What Are My Options Upon Receipt of a Moving Violation?
Moving violations in Maryland are of two varieties: “payable” or “non-serious” violations, and those which require the alleged offender to appear in court, or “must appear” violations.1 The latter violations, with limited exceptions, carry both monetary fines and a penalty of incarceration. Citations are now usually issued on a computer print-out, the lower right corner of which, gives the alleged offender three (3) options to resolve any or all “payable” violations, including checking a box to (a) pay the fine amount noted on the Citation, (b) requesting a “Waver Hearing,” or (c) requesting a Trial. The following addresses the options applicable to “payable” violations.
Paying the fine amount, whether in a single payment or pursuant to a payment plan approved by the court, is tantamount to a “guilty” plea and subjects the offender to a possible point assessment on their driving record by the Motor Vehicle Administration (MVA). Requesting a Waiver Hearing is a request for a trial date, although the Hearing limits the offender to tendering a guilty plea with “an explanation” because the citing Officer/Trooper is excused from appearing to offer evidence. Subject to the nature of the offense, the offender’s driving record, or other information presented at the Waiver Hearing, the court may offer the offender “Probation Before Judgment” or “PBJ,” a special disposition pursuant to which the Court withholds a “conviction” from the offender’s record and the result of which avoids any point assessment by the MVA. However, by requesting a Trial, the Officer/Trooper who issued the citation(s) is required to appear in court to offer evidence against the offender. Typically, if the Officer/Trooper fails to appear in court as scheduled, and absent prior notification to the court of circumstances amounting to “good cause” for the Judge to postpone the case, the Judge, upon a plea of “not guilty,” will dismiss the Citations or acquit the offender for lack of evidence.
Recipients of “payable” citations should also be aware that if they retain an attorney for court, their personal appearance in court is optional. Travel time (particularly for out-of-state drivers cited while passing through Maryland), conflicts with work or school, or the simple anxiety of appearing in a courtroom, are all reasons offenders absent themselves from court on their trial date. Doing so does not waive one’s right to a trial or compel an Officer/Trooper to appear and offer evidence to prove the State’s case. Additionally, counsel retains the right to cross examine the Officer/Trooper, raise any technical or legal objections to the charge(s) and evidence and upon a finding of guilt, to “mitigate” the potential fines and sentence of the court, including the avoidance of a conviction on the client’s record. For these reasons, an offender should give thoughtful consideration not only to requesting a Trial, but to engaging the services of a qualified traffic attorney to either accompany the offender to court or appear for trial in the offender’s stead.
Traffic attorneys routinely offer prospective clients a complimentary consultation to evaluate the nature of their citation(s), whether they are “moving” violations for which the MVA may assess points, and to discuss the best approach to defending the charges or mitigating their potential consequences.
1. Certain violations, while issued while a vehicle is “moving” carry no point assessment upon conviction. Those violations, unlike parking or speed camera violations, are included in this discussion.