What is an informal hearing?
An informal hearing is a court proceeding held to decide whether you committed and whether you are responsible for the traffic offense with which you were charged. It is your opportunity to defend yourself, to ask questions, and to have witnesses testify in your favor. The testimony is under oath but the hearing is much less formal than a trial.
How is an informal hearing different from a trial?
The magistrate, rather than the district judge, usually presides over the hearing. Neither side may be represented by an attorney. There is no jury and no court reporter. The magistrate’s final decision will be based on preponderance, a 51 to 49 percent majority, of the evidence, not on proof beyond a reasonable doubt. In general, the atmosphere will be less formal than that of a trial.
How do I defend myself at the hearing?
You may testify on your own behalf, have witnesses testify on your behalf, and ask questions of the witnesses against you. It is expected that any questions will be concise, courteous, and not argumentative. You should also present any documents or other physical evidence you might have that supports your case. In general, remember that your hearing is your “day in court”, so come prepared. Have your defense and questions ready.
How do I get my witnesses to appear?
You may ask witnesses to come in voluntarily, or if necessary, you may use the subpoena power of the court to obtain their attendance. Subpoena forms may be obtained from the court clerk.
May I pay witnesses for appearing?
Yes, if you are the party subpoenaing the witness. Check with the court clerk to find out current witness fee amounts.
May the citing officer bring witnesses?
What are the possible outcomes of the hearing?
You may be found: not responsible, responsible, or responsible for a lesser infraction than the one charged.
What happens if the citing officer fails to appear?
If the officer does not appear, the case will be dismissed "without prejudice," which means there has not been a finding of responsibility for the charged offense. The officer may issue another citation for the same incident.
What happens if I fail to appear?
If you fail to appear, the court will enter a default judgment against you. This means the court will automatically find you responsible for the infraction charged, set the fine and costs, and mail you a judgment notice requiring you to pay, if you do not pay the judgment within 28 days, the court will send you a 14-day notice. If you do not pay within 14 days from the notice date, your driver’s license will be suspended by the Secretary of State and the court may issue a warrant for your arrest.
What about violation points?
Points are assessed by the Secretary of State’s office when it receives notice from the court that you committed a moving traffic offense. The magistrate who finds you responsible cannot adjust the number of points assessed against you.
Do I have the right to appeal?
If you are found responsible by the magistrate after an informal hearing, you have the right to appeal for a formal hearing before the district judge. If the judge finds you responsible after a formal hearing, you have the right to appeal again to circuit court.
How do I appeal the decision made at an informal hearing?
Within 7 days of the judgment, you must complete an appeal form and file it with the court, together with an appeal bond equal to the fine and costs imposed by the magistrate. You do not have to pay a filing fee for the appeal. If the magistrate reduces your charge and or fine and you still want to appeal, the charges and fines will go back to what they were originally.
What if I have further questions about informal hearings?
Ask any court employee. He or she will answer your question, or find you someone who can. There is one exception: we CANNOT give you legal advice.