records do not get expunged, only criminal records. A criminal record is separate from a traffic record in Maryland.