Let’s Not Be Civil

June 11th, 2012
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Scales of justice

Have you ever been pulled over for a traffic violation that you know you did not commit? It is your right to take that violation to trial if you truly know that you are not guilty of the offense. We’ve all heard the stories of traffic officers not coming to the trial in many of these cases and the ticket being ‘thrown out’ or dismissed.

In recent years, more states are pushing to make traffic violations a civil matter, rather than criminal. This sounds like a good thing on the surface, but in reality it makes fighting a ticket that you did not deserve exceedingly difficult.

To understand why, we must first evaluate the differences in the trial process between a civil or criminal infraction. During a criminal trial, the defendant must be convicted with evidence ‘beyond a reasonable doubt’. In a civil, trial a judge may pass judgement on what is often referred to as ‘the greater weight’.

‘The Greater Weight’ merely means that there is more than a 50% chance that the accused is guilty. In a criminal trial, ‘beyond a reasonable doubt’, the state must be 99.9% certain the offense was committed.

In addition, in states where ‘minor’ traffic violations are considered a civil matter, the officer is not required to attend the trial. An accused driver may also have severely limited right to ‘discovery’, which is the term for being able to review the evidence brought against you prior to the trial.

While there is the obvious reasoning of wanting to cut down on the number of guilty people that may beat the system, a civil trial is not really an appropriate standard for a law being broken. Traffic violations are criminal offenses and the driver is being accused of breaking the law. It is not a civil matter such as breaching a contract or copyright infringement.

Make sure that you are aware of the traffic laws in your area and how they are handled in the courts. You might save yourself a lot of time and aggravation. In a state that regards traffic violations as a civil matter, it may be more cost effective to pay the ticket regardless of guilt.

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