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Your Rights in Traffic Court

The court's job is to decide all cases as the law requires, which should make driving safe, and help people obey the law. You need to know your rights and the meaning of words that are used in court BEFORE you go to court. Then you can better understand court operations and be ready for court when you get there. (Don't forget to read the traffic ticket and the instructions on it.)

What These Words Mean

Traffic Ticket or Summons - command by court order to appear in court. Failure to appear may result in a warrant for your arrest. 
Charge - what the police officer says you did. 
Plead - to answer the charge in court. 
Plead Guilty - to admit the charge. 
Plead Not Guilty - to say that you do not believe that you broke the law. 
Defendant - the person charged with the traffic violation. 
Continuance - having the judge change the trial to another day in the future. 
Subpoena ("sa-pee-na") - an order from the court that tells a person to come to court. 
Prosecutor - the lawyer for the city or county. 
Court Costs - the money needed to pay for the operation of the court system. 
Testify - to speak under oath (swear to tell the truth) in court to prove what happened. 
Witness - a person who tells the court what happened. 
Appeal - to have your case heard again by a higher court.


When You Get To Court

If you don't know, ask the clerk if your name is on the list for that day, then sit down in the court room.

When your name is called, walk up to the judge and answer the judge's questions.

If you are charged with breaking the law, you are the defendant.

The judge will read the charge. If you do not understand it, ask the judge to explain it.

When the judge asks how you plead, you must say "guilty" or "not guilty."

If You Plead Guilty

You may then tell the judge everything that happened.

The judge may ask you questions. You must answer them.

The judge will tell you how much money to pay as a fine or what sentence you must serve. Before you plead guilty, you have the right to ask the judge if you will go to jail.

Some of the money you pay is a fine, turned over to the government.

Some of the money you pay is for court costs for the operation of the court system.

You Should Plead Not Guilty:

  • If you did not do what the police officer says you did.
  • If you are not sure that what you did was against the law.
  • If you plead "Not guilty," you will be given a trial.



If you do not have a lawyer and you, your family or a friend think you need the help of one, you should contact one BEFORE going to court.

The judge may set your trial for another day (continuance), but only for a good reason.

You have the right to bring witnesses to the trial. If you need the court to help you bring witnesses, the court will give them subpoenas to tell them they must come to court for you.

If you want a jury, you may ask for one; the judge will tell you if the law allows it in your case.

The prosecutor may bring witnesses to tell what they saw and heard. You or your lawyer may ask them questions. The prosecutor has the right to ask your witnesses questions and, if you testify, to ask you questions. (You don't have to testify if you don't want to.)

If the judge decides that you are not guilty, the trial is over, and you may leave.

If the judge decides that you are guilty, the judge will tell you what the penalty is and what then to do.


  • Fine
  • Jail
  • Both fine and jail
  • Other. The judge may include in the penalty an order to go to driver's school, alcohol safety school or other schools to help you better understand how to drive safely on the public street or highways. You must go to the school so you won't face more penalties, including a jail sentence.


Also known as "trial de novo" which means new trial.

If you think what the judge or jury decides is unfair or wrong, you may ask for your case to be sent to a higher court. Tell the judge you want to appeal. You must file the necessary paperwork and post bond within 10 days. You cannot appeal if you pay any portion of the finr or costs the judge set in your case.


Remember, you have the right to:

  • Have a reasonable time after you are charged with a traffic violation to get ready to answer the charge in court.
  • Have a lawyer. The judge may provide you with a lawyer if you are poor and if the judge might send you to jail if you are found guilty.
  • Ask witnesses to speak for you.
  • Ask for a jury if the law permits you to have one in that court.
  • Testify or not testify.
  • Ask the court to issue subpoenas for witnesses.


Link to other Frequently Asked Questions