Traffic Court

It is important that you deal with any and all traffic tickets before they become outstanding. Otherwise, you could actually spend time in jail.   

What happens next…

If you are charged with a provincial offence (offences under the Traffic Safety Act) , the police officer will give you one of the following documents: 

  • Violation Ticket (commonly known as a Traffic ticket – it will be pink, yellow or white)
  • Summons to a person charged with an offence (It will have the word SUMMONS on it.)
  • Appearance notice

 In most cases the violation ticket will tell you: 

  • What you have been charged with
  • The date and time you are required to attend court
  • The court’s address

It is very important that you CAREFULLY READ the FRONT and BACK of the violation ticket.  Resist the urge to jam the ticket into your glove compartment.  

Usually, all your court appearances will be at the court location indicated on the ticket. If you are directed to another location other than the one printed on the ticket, be sure to make a note of it.  If you have any questions or comments, you can contact this court location.    

There are two types of violation tickets:

  • Violation tickets that contain a summons (summons violation ticket)
  • Violation tickets that contain an offence notice (offence notice violation ticket).

Each ticket type uses different procedures, which are described below.  

Summons Violations Tickets (pink)

Your copy of a summons violation ticket will be pink and it will have the words “Part 2, Summons” in the upper right hand corner.   If the officer has marked the “Court Appearance Required” box, you must appear in court (in person or by agent) on or before the date specified in the ticket.  If you do not appear in court as required, a warrant for your arrest may be issued. 

If the officer has marked the “Voluntary Payment Option” box with a fine amount, you have the option of paying the specified voluntary payment amount in full or appearing in court (in person or by agent) on or before the date set out in the ticket.  By paying the voluntary payment amount, you have actually pled guilty to the charge.  If you do not pay the amount and you do not appear in court when required to do so, a warrant for your arrest may be issued. 

Offence Notice Violation Tickets (yellow or white)

Your copy of an offence notice violation ticket will be yellow or white and it will have the words “Part 3, Offence Notice” in the upper right hand corner. Read both sides of the ticket carefully.  The back provides detailed information on your options. If you fail to respond to an offence notice violation ticket on or before the date set out on the front of the ticket, you may be convicted even though you were not there. 

If you are convicted, you will have to pay the amount on the front of the ticket (the Voluntary Payment Option), and any late payment charges. You will be mailed a Notice of Conviction.  Your Vehicle Registry may not provide you with services until you pay all fines in full.  If you have a lot of unpaid fines, your license may be suspended.   

Do You Need An Interpreter?

If you are more comfortable in Cree, Saulteaux, Blackfoot or another language, you may ask for an interpreter.  The court will appoint you an interpreter (for free) to help you in court. 

Lawyers and Agents

You may appear in Traffic Court in person or have an agent* appear on your behalf.  If you want a lawyer or paid agent to represent you, you should arrange for one as soon as possible, preferably before you enter a plea to the charge or set a date for trial.  The lawyer or agent will need time to prepare your case.  If you do not have a lawyer or agent on the day set for the trial, the Traffic Commissioner might not grant you an adjournment to get one, and might require you to represent yourself. 

*An agent is someone whom you authorize to represent you in court.  An agent might be a friend, relative or associate or might be a lawyer or non-lawyer who represents individuals in court for a fee.  Paid agents who are not lawyers are not allowed to represent persons in some court locations in Alberta. 

Your First Court Appearance

Your first court appearance date and time is specified on the front of the violation ticket.  If the peace officer checked a box that indicates that you must appear between 9:00 a.m. and 3:30 p.m., you must appear between those times.  If a particular time, such as 9:30 a.m. or 2:00 p.m. is specified, you must appear at that time.

In Calgary and Edmonton, you attend the “Justice of the Peace” counter to enter your plea.  In other locations, you may be required to go into the courtroom. 

The charge against you will be read out.  You will be asked if you plead guilty or not guilty.  Before entering a plea of guilty or not guilty you may ask to reserve your plea. 

If you do not fully understand the charge against you, this will give you time to get additional information or legal advice. 

If you do not have a lawyer or agent, reserving your plea will give you time to talk to one.  If you reserve your plea, you will be given another date to return to court. 

What if You Cannot Attend Court on the Appearance Date?

If you are unable to attend court on the appearance date, you may do the following:

  • You can arrange to have a lawyer or an agent appear for you.
  • Offence notice violation tickets have a mail-in option available (see the back of the violation ticket for further instructions or options)
  • You may got to the court before the specified appearance date.  The clerk at the counter may be able to deal with your ticket right away or give you a new date to appear.

Transfer of Charges to Another Court Location for Guilty Plea

If the officer gave you a summons violation ticket and you intent to plead guilty (see “If You are Thinking of Pleading Guilty”), you may request to have the charge transferred (waived) from the Traffic Court location shown on the violation ticket to a location that is more convenient for you. 

If you want a charge transferred from one Traffic Court location to another for a guilty plea, see the counter clerk at the Traffic Court location to which you want the charge transferred. You will be asked to sign a request for waiver form.  You should do this well before your next appearance date, because it will take several days for your request to be processed and documents to be transferred.  A Crown prosecutor must approve the request for waiver. It is not normally possible to transfer the charge to a different court location if you intent to plead not guilty. 

When you plead not guilty, the trial must normally be held at the location shown on the violation ticket.

If You Plead Not Guilty

If you plead not guilty, a trial will be scheduled.  

If You are Thinking of Pleading Guilty

Find out the possible consequences of a conviction before you plead guilty. 

  • What is the maximum fine? 
  • Is there a possibility of being sent to jail? 
  • Is there a minimum fine? 
  • Will you get demerits? 
  • Will a conviction affect your insurance rates? 
  • Are there any consequences that you may be unaware of? 

You should consider seeking legal advice prior to entering a guilty plea, particularly in serious cases. If you plead guilty, several things will happen.  Once the guilty plea is entered, the prosecutor will tell the Traffic Commissioner about the offence, often reading from the police report. 

Make sure the facts the prosecutor presents are correct, since you will be asked if you agree to these facts.  If you do not agree with something that is said, you will have a chance to tell the Traffic Commissioner why you disagree.  You cannot plead guilty unless you agree that you committed the offence.  If you disagree with many of the facts, you should plead not guilty. If you have a record of prior convictions, the prosecutor should show you a copy of the record before showing it to the Traffic Commissioner.  Make sure it is your record and that there aren’t any mistakes in it.  If there are any mistakes, tell the Traffic Commissioner. See “Sentencing” for more information. 

Where and When Will the Trial Be?

The violation ticket contains the address for the courthouse.  When you plead not guilty, you will be advised of the trial date and the number of the courtroom where the trial will be heard. 

On the trial date, arrive at least 15 minutes early and look at the appearance list outside the courtroom.  Let the Crown Prosecutor know you are there.  The prosecutor can usually be found sitting at one of the tables in the front of the courtroom. If proceedings were commenced by a summons violation ticket and you are late or do not attend for trial,

  • The court may issue a warrant for your arrest and you can be charged under the Provincial Offences Procedure Act with the offence of failing to appear, or
  • The trial may be held in your absence.

If the proceedings were commenced by an offence notice violation ticket, and you are late or do not attend for trial, you may be convicted in your absence. 

Getting Ready For Trial When You Have Pled Not Guilty

If you entered a plea of not guilty at your first appearance and you want to change it to guilty at the trial date, you must tell the Traffic Commissioner that you wish to change your plea to guilty. 

If you know before the trial date that you want to plead guilty, you should go to Traffic Court and have your matter brought forward and dealt with.  Dealing with the matter before the trial date gives time to cancel the witnesses and saves everyone inconvenience. 

Find Out What Evidence There Is Against You

You can ask the Crown Prosecutor’s Office for disclosure.  Disclosure means you can have copies of all the evidence in your case, such as witness statements and the peace officer’s notes.  The process and time required to get this information vary across the province.  You should confirm the exact procedure with the Crown Prosecutor’s Office. 

You can check out the Aboriginal Legal Resources Directory for the Crown Prosecutor's Office nearest to you. You can also talk to the clerk at the counter in Traffic Court, speak to the Crown Prosecutor in traffic court, or look for “Crown Prosecutors” in the Alberta Government section of the blue pages of your telephone directory. 

Preparing Your Defence

You are innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.  Before you can be convicted, the Crown prosecutor must prove, beyond a reasonable doubt: 

  • That the offence was committed,
  • That you are the guilty party, and
  • The time, date and place of the offence.

 During the trial, the prosecutor will present evidence to the Traffic Commissioner to establish these things.  You will be given a chance to question (cross-examine) the prosecutor’s witnesses, and you will have a chance to call your own witnesses to give evidence. 

Bring your Witnesses To Court

Your witnesses must actually be IN court to testify.  Letters or written statements from witnesses (even if sworn) will not be accepted as evidence.  You can subpoena (compel) a witness to come to court if they are unwilling or if they need it to get time off work.  You may pick up copies of subpoena forms at the clerk’s office.  Fill out one subpoena for each witness and ask the clerk to have it authorized.  You may be asked questions about the subpoena.  After the subpoena has been authorized, arrange for the police or a private document-service company to serve it.  You may have to pay a fee for this service.  You should allow enough time for the subpoena to be served (at least two weeks). 

What Happens At Trial

The rules around trial procedure are too complicated to explain in detail here.  However, this section provides an outline of what happens during the trial. The Crown prosecutor calls witnesses and is required to present the Crown’s case first.  You or the prosecutor can ask the Traffic Commissioner for an order for exclusion of witnesses so that all witnesses must leave the courtroom until called back in to testify.  This will reduce the chance that witnesses will be influenced by each other’s evidence.  After the prosecutor is finished asking a witness questions, you will have a chance to ask questions.  This is called cross-examination. 

If you disagree with something that one of the prosecutor’s witnesses has told the court, ask the witness questions about the testimony you disagree with. The prosecutor may also have documents, photographs or other items to show the Traffic Commissioner.  This could include things like a certificate of suspension or a certificate of registration. 

The prosecutor will ask the Traffic Commissioner to have the item introduced as an exhibit.  Photographs, diagrams, maps and other visual aids are admissible as evidence if they are relevant and properly identified. After you have finished your cross-examination of a witness, the prosecutor can ask the witness further questions that have come up for the first time through your questions.  This is known as redirect. 

After the prosecutor has finished presenting the Crown’s evidence, you will have an opportunity to put forward a defence (something you do not have to do).  If you choose to put forward a defence, you do it through your own testimony, by calling witnesses and by introducing exhibits. 

Remember, you are not required to call any evidence or to testify yourself.  Further, the prosecutor can cross-examine any of your witnesses.  If you do decide to testify and you have a record of prior convictions, for either provincial or criminal offences, the prosecutor can ask you about your record.  I

If you do not give evidence, the prosecutor can only mention your record if and when the Traffic Commissioner finds you guilty. After hearing each side’s case, the Traffic Commissioner will ask for argument.  If you called witnesses, you will go first.  If you did not call witnesses, the prosecutor will go first.  Argument gives both sides a chance to persuade the Traffic Commissioner. 

The Traffic Commissioner will then decide whether to find you guilty or not guilty. 

Sentencing

If you are found guilty, your sentence could include a monetary fine, probation, imprisonment, or a combination of these, depending on the offence. 

In some situations, the Traffic Commissioner may order you to pay compensation for loss or damage to property suffered by a person as a result of the commission of the offence. Before the Traffic Commissioner sentences you, you will be given a chance to tell the Traffic Commissioner something about yourself, the offence and any special circumstances that might affect the sentence. 

The Traffic Commissioner may ask you questions such as how old you are, whether you are married, whether you have a job, how many children you have and whether they live with you.  You may want the Traffic Commissioner to know how much income you have and your plans for the future.  Remember always to be absolutely honest with the Traffic Commissioner. 

If you do not have enough money to pay a fine, tell the Traffic Commissioner that you will need time to pay.  The Traffic Commissioner may grant you time to pay.  If you cannot pay your fine by the due date, you can apply for an extension at the clerk’s office.  This must be done before the due date. 

On very rare occasions, the Traffic Commissioner may also ask for a pre-sentence report to get more information about you.  If that happens, you will not be sentenced until the Traffic Commissioner has had a chance to review the assessment. 

A probation officer prepares the pre-sentence report.  The probation officer may interview you, your family, your employer or anyone else who can provide relevant information.  This process usually takes a number of weeks. If the Traffic Commissioner sentences you to go to jail, you can ask the Traffic Commissioner to allow you to serve your sentence on weekends.  In some circumstances, this request will be granted. 

Victim of Crime Surcharge On Offenders

If you are found guilty and the Traffic Commissioner imposes a fine, a victim surcharge under the Victims of Crime Act will automatically be assessed against you (unless you have been convicted of a by-law offence).  If you were given a violation ticket with a Voluntary Payment Option, the amount shown on the face of the ticket will already include the applicable surcharge.  The victim surcharge is collected by the provincial government and is used to provide programs, services and assistance to victims of crime.  The victim surcharge amount is 15% of any fine imposed.

Insurance Consequences to Driving while Impaired / Unauthorized

Your insurance coverage will be severely limited if you or anyone to whom you lend your car, cause a crash and are convicted of driving while impaired or with a blood-alcohol concentration (BAC) above 0.08%.            

First, your insurance company is not required to compensate you for the cost of repairing or replacing your vehicle, no matter how much collision insurance you purchased.            

Second, offenders will be denied some no-fault accident benefits, including income replacement and homemaker benefits. 

Third, while your insurance company remains liable for third-party losses up to your policy limit, it can sue you to recover any damages that it has paid. 

In effect, you lose the financial protection of the third-party liability coverage that you purchased.  In the end result, your own insurance company can sue you for any claims that it has paid up to your policy limit, and injured third parties can sue you for any remaining losses in excess of your policy limit. 

Unpaid Judgments

If you fail to pay a judgment arising from a crash, the Registrar of Motor Vehicles may suspend your current driver’s licence and vehicle registration, and cannot renew them.

Source: http://www.albertacourts.ab.ca/pc/traffic/TrafficCourt-youvebeencharged.pdf

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