Beginning in 2011, the Maryland Legislature changed the procedures in how a defendant can respond to his or her non-incarcerable traffic citation. These are citations that do not carry the possibility of any jail time. So, primarily we're talking about speeding tickets. Other types of non-incarcerable tickets are registation violations and unsafe lane changes.
Under the prior rules, any time a driver received a speeding ticket, he or she would automatically be notified of a hearing date through a letter sent by the District Court. Under the new rules, hearings are not automatically scheduled. If the driver decides to defend the charge, he or she has the burden of requesting a hearing in writing to the District Court within 30 days of receipt of the citation. But it's a little more complicated than that. A driver has the option of choosing one of two types of hearings:
1. WAIVER HEARING
What's the difference between the two and which one should YOU CHOOSE?
A waiver hearing is one in which the driver pleads guilty and "waives" a trial but has the opportunity to appear and explain mitigating circumstances to the Judge, in the hope that the Judge will offer a Probation Before Judgment (PBJ), a non-conviction, or, at least, lower the points and fines. Essentially, this is pleading guilty with an explanation. And Judges are typically appreciative and more leniant towards defendants who own up to speeding on the road.
A trial is one in which the Court will summons the officer to appear and you will have the opportunity to try the case either on your own, or with the assistance of an attorney.
The reality, however, is that a driver is almost always unsuccessful at trial in "speeding court." 99% of the time, the Judge will believe the cops "version" of the stop over the driver's. Speeding charges are difficult to beat in a trial. You are much better off pleading guilty with an explanation and have you or your attorney respectfully explain the circumstances for the violation and argue for a PBJ or reduced penalties and fines.
So if a waiver hearing is usually the best approach to take with a speeding ticket, why am I advising all my clients to check off the REQUEST A TRIAL DATE box?
Simply put, the District Court Judges and Clerks of the Court are not all on the same page with how handle the two different types of hearing requests. I have been to "speeding court" all over the state of Maryland defending drivers since the procedures took effect and have noticed inconsistencies among the many courthouses.
Some Judges make absolutely no distinction between the two types of hearings and allow the defendant to either plead guilty with an explananation or go to trial when their case is called in court. And, of course, if the police officer does not appear, the defendant's case is thrown out.
On the other hand, some Judges literally separate the defendants into two groups in advance of their court dates (trial defendants and waiver trial defendants) and do not require the police officers to appear for those who requested a waiver trial. So, in this situation, a defendant who has requested a trial (even though he or she is unlikely to win) can have their case thrown out if the police officer does not appear in court. Those who have requested a waiver hearing have no shot at getting their case thrown out because the police officer is not required to appear. Therefore, in this scenario, it is in your best interest to request a trial because you will always have a chance at getting your case thrown out if the police officer does not show up. And, by the way, in this scenario, the Judge will still allow those defendants who requested a trial to plead guilty with an explanation. As you can see, requesting a trial is the most advantagous strategy if you find yourself in this type of courtroom.
Officers frequently do not appear in "speeding court." There is no better outcome than having your case called and finding out the police officer did not show up for court. You are found "not guilty" and free to leave. Without an officer present to testify, the State has no evidence against you and the Judge is forced to dimiss your case. But if you request a waiver hearing trial, the Court may not require the officer do appear and, thus, you have no shot at getting your case dismissed on a technicality.
At the end of the day, pleading guilty with an explanation is the best legal strategy to minimize the consequences of a speeding ticket, which could result in points on your license and drastically increased insurance rates.
But until the all the judges, clerks and courthouses are on the same page with the new non-incarcerable traffic ticket procedures, it is in your best interest to REQUEST A TRIAL if you are pulled over and issued a traffic citation.
Lastly, keep in mind again that hearings are not automatically scheduled anymore after you receive a citation. You now have 30 days to either pay the ticket or request one of the two types of hearings described above. If you do not take any actions within that period, the MVA may be notified and take action to suspend your license.
If you wish to speak to an attorney further about these types of legal matters, call the LAW OFFICES OF ADAM M. SMALLOW today at (410) 777-8960 for a free consultation.