If you enter a NOT GUILTY plea to one or more charges in your minor traffic case, the court will set the case for trial. The purpose of this information is to briefly explain how to prepare for trial and what you can expect when you enter the courtroom.
In minor traffic cases, you have the right to be represented by an attorney of your choice at your own expense. In such minor cases, defendants are not entitled to a court-appointed attorney. If you have retained an attorney, have him or her notify the court in the next two weeks so an attorney trial can be set.
Burden of Proof:
The legal burden of proof is placed on the citing officer to show that you, the defendant, are guilty of the charge against you. This is not a criminal case, in which the burden of proof is "beyond a reasonable doubt." In a traffic case, the burden of proof is "by a preponderance of the evidence." The officer must present evidence to show that, more likely than not, you committed the alleged infraction. This is a much lower burden of proof than in a criminal case.
You may request, in writing, copies of any records, reports or notes made in connection with your citation. If you would like to request discovery for your trial, please send your written request to the court immediately. It will be forwarded to the Police Department for a response.
Trial Procedures and Rules of Evidence:
At the beginning of each trial, the officer, the defendant and all witnesses will be asked to swear or affirm that they will tell the truth when testifying. Please notify the court if you have brought a witness as soon as your case is called.
Since the burden of proof is on the citing officer, he or she will have the first opportunity to present testimony and other evidence. After the officer concludes, the defendant will have the opportunity to present evidence or ask questions of the officer. The rules of evidence are very complex, but the following types of proof are frequently offered in traffic cases:
Diagrams: Simple diagrams can be helpful to the court in understanding all the circumstances of the case. Diagrams do not have to be drawn precisely to scale, but they should accurately represent the area depicted.
Photographs: Photographs can also be helpful to the court, provided they fairly represent the situation that existed at the time of the alleged infraction. You should be prepared to state when and where the photograph was taken.
Witness testimony: You may bring witnesses with you into court to testify on your behalf. Unless you are offering the testimony of an expert, witnesses must base their testimony on their personal knowledge of the incident. If you think that a witness may be reluctant to appear, you have the right to obtain a subpoena to compel his or her attendance at trial.
Hearsay evidence: Oral or written statements of people who are not in the courtroom are considered hearsay evidence. Hearsay can include letters or affidavits of any witnesses. Most hearsay evidence cannot be considered by a judge. If you wish to present evidence from witnesses, you should arrange to have them present in the courtroom for your trial.
Appeals: If you are found guilty of one or more charges, you have the right to appeal your case to the Washington County Circuit Court within 30 days of your trial. Ask the court clerk for details if you are interested in appealing the court's decision.
If you have further questions, please feel free to call a Court Clerk at 503-718-2478.