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How to Fight a Traffic Ticket in Washington State

Posted by attorney Jon Zimmerman

If you have been pulled over by a police officer, you were probably asked to provide your license, registration, and insurance documentation before being given one or more citations on a "notice of infraction," or ticket. This guide will explain what to do next so that you can challenge the ticket and possibly avoid paying fines or having your insurance rates increase.

Identify the type of ticket you received

In Washington, an infraction is a non-criminal offense that carries a fine. Infractions may affect your insurance rate and your privilege to drive. Infractions can be issued by city police officers, deputy sheriffs, members of the Washington State Patrol, prosecutors, and even persons enforcing animal control laws. By contrast, a criminal traffic violation is a criminal offense that, in addition to carrying a fine, may also lead to jail time.

If you received a green or white ticket, you probably received an infraction and will be charged a fine. However, if the ticket is gold, you likely received a criminal traffic violation with a notice indicating that you are being charged with a criminal offense, such as driving with a suspended license, and you must appear in court.

You can not ignore a criminal charge by simply paying a fine; you will have to make an appearance in court, and you should consult an attorney immediately.

Request a hearing

When a person is charged with a crime, the county or city in which the crime is charged will set a court date and command the person to appear. However, with a traffic infraction ticket, the person who receives the ticket must contest (challenge) it, or the right to fight the ticket will be lost.

If you got a traffic infraction, you have three choices:

  1. pay the ticket;
  2. attempt to mitigate (reduce the fine for) the ticket; or
  3. fight the ticket.

These options are given in a checklist on the ticket (usually on the back of the ticket). However, you must reply to the ticket within 15 days of the date the ticket was issued to you in person, or 18 days from the date the ticket was mailed to you.

If you are concerned about the ticket raising your insurance rates and affecting your driving record, the only choice you have is to fight the ticket. You should check the "contested hearing" option on the ticket checklist, fill in your name and address, and sign your name.

The next step is to mail the ticket back to the court. You should mail your ticket via certified and return receipt mail. Because clerks deal with thousands of tickets each day, some tickets do get lost. When that happens, it can be difficult for a person who requested a hearing to actually get one; however, if you have proof of mailing and proof of service, you will be able to show a judge that you took the appropriate steps to request a hearing.

Contest the ticket at your hearing date

After you request a hearing, the court will send you a Notice of Hearing with your court date. At the hearing, the judge will explain how you can contest your ticket. Most judges will start by asking if you have any preliminary motions before they read the officer's report into the record (in Washington State, officers are not required to appear at the court hearing unless you properly demand that they appear). If you have a legal issue that the judge agrees with, that legal issue could end the case in your favor. Otherwise, the judge will read the officer's report and you will explain to the judge why you disagree with the charge.

After you have had your say, the judge will decide if the infraction was committed or not. If the judge makes a finding of "not committed," then congratulations! You are free to go, you will owe no further money, and your insurance premium will not be affected. However, if the judge finds that you committed the infraction, you will owe the court the amount of the fine on the ticket, or whatever lesser amount the judge finds appropriate. You are not required to notify your insurance company; however, the Court is required to notify the Department of Licensing and insurance companies can obtain the last 3 years' worth of your driving record from the Department of Licensing.

Additional resources:

Washington State Legislature: Response to notice-Contesting determination

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