1. I got a traffic ticket and want to challenge it. What do I do?
  2. I have been charged with a civil infraction, and I think I did not break a traffic law. What do I do next?
  3. What happens next?
  4. What if the hearing is scheduled when I can’t go?
  5. What if I miss the hearing?
  6. If I missed the hearing, can I reschedule?
  7. How do I get ready for a civil hearing?
  8. What happens at the hearing?
  9. If the clerk-magistrate found me responsible and I don’t agree, what can I do?
  10. What happens at the appeal hearing?
  11. What if I disagree with the judge?

1. I got a traffic ticket and want to challenge it. What do I do?

First, look at the ticket, called a citation. Figure out what kind of citation it is. There are four boxes near the bottom of the citation, and one or more will be checked.

If the “warning” box is checked, then you have a warning, not a ticket. There is nothing you need to do.

If the “criminal complaint application” or “arrest” box is checked, then you have been charged with a crime. Your case will go before a judge or magistrate as a criminal matter. If you are also charged with civil infractions, they will be covered during the criminal hearing. You cannot challenge them separately. See “Appealing a Criminal Traffic Ticket in Massachusetts.”

If the “all civil infractions” box is checked, and you think you did not break a traffic law, then keep reading.

2. I have been charged with a civil infraction, and I think I did not break a traffic law. What do I do next?

You want a clerk magistrate to hear your side. Look at the back of the citation. Check box #2 that says you request a court hearing. Sign and date the citation. Keep a copy of the citation if you can. If you can’t make a copy, then make sure you write down the citation number and keep it with your records.

Next, send the citation and a $25 filing fee to the Registry of Motor Vehicles (RMV) at the address listed on the back of the citation. Mail the citation within 20 days of the date you were cited. Pay the fee by check or money order. Do not send cash.  

3. What happens next?

The RMV will let the court know that you want a hearing. The court will send you a notice with the date and time of your hearing. They will use the address that the RMV has for you. (If you have moved from that address, contact the RMV immediately and give them your new address.)

4. What if the hearing is scheduled when I can’t go?

Call the clerk-magistrate’s office as soon as you know there is a conflict. Do not wait until the day of the hearing. Explain why you cannot go to the hearing. Bring any papers you have that explain why you cannot be at the scheduled hearing. They may ask you to write out the reasons you want to reschedule. The clerk-magistrate will decide if you have good reasons to postpone the hearing.

If the magistrate allows you to have a new date, the court will send you a notice with the new date and time.

5. What if I miss the hearing?

If you do not go to your hearing, the clerk-magistrate will find you responsible for the civil infractions, and you will owe the fees and fines assessed on the original citation. The clerk-magistrate will note that you did not appear.

That same day, the court will notify the RMV that you were found responsible for the civil infractions. Payment of the citation is due at the RMV within 20 days. You can send a check or money order. Do not send cash.

The court will not send you a notice about the finding or about your fees.

6. If I missed the hearing, can I reschedule?

If you missed the hearing and want to reschedule, write to the clerk-magistrate and ask. In your letter, explain why you think the clerk-magistrate should allow another hearing. Send in any documentation about why you missed the first hearing.

If you missed the first hearing for circumstances beyond your control, the clerk-magistrate probably will schedule a second hearing.

7. How do I get ready for a civil hearing?

Make sure you bring any written documents or witnesses for your case. Arrive early. You can have an attorney with you if you want, but it is not required. Most motorists do not have a lawyer.

Ask the staff in the clerk’s office where the hearing will be held.

8. What happens at the hearing?

The clerk-magistrate conducts the hearing. You will be sworn in. You will be able to sit down.

First an officer representing the police department will read a report about what happened.  The officer who gave you the citation wrote the report for the police representative.

After the officer reads the report, you will be able to tell your side of the story. You can bring photos, diagrams, documents and witnesses. You can ask the officer questions. You can explain why you feel you did not break the traffic law. The officer can ask you questions.

Then the clerk-magistrate will make a decision. If the clerk-magistrate finds you not responsible, there is nothing you have to do. If the clerk-magistrate finds you responsible, then you have to pay the assessment or fines ordered to the RMV within 20 days. You may pay with a check or money order. Do not send cash.

9. If the clerk-magistrate found me responsible and I don’t agree, what can I do?

Tell the clerk-magistrate before you leave the hearing that you do not agree and you want to appeal. The clerk-magistrate will schedule a date, time and location for an appeal hearing in front of a judge. There is a $50 filing fee which must be paid by the day of the first hearing. If you can’t pay the fee, the court can waive it if you provide documentation of your income.

10. What happens at the appeal hearing?

Your name will be called. You will come forward and stand before the judge. The officer who issued the citation must be there. Otherwise, the hearing is very similar to the hearing with the clerk-magistrate.

If the judge finds you not responsible, there is nothing you need to do. If the judge finds you responsible, then you have to pay the assessment or fines to the RMV within 20 days.

11. What if I disagree with the judge?

Get a Claim of Appeal from the clerk-magistrate’s office of the court where the appeal hearing took place. Fill out the form and give it back to the clerk-magistrate’s office within 10 days of the appeal hearing. There is a $180 filing fee, which the clerk-magistrate can waive if you do not have the money to pay it.

As part of your Claim of Appeal, you need to write out the issues of law (not issues of fact) that you are asking the Appellate Division to review.