Traffic tickets & complaints

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The Arizona Traffic Ticket and Complaint you received may contain both state law violations and city ordinance violations.  The ticket includes a court date and time. Before your court appearance you must decide how you want to plead to your charge(s). If you received a complaint containing more than one charge, you must enter a plea for each charge. You are not required to enter the same plea for each charge.

The terms "Hearing," "Responsible," "Not Responsible," and "Admit and Explain" apply to civil violations.
The terms "Trial," "Guilty," "Not Guilty," "No Contest," and "Motion Hearing" apply to criminal violations.

There are three possible pleas you may enter

  • Responsible  You admit to having committed the violation.
  • Not Responsible  You deny that you committed the violation and wish to contest the charge. The state must then attempt to prove the charge against you at a civil traffic hearing.
  • No Contest  You do not wish to contest the charge and you will allow the judge to enter a ruling that has the same consequence as a Responsible plea without admitting your responsibility. You will have an opportunity to explain what happened before sentence is imposed, just as you would with a Responsible plea.

After you decide your plea, you have the following options

If your plea is Responsible or No Contest, you may:

  1. Pay, by mail or in person, the amount of the sanction/fine and the applicable fees as listed on the fine schedule included in the envelope you were given by the police officer.  This must be paid on or before your court date, unless otherwise stated on the fine schedule, or
  2. Appear in court on your assigned court date and enter your plea of "Responsible  or "No Contest" and your sanction/fine will be determined at that time.

If your plea is Not Responsible, you may:

  1. Request, by mail or fax, that the charge be set for a hearing. Your request for a hearing must be received by the Court before the date of your first scheduled court appearance; or
  2. Appear in court on your assigned date and request that your case set for a civil traffic hearing.

Defensive Driving program

For many civil traffic charges, you have the option of attending a Defensive Driving program if you are eligible.  After you complete the program the charge will be dismissed and you will not have to pay a fine for that charge. If you attended a defensive driving class for an Arizona charge issued within the last 24 months, you are not eligible for this option. If you have been cited for more than one charge on your complaint, only one can be dismissed by attending the Defensive Driving program and you will have to enter a plea on any other charges.

Not all charges are eligible for this program. The fine schedule you received from the police officer will tell you if the violation for which you were cited is eligible, and will provide other eligibility and registration information. Violations that are eligible are marked on the fine schedule with an asterisk (*).

Civil traffic charges

If your traffic charge is marked as a civil violation, you are entitled to a hearing if you choose to plead not responsible. This is similar to a trial but there will be no prosecutor present to represent the state unless you decide to hire a lawyer.

You have the right to have a lawyer represent you in civil traffic hearings, if you choose. If you hire an attorney to represent you, he or she must notify both the court and the prosecutor in writing at least 10 calendar days before the hearing.  Failure to do so will result in the waiver of your right to be represented by a lawyer.  If you have a lawyer present at the hearing, the state may also be represented by the prosecutor.

If you choose to have the hearing without a lawyer, the judge may ask you, the police officer, and other witnesses questions to find out what happened. You will have an opportunity to ask questions of the witnesses. You may testify on your own behalf as part of your defense. You may present to the court documents and other prepared exhibits as evidence that support your position.

To find you responsible, the judge must consider the testimony and other evidence presented at the hearing and decide whether it is more probable than not that you committed the traffic violation charged. In a civil traffic hearing, the burden of proof required for a judge to make a finding of responsible is less than at a criminal trial.

Minor criminal traffic charge

Examples of minor criminal traffic charges: 

  • Failure to Obey Officer;
  • Speed (in excess of 21 mph or school zone);
  • School Bus violations;
  • Failure to Provide ID;
  • Fictitious Plates

If your traffic charge is marked as a criminal violation, you are entitled to a trial if you choose to plead not guilty. The state is represented by a prosecutor who must prove the charges against you beyond a reasonable doubt. The State presents its case first by calling witnesses to testify against you. You will be allowed to hear all the testimony against you and if you wish, after each witness has testified, you will have a turn to ask the witness questions. You may only ask questions of witnesses for the state at this time. You have the right to be represented by a lawyer, if you choose.

After the state has presented its case, you may present your defense. You may call witnesses who know something about the incident to testify for you. You may testify on your own behalf, but you are not required to do so. If you do not testify, your silence cannot be used against you.

Failure to appear

If you fail to appear for any scheduled court date, or fail to meet any sentencing requirements imposed on you as a result of a responsible or guilty finding, a warrant may be issued for your arrest and/or a default judgment may be entered. Your driving privileges may also be suspended by the Motor Vehicle Division and an additional criminal charge may be filed based on your failure to appear.