No More Automatic Trials for Traffic Tickets in Maryland

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As of January 1, 2011, if you want your day in court for a traffic citation you must request a trial. Drivers also have the option to seek a penalty-only hearing where guilt is admitted but the accused can request less severe sentencing. For example, a defendant could ask for a reduction in fine and points or a probation before judgment. Up until now, in Maryland, a driver who received a traffic citation would later receive a notice to appear and the corresponding trial date. Some would simply pay the fine in order to avoid having to appear in court, others would show up and contest the ticket or plead guilty with an explanation and the less responsible defendant would fail to appear. A failure to appear, or as it is more commonly referred to FTA, would usually result in suspension of the driver's license. Now, a driver who receives a minor traffic ticket will have 30 days to either pay the fine, request a trial or seek a penalty-only hearing. If the driver fails to request a trial or pay the fine there is an additional 20 day grace period after which the driver's license will likely be suspended.

Some of the minor traffic offenses covered by the new policy include speeding, failure to obey traffic signals, failure to yield the right of way and tailgating. Major traffic offenses that carry potential jail time are considered "must appear" violations, and are not affected by the change. Examples of more serious "must appear" violations include drunk driving, operating a vehicle on a suspended license and driving without a license. These offenses carry potential jail time and defendants often will need an experienced Maryland attorney to represent them at trial.

Maryland is the last state to make this change and most people feel the benefits far outweigh any downside. Anyone who has sat through a Maryland District Court traffic docket surely noticed that many of the defendants failed to appear. Police officers spent countless hours in the courtroom only to find the majority of the accused absent. Now police officers and judges are encouraged that more people will show up because they requested a specific court date as opposed to one given without a request. This new law should not discourage anyone accused of a traffic violation from requesting a trial date. If you have the time and can deal with the inconvenience you should always request a trial date. One of my law professors, who was also a Baltimore County Circuit Court Judge, told me that no matter what you should come to court and plead not guilty to a traffic offense because the State is forced then to prove the charge. Also, regardless of the new law, police officers still may not show up for court making the State's ability to prove it's charge impossible.

If you, a family member, or someone you know has received a traffic citation or have been charged with a criminal offense it is very important to have an experienced Maryland criminal defense attorney on your side. If you would like a free legal consultation, please feel free to visit us on the web at or contact our offices.

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