Traffic

If you receive a citation for a traffic offense, the citation will direct you to contact the court between 5 and 14 days after the date the citation was given. (You must wait at least 5 days so the court will have information regarding your case. If you wait over 14 days, you may be subject to delinquent fees and a warrant for your arrest may be issued.) If you do not wish to contest the citation, in most cases you may simply pay your fine and the case will be closed. Some violations impose a mandatory court appearance, and you will be given a date on which to speak with the judge. If you wish to contest your citation, you must contact the court. While you may simply appear at anytime while court is in session, it is recommended that you call the court ahead of time. You will be given a date on which you are to appear before the judge.

Your first appearance on a charge is called an arraignment. When you arrive at court you will be required to watch an instructional video, and also to complete a form advising you of your rights.

You may have an attorney with you, but it is not required. If you meet certain income guidelines, the court may appoint an attorney for you, but only if jail time is a real possibility. In most cases involving a traffic citation, jail will not be imposed, and you will not have the right to an appointed attorney.

When you appear before the judge, you will be asked to “plead” to the charge(s) against you. You may plead “guilty”, “not guilty”, or “no-contest”. A no-contest plea has the same procedural effect as a guilty plea, but rather than admitting guilt, the defendant admits that the prosecutor would likely prevail at trial. It is up to the judge whether or not he will accept a no-contest plea.

If you plead guilty or no-contest, you will next need to be sentenced. See the heading below for further information regarding sentencing.

Pleading Not Guilty

If you want to contest your citation or charge, you must plead “not guilty”. If you plead not guilty you will be scheduled for a pre-trial conference. At the pre-trial conference you will meet with the prosecutor to discuss your case. Sometimes a plea bargain can be entered into between the prosecutor and the defendant. The judge will then determine whether the plea bargain will be accepted. A judge does not have to accept a plea bargain. However, the judge will inform you of that decision, and will allow you to reconsider your plea, before entering a plea. If a resolution cannot be had at the pre-trial conference, a trial will be scheduled.

Jury trials, by law, are not allowed for infractions. All misdemeanor trials are bench trials (where the judge is the trier of fact) unless a party makes a written demand for a jury no later than 10 days before trial. (Your trial may be rescheduled to allow time to compose a jury, if you make a jury demand less than 30 days before trial.)

At a trial, the prosecution has the burden of proof, which is “beyond a reasonable doubt” in most criminal and traffic cases. Additional information about the rules and procedures governing trial may be found here. If you are found “not guilty” your case will be closed. If you are found “guilty” you will proceed with sentencing.

Sentencing

If you plead guilty or no-contest, or are found guilty after trial, you will be sentenced. There are many reasons for a sentence. These include protecting the public, discouraging behavior, and many other considerations. Fines are most commonly used in sentencing. In order to ensure uniformity, fines are determined, in most cases, by the Uniform Fine and Bail Schedule that is published by the State of Utah.

In addition to a fine,you may be put on probation. This may include many components, including testing, treatment, community service, restrictions on your use of alcohol or a vehicle, and many other items.

For all misdemeanor crimes you could be sentenced to a term in the county jail. The maximum jail times are 6 months for a Class B misdemeanor and 90 days for a Class C misdemeanor. You may not be sentenced to jail for an infraction. Jail time is generally within the discretion of the judge. The possibility of jail time increases with the severity of the charge, your prior history, and your refusal to follow the court’s orders.

Plea in Abeyance

A plea in abeyance is a plea bargain entered into between a defendant and the prosecutor. A defendant pleads guilty, but the court does not enter the guilty plea. The court holds the guilty plea in abeyance for the term of the agreement (typically 6 or 12 months). If the conditions of the plea are completed successfully, the case is dismissed at the end of the abeyance period. The advantage of a successful plea in abeyance is that a conviction does not go on your record. However, if the terms of the plea in abeyance are not completed successfully, your guilty plea will be automatically entered. You will be brought back to court for sentencing under the original charge.

In certain traffic cases the prosecution has a “standing order” with the court that requests the court to allow a standard plea in abeyance in certain circumstances, even when the prosecutor is not present. The terms of the standard traffic plea in abeyance are that you will pay the citation amount, plus a $25 plea in abeyance fee. You will also be required to complete traffic school within 45 days. There is a $50 charge at the time you sign up for traffic school. Additionally, you may not have any additional moving violations during the period of the abeyance. The judge will inform you if you qualify for the standard plea in abeyance.

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