Before continuing, please read this important notice about
The court date
You can't sleep last night. Because today is your court date. You should
not dress too formally when you go to a traffic court. A T-shirt and a
pair of jeans will do, as long as they are neat and not torn. Arrive early
so you have a chance to study other people's similar traffic cases and
learn how court proceedings work if you haven't already done so.
There are a few things you have to remember when you attend a court
- Do not talk in the spectator area;
- Do not wear a hat;
- Stand up when the judge enters or leaves the courtroom;
- Bow to the judge when you enter or leave the courtroom;
- Always address the judge as "Your Worship" or "Your
Honour". Don't call him/her "you";
- Show your respect. If you act like a 5-year-old kid, it will only make
you look like a jerk and it is definitely not to your advantage;
- Video and/or audio recordings are not allowed. Unobstrusive hand written
notes for educational purposes is however permitted in the courtroom (if
you are the defendant, you need to take notes).
Unlike the court sessions you normally see in movies, traffic courts
are pretty informal. You are expected to be treated leniently, and sometimes
you, the judge and the prosecution will involve in 3-way conversations
during the trial. Chances are, most of the defendants in the court room
know about court procedures less than you. Showing your etiquette in court
will impress the judge.
In some courts, in order to save time and costs, the prosecution may
offer plea bargain prior to the trial. It's your call to accept this. In
a plea bargain, you and the prosecution work out what charges satisfy both
parties, instead of taking the case through the whole process of a trial.
If you want to plea bargain with the prosecution, you may do it after the
court opens for admission and before the judge enters the courtroom. Normally,
if you are charged reckless driving, you can admit a speeding offence but
plead not guilty to the more serious offence. The prosecution may or may
not accept this depending on the situation and its evidence. Some courts
even allow a speeding charge to be bargained down to a seatbelt violation.
I don't think Ontario will accept this, but it happens in the US. After
all, they are more interested in your money than anything else. If you
agree to pay up in some form or another, they are equally happy.
If you are more concerned with the insurance premium increase, it is better
to just take it to court and beat it down. To the insurance industry, it
is the number of convictions that counts. Unless you are facing a loss
of license, it is worth the risk of rejecting the plea bargain and taking
it to trial.
When you go to court, you have to know who is who and who does what.
The players include:
- The judge - usually in a provincial offences court, this person is
called a Justice of the Peace ("Justice"). A Justice does not
practise law, does not have a law degree, but has a certain amount of legal
training. He/she is a lay person, just like you. A Justice should be addressed
to as "Your Worship". When you are in a higher appeal court,
you will be facing a Provincial Judge, who practises law and has a law
degree. A Provincial Judge should always be addressed to as "Your
Honour". Throughout this article we will simply call this player the
judge. He/she will preside the court and make rulings. The judge will sit
at the judge's bench located in the front middle of the court room.
- The court reporter - this person handles the documents for the judge
and make tape recordings of the trials. He/she is seated at a desk to the
right hand side of the judge. You usually won't talk to this person.
- The prosecutor - this is your enemy. Called the "Crown" in
the law profession. The attorney acting on behalf of the Crown will try
to elicit facts from their witnesses to convict you.
- The police officer - the Crown's most important witness. Contrary to
common belief, he is not your enemy now. He is only the assistant to the
Crown and to say what happened from his personal knowledge. If he isn't
careful in what he says he might even help your case. If he is not there,
congratulations, you win.
- You - the defendant. You are entitled to defend yourself after the
Crown has finished presenting its case.
- Your counsellor - your lawyer or agent. He/she will be entitled to
cross-examine the Crown's witnesses and try to destroy their evidence and
credibility. If you choose to defend yourself, he/she will try to elicit
facts from you in order to prove your innocence. This is called providing
contradicting evidence. If you are not represented, you play this role
- Your witnesses - their testimonies should help your case somehow. You
counsellor will try to elicit facts from them to prove your case. The Crown
will get the chance to cross-examine them also.
- Spectators - they are a bunch of unfortunate people, just like you.
Most of them are waiting for their cases to be heard, and some of them
are friends and relatives of the accused's. You don't need to worry about
them at the trial.
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