Appearances & Pleas
The law requires you to appear on the charge(s) filed against you. If you were issued a citation, you have 30 calendar days to appear and take some action on your case. An appearance does not necessarily have to be in person. If you were unable, or refused, to sign the citation, you will be summoned to court by certified mail. If you have been released on bond, your appearance date is set on the bond. If you request a continuance (read the specific section on Continuances), the court will notify you of your new appearance date. You or your attorney may appear in person in open court, by mail, or you may deliver your plea in person to the court. (Juveniles have a separate set of rules for their appearance. Please read the specific section on Juveniles).
Your first appearance is to determine your plea. If you waive a jury trial and plead guilty or nolo contendere (no contest), you may talk to the judge about extenuating circumstances that you want the judge to consider when setting your fine, but the judge is not required to reduce your fine. Before pleading guilty or no contest you will want to read the section on Pleas (see below). If you plead not guilty, the court will schedule a jury trial unless you waive the right. If you waive your right to a jury trial, you will be scheduled for a trial before the judge. When you make your appearance by mail, the court must receive your plea before your scheduled appearance date. If you plead guilty or no contest, you must include a waiver of jury trial. If you plead not guilty, the court will notify you of the date of your trial.
Under our American system of justice, all persons are presumed to be innocent until proven guilty. On a plea of not guilty, a trial is held. As in all criminal trials, the State must prove the guilt of a defendant "beyond a reasonable doubt" of the offense charged in the complaint before the defendant can be found guilty by a judge or jury.
Your decision concerning which plea to enter is very important. You should read the following explanation of all three types of pleas and think carefully before making your decision. If you plead guilty or nolo contendere, you should be prepared to pay the fine. You should contact the court regarding how to make payment.
Plea of Guilty
By a plea of guilty, you admit that the act is prohibited by law and that you committed the act charged. Before entering a plea of guilty; however, you should understand the following:
- The State has the burden of proving that you violated the law (the law does not require that you prove you did not violate the law);
- You have the right to hear the State's evidence and to require the State to prove you violated the law; and
- A plea of guilty may be used against you later in a civil suit if there was a traffic accident (another party can say you were at fault or responsible for the accident because you plead guilty to the traffic charge).
Plea of Nolo Contendere (no contest)
A plea of nolo contendere means that you do not contest the State's charge against you. You will almost certainly be found guilty, unless you are eligible and successfully complete a driving safety course and/or court-ordered probation. Also, a plea of nolo contendere may be used against you in a subsequent civil suit for damages.
Plea of Not Guilty
A plea of not guilty means that you deny guilt and that the State must prove that charge that it filed against you. If you plead not guilty, you need to decide whether to hire an attorney to represent you. If you represent yourself, the following section on The Trial may help you to understand your rights and trial procedure.