When Do I Have To Enter A Plea For My Traffic Ticket?
When a traffic ticket is issued, the police officer will include specific information on the ticket, such as a certain mile marker on a given roadway where the alleged incident occurred. They will put the code of that corresponding jurisdiction, along with the court address, and a return date. This date dictates the deadline of when the motorist or their attorney must enter their plea of not guilty, either by mail or in person. Otherwise they will be designated as a ‘scofflaw’ and subsequently suspended by the court and then DMV.
Some motorists misunderstand this instruction and think that they must personally appear in court on that written date to enter their plea—but they do not. Instead, they could hire an attorney to do so, or mail in their plea by themselves before that date (so long as the ticket does not indicate “must appear in person.”)
The date on that ticket is known as the return date. It usually gives about two weeks to a month to mail it in. This date is important because it triggers events and certain time frames; for example, possible discovery or demands for information. The demands prompt the prosecution’s time frame for producing some of those items to the motorist or their attorney and they must be “ready for trial” in a timely manner.
Note: always make a copy of any document(s) you sign, including the traffic ticket(s), and file them away in your personal records for potential future need. If handled by the motorist, check the box indicating “not guilty,” provide a current mailing address, and then mail it to the court promptly so it is received on or before the enumerated return date. This step may be done without an attorney, however, if counsel is hired, they should take care of this step and will be the one communicating directly with the court to figure out a court date that works best for each individual case and circumstances.
It is important that a timely plea is received and recorded by the court on or before the scheduled return date. We have seen cases where pleas and demands for information or discovery did not get properly recorded at the court for one reason or another, or were not responded to at all, and it seems to be the motorist ultimately bearing any ill aftereffects. These procedural issues are important and must be dealt with accordingly, one step at a time.
Since traffic infraction cases fall under the umbrella of “criminal law” for due process and proper procedure, the criminal procedure law (CPL) governs the entire process and its strict requirements apply. The CPL encompasses a tremendous amount of legal procedures and precedence to comprehend in order to properly articulate a viable defense.