Traffic Infraction Prosecution
All infraction cases begin with the issuance of a uniform citation to the defendant. The uniform citation is a both a formal criminal complaint and a summons. On the citation, the defendant is given a date to appear in court.
First Appearance Before Court
The defendant must appear at the clerk’s office on the date set out in the citation. The purpose of this appearance is to enter a plea of guilty or not guilty to the citation. If the defendant fails to appear at the clerk’s office to enter a plea, the court enters a guilty plea by default and sends notice to the defendant of their requirement to pay the fixed penalty. If the defendant appears at the clerk’s office prior to or at the time set on the citation, they can enter a plea of guilty or not guilty. If they plead guilty they will be required to pay the fine within fourteen (14) days. If the defendant pleads not guilty, the court will provide the defendant with a date and time to appear at a pretrial conference.
The defendant can have an attorney appear to defend them in an infraction case. Unlike felony and misdemeanor offenses, however, a defendant is not entitled to court-appointed counsel if they are indigent. The United States Supreme Court has held that the right to court-appointed counsel does not apply to cases in which only a fine can be imposed. Since no jail time can be imposed for an infraction in Idaho, a defendant is not entitled to court-appointed counsel in an infraction case.
The purpose of a pretrial conference is to bring the parties together to determine if they can reach a satisfactory resolution to the case. This is commonly known as plea bargaining. If the prosecution and the defendant reach an agreement, the agreement is written down on a court form and delivered to the clerk’s office. If the defendant is pleading guilty to a charge, they will be required to pay the fine at the time the agreement is submitted to the clerk’s office or within 14 days of submitting the court’s pretrial form to the clerk. Any questions about payment of the fine should be discussed with the clerk. If the case cannot be resolved and needs to be set for a trial, the clerk will notify the defendant of the date of the trial at the time the court’s pretrial form is turned in to the clerk’s office.
There is no right to a jury trial on an infraction case. All trials are decided by a magistrate judge. There may be anywhere from 3 to 10 infraction trials set at the same time and place. The judge calls the cases at his discretion. There is no first-come, first-served system on trial day, like there is on pretrial days.
The fines for infraction offenses are fixed by court rule. The magistrate has no discretion to increase or decrease the fine if the defendant is found guilty. A list of the possible fines is set forth in Idaho Infraction Rule 9.
Assessment Of Points To Driving Records
The judge does not have any control over the assessment of points to a defendant’s driver’s record upon conviction. Such points are assessed by the Idaho Department of Transportation.
Failure To Pay The Fine On Time
The Idaho Department of Transportation will suspend a person’s driver’s license if they fail to pay the fine on an infraction within the required time. This will result in the defendant having to pay the fine and an administration fee in order to have their driving privileges reinstated.
What If A Defendant Wants To Reschedule A Hearing?
The prosecutor’s office does not have the power to reschedule a hearing. Only the court can grant a continuance of a hearing. The court cannot do this until the defendant makes a formal written request, as discussed below.
A defendant who wants or needs to reschedule a hearing needs to make a formal request to the court and provide a copy of that request to the prosecutor’s office. This request needs to be made in writing and be in the format required by the Idaho Court Rules. To read the rule setting out the format requirements, click on this link to Idaho Criminal Rule 12. The prosecutor’s office does not prepare or file a request with the court on behalf of the defendant. This is solely the defendant’s responsibility.
If a defendant contacts the prosecutor’s office about continuing a hearing, the prosecutor’s office will listen to the reason the continuance is being requested and give an opinion on whether the prosecution will object to or agree to continue the hearing to another day. If the prosecutor states that the prosecution does not object to rescheduling the hearing, that statement does not guarantee the hearing will be continued and is not a substitute for making a written request to the court and receiving an order from the court continuing the hearing.
People often contact the clerk’s office to request to reschedule a hearing. The common practice of the court clerks in this situation is to refer the people to the prosecutor’s office. As indicated above, the prosecution does not have the authority to continue a hearing. All the office staff can provide is some direction to the defendant as to whether the prosecution will agree to or object to the request to reschedule the hearing.
What If A Defendant Wants To Appear At Court Before The Date On The Citation?
Defendant’s should contact the clerk’s office about their citation before coming to the courthouse to enter a plea of guilty or not guilty to a citation. Sometimes it can be a matter of a few days to as long as a couple of weeks before the citation arrives at court from the officer. Therefore, if the defendant comes to the courthouse they run the risk that there will be no citation on file yet and the clerk will have no case to process the plea under. The clerk will not take any action in such situation, but will likely inform the defendant to check back later.
If a defendant wishes to pay the fine, they can pay the fine by mail. The payment by mail constitutes an admission to the offense.
What If A Defendant Wants To Discuss The Case Before Their First Court Appearance Or The Pretrial Conference?
Many defendants will contact the prosecutor’s office immediately after they receive a ticket or after their first court appearance to try to discuss the case with the prosecutor. This is normally done in an attempt to avoid having to appearing in court. In nearly all cases, practical considerations keep the prosecution from resolving a case before a pretrial conference. These practical considerations begin with the fact that the prosecutor’s office cannot make a decision on what to do with a case until all the information about the case has been gathered. This usually takes until the week of the pretrial conference to complete.
Two common misconception defendants have is that the prosecuting attorney’s office knows immediately when a citation has been issued and has access to the information about the incident the day after the citation is issued. Law enforcement agencies do not automatically provide a copy of a citation or a police report to the prosecuting attorney’s office. The prosecuting attorney’s office will not become aware that a citation has been issued until the court provides notice to the prosecutor’s office of a pretrial conference. This notice does not arrive until after the defendant’s first appearance in court. Therefore, under normal circumstances, the process of gathering information about an infraction case does not even begin for the prosecutor’s office until after the defendant has made their first appearance in court and pled not guilty to the offense. Without any information, the prosecutor handling the case is not in a position to have a meaningful discussion with the defendant about the case.
Another consideration that makes it difficult for prosecutors to talk to defendants in advance of the pretrial conferences is that the prosecutor and secretary handling the infraction case load have anywhere from 30 to 40 cases per week set for a pretrial conference. Combined with other work assignments, it is not realistic to expect that the prosecutor and the secretary assigned to the case have the time available to gather information about a case outside of the normal protocol for getting the information.
Although exceptions are made for certain types of emergencies, defendants seeking to discuss their case before the scheduled pretrial will normally be told that they will need to wait until their scheduled pretrial conference to talk to the prosecutor. As indicated above, this is because the prosecutor is without the information necessary to make an informed decision until immediately before the pretrial conference and because of how disruptive it is to the office’s work routine to accommodate such requests.
Why Won’t The Prosecutor Talk Directly With A Defendant Who Is Represented By An Attorney?
The Idaho Rules of Professional Conduct prohibit an attorney from discussing a case with a party who is represented by an attorney. It is an ethical violation which can result in sanctions, even revocation of the prosecutor’s license to practice, if the prosecutor knowingly discusses the case with a defendant who is represented by an attorney. The defendant’s attorney can give consent for the prosecution to talk to the defendant without the defense attorney present. This occurs in very rare circumstances. The prosecuting attorney will usually decline to talk to the defendant in such a situation unless the defense attorney’s consent is in writing.
Will A Conviction Affect A Defendant’s Driver’s License?
A defendant should read the criminal statute they have been cited with, and associated statutes, to determine if the court is allowed or required to suspend the driver’s license of the defendant. Idaho’s criminal statutes can be researched by clicking on the following link to Idaho Statutes.
If a person is concerned about points being assessed against their driving record, they can can look up the points schedule by clicking on this link to the Idaho Transportation Department web site.
What If The Vehicle Was Not Owned By The Driver, But The Citation Is For Failure To Insure or Register The Vehicle Or Some Equipment Violation Related To The Vehicle?
Idaho law makes the driver of a vehicle legally responsible for making sure that the vehicle is in full working order and that there is proof that the vehicle is insured. Therefore, the fact that the car belongs to someone else is not a legal excuse. Depending on the circumstances, the prosecutor’s office may be willing to negotiate a settlement with the driver that addresses the fact that it was someone else’s vehicle.
What If The Defendant Actually Had Insurance, But Did Not Have Proof Of It To Show The Officer?
Sometimes the defendant has proof of insurance, but cannot locate it to show the officer. In such circumstances the law allows the defendant to present proof of the insurance to the clerk office, who then is authorized to dismiss the citation. The defendant must show proof that the car was insured at the time the citation was issued. The fact that insurance was obtained after the citation was issued is not grounds for having the citation dismissed. However, the prosecutor’s office usually will take this into consideration during the pretrial conference, but only if the defendant can provide proof that the car was insured in a timely fashion after the issuance of the citation.
What If The Car Is Registered, But The Defendant Did Not Have Proof Of It To Show The Officer?
Sometimes the defendant has proof that the car is registered, but cannot locate it to show the officer. The fact that insurance was obtained after the citation is not grounds for having the citation dismissed. However, the prosecutor’s office will usually take this into consideration during the pretrial conference, but only if the defendant can provide proof that the car was registered in a timely fashion after the citation was issued.
What If The Speedometer Was Broken?
The driver is legally responsible for making sure that all parts of the car are in proper working order and that they are driving under the legal speed limit. The fact that the speedometer is broken is not a legal excuse requiring dismissal of a citation. The prosecutor’s office will give consideration to the fact that the speedometer has been fixed since the issuance of the citation, but only if the defendant provides proof of the repair.
What If I Had Oversized Tires?
The driver is legally responsible for making sure that all parts of the car are in proper working order and that they are driving under the legal speed limit. The fact that the speedometer is off because the tires are larger than those provided by the manufacturer of the vehicle is not a legal excuse requiring dismissal of a citation. The prosecutor’s office will give consideration to the fact that the tires have been replaced with standard-sized tires, but only if the defendant provides proof of the replacement.
What If The Officer Would Not Let The Driver See the Radar Read Out?
Many people complain that the officer would not allow them to go to the officer’s car and see the readout on the radar screen. This does not provide a legal basis for dismissing the citation. Whether an officer allows a defendant to exit their vehicle and, furthermore, approach the officer’s vehicle is a matter of the officer’s department policy. For safety reasons, most departments prohibit officers from allowing drivers to exit their vehicle. In any event, except in rare circumstances, there will be no radar reading to show. The most commonly used technique used by officers to identify that it was the defendant’s vehicle to which the radar reading applied is to watch to see if the screen changes to a different reading once the defendant’s vehicle passes the location of the radar beam. If so, the officer can verify that the beam was picking up the defendant’s vehicle and not the vehicle in front of or behind the defendant’s vehicle. The consequence of this technique is that the radar reading which pertained to the defendant’s vehicle does not get locked in and no longer appears on the radar screen by the time the officer initiates the traffic stop.
What If A Defendant Does Not Have The Funds To Pay The Fine On Time?
The court is allowed to enter into deferred payment agreements with defendants to allow them to pay the fine in installments. To read the rules relating to the court’s ability to deal with a defendant’s inability to pay fines, click on this link to Idaho Infraction Rule 9.
The county prosecuting attorney has jurisdiction to prosecute all infraction citations which are issued by state and county officials. Infraction citations issued by city officers are prosecuted by the corresponding city prosecutor.
Infraction statutes are found throughout the Idaho Code. However, they are primarily found in Title 49 (traffic).
County ordinances can also make violations infractions. You can research Bannock County ordinances at the Bannock County Ordinances web page.
Court rules governing infraction proceedings are adopted by the Idaho Supreme Court and are located in Idaho Infraction Rules. The Sixth Judicial District has its own set of local rules. These are available by contacting the Trial Court Administrator’s Office or the Idaho Supreme Court.