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The Ins and Outs of Traffic Court

So, you’ve received a traffic ticket – now what happens?

Offences of this kind fall under the Ontario Provincial Offences Act, which was enacted in 1990. Another important statute, the Highway Traffic Act, includes common mistakes such as speeding, stunt driving, invalid plates, and much more! These offences are “regulatory,” meaning that they are not criminal. As such, a conviction under the Act will not result in a criminal record. Nevertheless, these offences are normally dealt with by speaking to a provincial prosecutor, or by heading to a Provincial Offences Court to sort everything out.

Even if you receive a ticket, that doesn’t mean you can’t fight the charges! An important first step is to know what kind of ticket you’re dealing with. Parking tickets, for example, can be paid out with the prescribed amount, or you can challenge it in court. Non-parking tickets, however, can be handled by paying the amount owed, pleading guilty and making submissions at the court office, or setting up a trial date. Sometimes, it is possible to even meet with the prosecutor beforehand to try to settle the issue early on. A failure to do any of these steps within 15 days of receiving a ticket could result in you being found guilty!

If steps are followed, anyone who is charged with an offence under the Act will be presumed innocent until proven guilty. The standard of proof will also vary for each occasion. The lowest threshold would be proving “absolute liability,” meaning that the act itself only needs to be proven; no mental element will need to be assessed. Similarly, “strict liability” does not require proof of a mental element, but here the accused is allowed to prove whether they acted in due diligence. Lastly, the highest standard of proof comes with “mens rea cases,” where the prosecution has to prove both a guilty act and a guilty mind – these, however, are typically associated with Criminal Code charges, but certain offences such as possession of an invalid insurance card will still fall under this category. In traffic court, it does appear that most of the time we will encounter strict liability offences, which is based on a balance of probabilities (rather than the higher burden of reaching beyond a reasonable doubt, such as in criminal cases).

Trials for traffic tickets may usually proceed like this: first, you can either plead guilty or not guilty to the traffic offence you were charged with. The prosecutor will then call upon their own witnesses first, which your side can later cross-examine after they have finished speaking. The prosecutor can then choose to re-examine the witnesses to clarify any outstanding issues. After this, you are also entitled to call upon your own witnesses, which will follow a similar procedure as described above. After all the evidence has been presented, the justice of the peace will provide their judgment (either immediately, or at a later date) to convict, or not to convict.

Although the process might seem daunting, you don’t have to be alone! With a licensed lawyer or paralegal from Aitken Robertson’s Ticket Clinic such as our very own Jami Sanftleben, you can have someone by your side and ready to help. A court trial might not even be necessary if you choose not to proceed this way and we can help reduce your penalty beforehand. In any case, our defence team will try to exhaust all possible options to help you and your case! If we succeed, we can help throw away the charges altogether or reduce their severity.

If you choose to retain us, our legal representatives will offer you a free 30-minute consultation to discuss your possible avenues towards fighting the charges. We will then proceed to talk to the prosecutor and try to point out certain weaknesses. These can include a violation of your Charter rights (such as unreasonable search and seizure), insufficient evidence on the part of the prosecutor and the police, or even errors on the ticket itself. These errors may be very technical. We may also recommend that you plead guilty to a less serious offence typically in the event where we have reason to believe the prosecution has enough evidence to convict.

 

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