You’ve just been pulled over by the police and received a traffic ticket in Rhode Island. It is likely that you will have some questions about what to do next. Should I just pay the fine? Should I hire a lawyer? What are my options? Can I fight this ticket? In today’s blog, the Rhode Island Traffic Ticket Lawyers at Abilheira Law answer these questions and more.

I’ve just received a traffic ticket in Rhode Island, what are my options?

When you receive a traffic ticket in RI, you will have several options.

1. Pay the fine

Most minor traffic tickets can be taken care of by simply mailing in a check for the fine or by paying the fine online. However, you should note that this is an admission of guilt. As a result, the ticket will remain on your driving record for three years.

You should be aware that these tickets could come to haunt you in the future. If you collect three tickets (3) within a twelve (12) month period, you will have to appear at the Rhode Island Traffic Tribunal and could face a license suspension. If you receive four (4) tickets within an eighteen (18) month period, you will suffer the severe penalties of the Colin B. Foote Act including a lengthy license suspension.

2. Request a Dismissal Based on a Good Driving Record

Under Rhode Island General Law § 31.41.1-7, a driver can request that a ticket be dismissed by the court because of a good driving record. In order to use the good driving record, you cannot have any moving violations on your record within the past three (3) years and you must appear at your hearing.

3. Appear at the Rhode Island Traffic Tribunal or local Municipal Court to fight the ticket.

Your traffic ticket will include a court date and information regarding where you must appear to fight the ticket.

What is a “mandatory court appearance”?

Under Rhode Island General Laws § 31-41.1-3.1, “any person who receives a third (3rd) summons within a twelve month period of time cannot plea or dispose of the charge by mail, but must appear in person before a judge at the traffic tribunal or municipal court.”

Therefore, if you have received three (3) or more traffic tickets within a twelve (12) month period, you must appear for your court hearing and are not eligible to pay the summons by mail.

If you are facing three or more infractions within a year, you will likely face increased sanctions. It is possible that your driver’s license may be suspended. In this situation, you should consider hiring an experienced Rhode Island traffic ticket lawyer.

What happens at an “arraignment”?

Your arraignmentwill occur at either the Rhode Island Traffic Tribunal or a local Municipal Court. The appropriate court and date/time will be found on your traffic ticket or summons.

At arraignment, a Trooper from the State Police or Police Prosecutor from the City/Town who issued your ticket will be present to arraign you on your ticket.

Your name will be called by a Clerk or Sheriff. You will be brought before the presiding judge or magistrate. The judge/magistrate will state the violation for which you have been charged. You will be asked if you wish to enter a plea of “guilty” or “not guilty.”

If you enter a guilty plea at arraignment, you are giving up your right to trial. At that time, the judge/magistrate will impose your sentence, which will usually include a fine, plus an additional $35 in court costs. Your sentence could also include additional sanctions, such as a license suspension.

If you plead not guilty at your arraignment, you will be given a new date for a trial or hearing.

What happens at a traffic ticket trial in Rhode Island?

When you plead not guilty to a traffic ticket in Rhode Island, you will be given a trial or hearing date. You must appear on that date. The police officer who issued your ticket is also required to be present.

There are several things that could happen at this trial/hearing:

1. The police officer might not appear. If so, your traffic ticket will be dismissed.

2. The police officer will appear and you are able to come to an agreement without the need to go to trial.

3. You are unable to reach an agreement with the office and proceed to trial.

Motion to Dismiss

If the police officer does not appear, you or your lawyer should make a Motion to Dismiss. This requires asking the judge/magistrate to dismiss the ticket based on a lack of prosecution. At that time, the judge/magistrate will typically dismiss your case. You will not have to pay any fines or court costs and the citation will be removed from your driving record.

Agreement without Trial

If the officer who wrote your ticket does appear, you or your lawyer should speak with the officer in an attempt to work out some sort of agreement called a disposition. A disposition can include an outright dismissal by the officer (sometimes called a 26A in traffic court). Other dispositions can include, but are not limited to:

– Dismissal after completion of community service
– Charitable contributions
– Lower fines
– Driver Retraining

After coming to an agreement with the officer, you will then be brought before the judge/magistrate, who must then approve of your disposition. Based on the disposition, you may get another court date to come back or your case may be closed after a judgement enters.

Trial

If you decide to proceed to trial, the officer who issued your ticket will testify first. This is because the State has the burden of proving the offense by clear and convincing evidence. The police officer will explain to the judge why you were pulled over, why you were issued a traffic ticket, and any evidence necessary to prove that you are guilty of the alleged violation. You will then be given the opportunity to cross examine the officer.

The Police Department may also call other witnesses to prove their case. You will be given an opportunity to cross examine those witnesses as well.

Finally, you will be allowed to testify on your own behalf or call witnesses who will help make your case. But note, you are not required to present any evidence at all.

If, after trial, the judge/magistrate finds that you are not guilty and have not violated the law, the matter will be dismissed. No money will be paid and you will have no record of the traffic violation.

If you are found guilty of the violation, the judge/magistrate will impose sanctions: fines, court costs, community service, driver retraining, and license suspensions or revocations.

You should consider hiring a Rhode Island Traffic Ticket Lawyer to represent you at trial. Your lawyer will have the experience and skills needed to negotiate an agreement with the police and proceed to trial if necessary.

I was found guilty of a traffic violation at trial, what can I do?

Under Rule 21 of the Rhode Island Traffic Tribunal Rules of Procedure, a motorist has a right to appeal any judgment of the Traffic Tribunal or Municipal Court to the Appellate Panel of the Traffic Tribunal.

You must file a written Notice of Appeal within ten (10) days of the imposition of sentence or judgment and pay the appeal filing fee of $25. You will then need to obtain a transcript of the trial from the court, which costs $10 per recording. Then, you must serve a certified copy of the appeal to the police department that issued your ticket.

Typically, a written brief must be submitted to the court. Then, a hearing before the Appellate Panel will be conducted. The Appellate Panel will review the record to determine if the judgment which entered is in accordance with law. There will not be a new trial or evidentiary hearing unless remanded back to the trial court for further hearing.

You should consider hiring a Rhode Island Traffic Ticket Lawyer to handle your appeal.

I plead guilty to a traffic violation without knowing the consequences, what can I do?

Under Rule 20 of the Rhode Island Traffic Tribunal Rules of Procedure, a motorist can seek “Relief from Judgment or Order” by filing a Motion to Vacate.

The court may, upon motion or on its own initiative, relieve a party or a party’s legal representative from a judgment or order for the following reasons:

(1) mistake, inadvertence, surprise, or excusable neglect;

(2) newly discovered evidence;

(3) fraud (whether heretofore denominated intrinsic or extrinsic), misrepresentation, or misconduct of an adverse party;

(4) the judgment or order is void;

(5) the judgment or order has been satisfied, released, or discharged , or it is no longer equitable that the judgment or order should have prospective application; or

(6) any other reason justifying relief from the operation of the judgment, or order, including that relief is warranted in the interests of justice.

The motion shall be made within a reasonable time, and not more than one year after the judgment or order was entered.

You should continue hiring a Rhode Island Traffic Ticket Lawyer to assist you with a Motion to Vacate.

I did not appear at my traffic court date, what happens now?

If you did not appear at your arraignment or trial at the Rhode Island Traffic Tribunal, a default judgment usually enters. This means that a judge/magistrate will impose a fine, court costs and any additional sanctions deemed necessary whether you are there or not. Additionally, your license may be suspended or revoked and/or your registration may be suspended or revoked.