Infractions can be responded to in four different ways:
1) Pay, meaning you send payment with your response and you committed the infraction;
2) Contest, meaning you do not agree the infraction was committed and you request a hearing;
3) Mitigate, meaning the infraction was committed but you want to explain the circumstances
4) If allowed by court rule, contest or mitigate the infraction by submitting a written statement.
In deciding what to do, check the right box by keeping in mind your circumstances and your goals. If you want to just move on, pay the ticket. If you are concerned about your driver's license, your job, or your insurance premiums, contest the ticket. If you know you committed the infraction but you are simply worried about the fine and hope that based on your explanation the judge will reduce the fine, mitigate the ticket.
Anyone who gets an infraction must respond in 15 calendar days if they were given the infraction in person or in 18 days if they received the infraction by mail. Check the appropriate box on the back of the ticket, put your address, sign the ticket, and present it in person. If the local rules allow mail or email, it must be postmarked or emailed by midnight of the day the response is due. Keep a copy of the ticket and proof of mailing for your records. If you don't respond to a traffic infraction, it is not a crime but a fine will be assessed and your license will be suspended by the Department of Licensing upon notification by the court. If you don't respond to a non-traffic civil infraction, judgment will be entered against you, the prosecutor may be notified, and you could be guilty of a misdemeanor. You should receive a hearing date within 3 weeks of your response.
If you wish, request a copy of your police report
If you wish to contest the infraction, you can request a copy of the officer's report to aid in your investigation of the case. Send a written request to the appropriate prosecutor's office and file that with the court as well. Keep copies of any request for your records.
Go to Court
If you contest or mitigate the infraction, you must appear in court. If you fail to go to court for a traffic infraction, it is not a crime but the court will enter judgment against you and notify DOL to suspend your license. If you fail to go to court for a non-traffic civil infraction, it is a crime. Be on time and dress appropriately in respect of the court. If you are contesting the infraction and you have witnesses, make sure those witnesses are present. If you have any paperwork, make sure you bring that to court as well. Though you might wait 1 to 3 hours for your case to be called, you are expected to be on time and wait.
Listen to the Judge
The judge will explain the nature of the hearing, the available options, and also discuss the option of a deferred finding. Under state statute and if you qualify, a deferred finding is available once every seven years on a moving and non-moving violation. The terms of the deferment and whether you qualify vary among the courts, but typically if you pay costs and maintain a clean record for whatever time the court suggests, the case will be dismissed. A deferred finding is not available on some infractions, but the rules vary among the courts. The judge will tell you that a deferred finding is available only before you contest the infraction. You cannot fight the ticket, lose, and then seek a deferred finding.
State your Case
When your name is called, the judge will typically ask if you have any "preliminary motions". These are legal in nature and if you have any, that is the time to make them. Only make legal motions if you know how to state them properly and if they apply to your situation. If you don't have any legal motions, then the court will read the officer's report into the record and ask if you have any witnesses or wish to give testimony. If a prosecutor is there, the officer is typically present and testifies. If you want the officer present, you must subpoena the officer. You will also have an opportunity to ask questions of the officer. After the officer is done, you may present your witnesses and testify. If there is a prosecutor, the prosecutor will ask questions of you and your witnesses. You will have an opportunity to make closing remarks and last statements about your case before the judge makes a ruling.
Follow the Court's Ruling
The judge will rule on the evidence presented by determining whether there is a "more likely than not" probability that you committed the infraction. If you committed the infraction, the judge will impose the full penalty which you must pay within the time prescribed by the Court. If you wish to appeal a decision to the Superior Court, you must do so within 30 days. Sometimes a judge may lower the fine on their own after an unsuccessful contested hearing, but this is up to the judge.
In the end, whether you pay, mitigate, contest, or defer, you must do as the court says or risk possibly more courts and a license suspension.