Reaffirming Urban Myths
In last week’s e-newsletter (“Relearning Old Lessons”), Jim Baxter described the contesting of a speeding ticket in a small Wisconsin town. The court claimed to never have received a request for a judge substitution. The court also rejected a request for discovery, and did not respond to a subsequent motion to compel discovery.
A subscriber to the NMA email newsletter forwarded Jim’s account to an Arizona prosecutor, and the prosecutor’s response is rather illuminating. It is printed verbatim below. Pay particular attention to the last paragraph.
In AZ, when dealing with civil traffic violations, the rules of procedure forbid the “change of judge”. The judge is typically a hearing examiner and not a municipal judge and not required to be a lawyer. (See 17C A.R.S. Traffic Violation Cases Civ. Proc. Rules, Rule 7, AZ ST CIV TRAF Rule 7.)
Also, in AZ civil traffic cases, there is not a right to discovery. (See 17C, A.R.S. Traffic Violation Cases Civ. Proc. Rules, Rule 13.)
The rule in short says immediately prior to the hearing, both sides can look at each others’ exhibits and the officer’s notes. However, it prohibits pre-hearing discovery unless some unusual circumstances can be shown. Remember, civil traffic rules are night and day from criminal rules.
When in doubt, check the rules, but make sure you look in the correct section, i.e., AZ civil traffic and civil boating violations. These rules are totally different than criminal and the state must only produce a “preponderance” of evidence. It is not “beyond a reasonable doubt” since it is civil. The rules are available online.
The reasons behind these rules are to keep the system flowing. If people were afforded the same rights as in criminal cases for civil traffic tickets, the system would collapse under its own weight as everyone would be requesting discovery, deposing officers, seeking continuances, and changing judges to the point nothing ever came to trial even in cut-and-dried matters where the defendant is clearly responsible.
Arizona may not be among them, but there are several states that do prosecute traffic violations as criminal matters — affording defendants the right to full due process (e.g., request discovery, seek continuances, change judges, have jury trials). That is why the NMA recommends making full use of these measures in the defense of a traffic ticket.
Perhaps more interesting is the prosecutor’s perspective that the rules for traffic violations in Arizona courts are designed to “keep the system flowing” in apparent opposition to protecting the rights of the defendants, even those “clearly responsible.” The court systems that treat traffic violations under criminal rules have not collapsed under their own weight even though some semblance of due process is available to defendants. Those systems may not be as profitable, and the prosecutors may be more prone to plea bargains, but the serious cases or egregious enforcement actions find their way to trial, as they should.
The fact is that only a tiny fraction of all traffic ticket citations end up being contested in court, and so those involved in the prosecutorial and judicial sides tend to have the attitude that the court’s primary role is to dispose of cases efficiently rather than provide a forum for the accused to defend themselves.
You can now view all past issues of the NMA email newsletter, including this one, online here: http://alerts.motorists.org/tag/emailnewsletter
Want to find the speed traps in your neighborhood?
Check out the NMA’s speed trap registry at www.speedtrap.org.