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You have decided to plead not guilty. What's next?

Just before you do anything to the ticket, you should make a photocopy of it and keep it on file. You will need it later. Read it over again carefully, which I presume you already did several times, just to make sure you haven't missed anything, and to verify that all information is correct.

According to popular belief, which may have stemmed from the old Summary Convictions Act, that minor errors* on the ticket will make it void. This is not true anymore. If your name on the ticket is spelled incorrectly, this is not a fatal error. As long as the right person is standing in front of the court, and the police officer can identify you, the name on the ticket does not have to match your name exactly. Other minor errors, such as license plate, the defendant's address, and license number etc. will not affect the validity of the ticket. The error must be major enough in such a way that it will mislead you into preparing a defence. An example would be an offence that is not known to law (e.g. speeding 40 km/h in a 63 km/h zone.) Other fatal errors include missing police officer's signature, missing defendant's name, identification and signature etc. If you are not sure whether your ticket has a fatal error, it is better to plead not guilty anyway. The judge will decide whether the error is fatal and if so, he will dismiss it.  Don't assume a small error will void the ticket and toss it out yourself.

So you have circled option 3 on the ticket, checked the box "YES, I want to challenge the officer's evidence", signed it and mailed it back. For most people, what you do now is wait for the court date to arrive in the mail. In some big cities, a different method of handling the not guilty pleas may be employed. You may not be allowed to mail the ticket back if you wish to plead not guilty. You will have to make a trip to the courthouse in person and fill out a form to enter a not guilty plea. At this time an informal pre-trial hearing may be held, where a minimum-pay court clerk will try to talk you out of going to court, or a plea bargain deal can be arranged. This is just another step to hassle the defendants seeking to defend themselves. Another variation of this tactic is to give you a pre-trial hearing date in the mail, where if you can't reach a plea bargaining deal, you have to come to court a second time for the actual trial.

Whatever the case, if you are determined to fight it, you should start preparing your case early, when everything is still fresh in your mind. Go to the place where you were cited. Take note of all the buildings, trees, road signs etc. If there are any power lines, telephone lines and neon lights, make note of these, too. If the place is not familiar to you, you can take some pictures of it. The pictures might not be usable in court, but they can remind you of that place and the surroundings. Obtain a map or draw one by yourself, and indicate the location of these important things on the map. In the case where the trial will be scheduled a few months away, it is also a good idea to write down the date, time, location, weather condition, traffic density and other relevant details. If you have everything written down, your defence will be so much more powerful than if you just rely on your memory.

There is one more thing you need to do, although not entirely related to fighting the ticket, is to change your insurance company. That's right, if you don't want your insurance premium to skyrocket in case you are convicted. How does your company find out about your ticket you may ask. Insurance companies rely on the Ministry of Transportation to report any moving violations that you may have, and this is done when you are convicted. But how does the Ministry of Transportation know which insurance company you are with? Remember when you renew your vehicle plate stickers? You have to report your insurance company and policy number while you renew your plates. That's how the MOT knows which insurance company you are with. There is a bit of timing you can take advantage of, because the law only requires you to disclose your insurance information every time you renew your plates, whether it is one year or two years. As long as you have proof of valid insurance, you can change insurance companies as many times as you like, without telling the MOT until the next time you renew your plates. Before then, the MOT would still have your "old" insurance information and will report the violations to your old insurance company, therefore, keeping your present record clean. Having said all these, it becomes clear that it is highly recommended to have your annual insurance renewal date fall on the month after your birthday. The reason is, all vehicle owners in Ontario get to renew their plates on their birthdays, and at that time they also get to report their insurance information. Having the insurance expiry/renewal date fall on the month after, you can change insurance companies and the MOT will essentially always have old information. You heard it here at FYST first.

*an error so minor as to a "cross" mark was used instead of the required "check" mark in a box will nullify the whole ticket.

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