There are generally two categories of traffic infractions:
- (1) Moving Violations: These include speeding and running red lights or stop signs.
- (2) Non-Monving Violations: These include illegal parking, such as parking in a disabled spot without a placard, parking next to an expired meter, or parking in a "No Parking" zone.
In Washington State, most traffic infractions are "civil" and NOT "criminal". This means that it will not be reflected in your criminal record, nor will you receive jail time for the infraction. However, there are consequences to receiving a traffic ticket. If you receive a traffic ticket, you have three options:
- (1) Pay the ticket
- (2) Contest the ticket
- (3) Explain mitigating circumstances
If you fail to do any of the above, your fines will go to collections and the DMV may suspend your driver's license.
Pay the Ticket:
If you pay the ticket, not only have you spent money on the ticket, but your insurance premiums may also increase. Further, you may be put on driver's license probation for one year if you receive either:
- (1) Four traffic tickets within one year, OR
- (2) Five traffic tickets within two years
If you commit two traffic infractions during a probationary period, your driver's license will be suspended for 30 days.
Contest the Ticket:
There are multiple ways to contest a traffic ticket, such as proving that there was insufficient notice of infraction, that the evidence against you is hearsay, or that the police report doesn't contain elements of the violation. The burden is on the prosecution to prove that it is more likely than not that you committed the violation. Sometimes, fighting a traffic infraction can depend on complicated procedural laws that require the knowledge and skill of a defense attorney. Therefore, the help of a defense attorney is strongly advised.
Explain Mitigating Circumstances:
By choosing to explain mitigating circumstances, you will have the opportunity to appear before a judge at a hearing. There is a good chance in many cases that the fine will be reduced by half or more. However, a mitigation hearing will not result in a dismissal. So, it is crucial to note that if you choose to explain mitigating circumstances, you are admitting guilt and asking for a reduced fine. The infraction will still be reflected in your record. If you choose to request a mitigation hearing, you will want to appear with most effective strategy possible to reduce your fine as much as you can. Therefore, the help of a skilled defense attorney is strongly advised.
Moreover, by requesting a mitigation hearing, you have the opportunity to request a deferral. This means that the court finds you guilty of committing the infraction in question, but defers that finding for a period of up to one year. During that time, the infraction is not recorded. If you do not commit any other infractions during that time, then the court will dismiss the ticket and it will not appear on your driving record. If, however, you do commit another infraction during that period, both infractions will appear on your record. Also, there are two limitations to requesting a deferral:
- (1) You may not receive more than one deferral in seven years, AND
- (2) You are not eligible if you have a commercial license
Note: Deferrals are also available if you choose to contest a ticket, but you must request the deferral after you request a hearing, but before your case actually begins.