Several times a year, we receive calls from people who have received a traffic ticket with a court date at the top of their traffic ticket. However, the court date at the top of the ticket does not end up being the actual court date and time. This often leads to much confusion for someone who is already distraught about getting a ticket. To that end, it is helpful to understand the legal process concerning how a ticket handed over by an officer to the prosecutor transitions into an actual court case.
When an officer stops your vehicle and hands you a routine traffic ticket, the courthouse and judge are not immediately made aware. There is no immediate transfer of data to the court. If you call the court shortly thereafter, it will have no record of your ticket. The officer must either hand deliver, mail, or transmit a copy of the ticket to the prosecutor’s office. From there, the prosecutor must then decide whether to convert that ticket into a court case. That is routinely referred to as “filing the case”. For simple tickets such as those given for speeding, the prosecutor merely signs the ticket and then delivers it to the court. For more serious criminal charges, the prosecutor will file a formal written pleading known as a complaint.
A common problem arises when there is either a delay in the officer getting the ticket to the prosecutor or when the prosecutor delays getting the ticket signed and filed with the court. Under such circumstances, a person might appear at a court date only to discover that he/she does not actually have court on the date written on their ticket.
Potential clients will call our office about their ticket and due to it not having been filed, the attorney is unable to look up any information regarding the ticket. On many occasions the ticket is not filed until a day or two prior to court which makes it difficult for an attorney to give much guidance. On a rare occasion, it can be longer. The prosecutor generally has up to one year to file a misdemeanor case so it is possible for it to be that long before anything is filed.
In summary, when you receive a ticket, there is no court case until that ticket has been delivered by the officer to the prosecutor and then filed by the prosecutor with the court. For a very few lucky individuals, sometimes their ticket never makes it’s way to the court house.
Understanding this basic process can help you or your loved ones in their initial communications with an attorney’s office.