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.