District Court Department

  1. I just received a traffic ticket. What must I do?
  2. I have been notified of the date of my court hearing but I am unavailable on that date. What should I do?
  3. Can I simply write to the court and explain why I am not responsible rather than attending a hearing?
  4. What will happen if I just ignore the ticket?
  5. What will happen if I miss my court hearing?
  6. What will happen on the date of the magistrate hearing?
  7. Must the citing officer be present at the hearing?
  8. Can I cross-examine police officers or other witnesses during a hearing?
  9. Can I ask the magistrate to issue a warning instead of a citation?
  10. What if I am found responsible for a civil violation at the magistrate's hearing?
  11. What if I need more than 20 days to pay the civil assessment?
  12. If I am found responsible for a civil violation, can the magistrate reduce the amount of the civil assessment?
  13. If I am found responsible as to a civil violation, can the magistrate allow me to avoid an auto insurance surcharge?
  14. Can I appeal the magistrate's decision?
  15. Can the police appeal the magistrate's decision?
  16. Can I appeal from a judge's decision?
  17. How long do I have to appeal to the Appellate Division?
  18. Can I appeal the Appellate Division's decision?
  19. I missed my hearing before the magistrate or the judge. Can I appeal to the Appellate Division?

1. I just received a traffic ticket. What must I do? 

First, examine the citation ("ticket") to determine if you were merely issued a warning or cited for a violation. If the officer checked "warning" you were only issued a warning and you do not need to do anything. If the officer checked "all civil infractions" then you were cited only for civil violations (known as Civil Motor Vehicle Infractions, or CMVIs). If the officer checked "criminal complaint application" or "arrest" then you were cited for at least one criminal violation, or for a combination of civil and criminal violations.

If you were cited only for civil violations, you have two options. Within 20 days of the date of the citation, you may mail a check for the total civil assessment indicated on the citation to the Registry of Motor Vehicles (RMV), or pay by credit card on the RMV's internet site or through its toll-free telephone number, as indicated on the citation. You may not pay the civil assessment to the court. If you pay the civil assessment after 20 days, you will be subject to additional fees. If you dispute whether you are responsible for any of the civil violations charged, you may request a civil hearing before a court magistrate. To do so, check the appropriate box on the back of the citation and mail it to the RMV at the address indicated within 20 days of the date of the citation. The court will send you written notice of the date and time of your CMVI hearing. The notice of hearing will be sent to your current mailing address from the RMV's records, even if you provided a different address to the citing police officer. If you have moved, you should immediately report your current mailing address to the RMV by mail, in person or on the RMV's internet site or you may not receive the hearing notice.

The procedures for civil motor vehicle infractions are found in G.L. c. 90C, § 2 and § 3(A) and in Trial Court Rule VII, the Uniform Rule on Civil Motor Vehicle Infractions.

If you were cited for any criminal violations, then the entire citation must be resolved before a judge or magistrate in the course of the criminal case. If you dispute whether you are guilty of the criminal violations for which you were cited, in most cases you may obtain a show cause hearing before a magistrate to oppose the issuance of a criminal complaint. (A show cause hearing is not available if you were arrested for that violation or if the violation is a felony, that is, a more serious offense that may be punished with a state prison sentence.) To obtain a show cause hearing, check the appropriate box on the back of the citation and mail or deliver it to the court clerk-magistrate's office within 4 days of the date of the citation. The court will send you a written notice of the date and time of your show cause hearing. If you do not wish a show cause hearing, you should await the issuance of a summons from the court. If you change your address or if your mailing address differs from that written on the citation by the citing police officer, you must notify the clerk-magistrate's office or you may not receive the hearing notice or summons.

The procedures for criminal motor vehicle violations are found in G.L. c. 90C, § 2 and § 3(B) and (C).

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2. I have been notified of the date of my court hearing but I am unavailable on that date. What should I do?

Contact the clerk-magistrate's office as soon as you are aware of the conflict and request a change in date. You may be asked to submit your request in writing and to attach any documents establishing why you cannot be in court on the date scheduled. Because of the large volume of such hearings and the many requests for continuances received, it is within the discretion of a magistrate whether to give you an alternate hearing date. If a magistrate allows an alternate hearing date, be sure you are available on that date and make note of it as you will not receive any additional mailed notice. Except for genuine emergencies (such as serious illness), usually a hearing will not be rescheduled a second time.

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3. Can I simply write to the court and explain why I am not responsible rather than attending a hearing?

No, the law provides only for hearings in person and does not allow for hearings by mail.

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4. What will happen if I just ignore the ticket?

If you were cited only for civil violations, you will be notified by the RMV that your driver's license will be suspended until you pay the citation in full. You will also be subject to substantial fees.

If you were cited for any criminal violations, you will receive a summons to appear in court before a judge. If you ignore the court summons, your driver's license will be suspended, a warrant will be issued for your arrest, you will be subject to substantial fees, you will be denied unemployment, workers' compensation and public assistance benefits and state tax refunds, and any professional licenses or permits may be suspended or denied.

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5. What will happen if I miss my court hearing?

If you were cited only for civil violations and you miss your court hearing before a magistrate because you forgot or for another reason that does not constitute good cause beyond your control, you must pay the citation in full to the RMV within 20 days of the scheduled hearing or you may be subject to substantial fees. If you miss your court hearing for a good reason that is beyond your control, you may file a motion with the court explaining why you missed your hearing. You should do so immediately, since the court will notify the RMV that you failed to appear. A magistrate has considerable discretion in assessing such motions and the law does not provide for any appeal from that decision.

If you were cited for any criminal violations and you miss your show cause hearing before a magistrate because you forgot or for another reason that does not constitute good cause beyond your control, you will receive a summons to appear in court before a judge. If you ignore the court summons, your driver's license will be suspended, a warrant will be issued for your arrest, you will be subject to substantial fees, you will be denied unemployment, workers' compensation and public assistance benefits and state tax refunds, and any professional licenses or permits may be suspended or denied. If you miss your show cause hearing for a good reason that is beyond your control, you may file a motion with the court explaining why you missed your hearing. You should do so immediately, since the magistrate will normally issue a criminal complaint and a summons for you to appear before a judge. A magistrate has considerable discretion in assessing such motions and the law does not provide for any appeal from that decision.

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6. What will happen on the date of the magistrate hearing?

You should come to court on the date and time scheduled for hearing. Do not arrive late. Unless the hearing notice or posted signs at the courthouse indicate otherwise, report to the clerk-magistrate's office when you arrive at the court. Your hearing will be conducted by the clerk-magistrate or by an assistant clerk-magistrate. Formal rules of evidence do not apply. The police department will present its evidence to support the charge. You will then be allowed to tell the magistrate why you believe you were not responsible and to offer any other evidence that supports your position, including pictures, documents or witnesses. After all the evidence has been presented, the magistrate will make a decision.

If you were cited only for civil violations the magistrate will decide whether the police department has proved each civil violation by a preponderance of evidence (that is, whether it is more likely than not that you committed the violation). If so, the magistrate will find you responsible as to that violation. If not, the magistrate will find you not responsible as to that violation. You do not have a right to a jury trial for civil violations.

If you were cited for any criminal violations the magistrate will decide whether there is probable cause to issue a criminal complaint against you for those violations. If the magistrate issues a criminal complaint, you will eventually be able to have a trial by a judge or a jury or to plead guilty. The District Court's standards for such show cause hearings are available on the internet.

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7. Must the citing officer be present at the hearing?

No. Instead of the citing officer testifying, a representative of the police department that issued the citation may present a copy of the citation or a police report as evidence. If you were cited only for civil violations, the law provides that the citation itself is adequate evidence of the violation, although it is not conclusive. If neither the citing officer nor another police department representative appears at the hearing and you do appear, the magistrate will make a finding of not responsible as to any civil violations and deny a criminal complaint as to any criminal violations. If you were cited only for civil violations and neither the citing officer or other police representative appears at the hearing, but you do not appear either, your request for a hearing will be dismissed and you must pay the citation as written.

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8. Can I cross-examine police officers or other witnesses during a hearing?

Yes, reasonable cross-examination is allowed to the extent and in the manner determined to be appropriate by the magistrate.

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9. Can I ask the magistrate to issue a warning instead of a citation?

No. The law allows only the citing police officer to decide whether to issue a warning instead of a citation.

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10. What if I am found responsible for a civil violation at the magistrate's hearing?

You must pay the amount of the civil assessment as written on the citation or as reduced by the magistrate directly to the RMV within 20 days.

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11. What if I need more than 20 days to pay the civil assessment?

Prior to the conclusion of the magistrate's hearing, you may request a longer period of time to pay the civil assessment.

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12. If I am found responsible for a civil violation, can the magistrate reduce the amount of the civil assessment?

If you are found responsible, the magistrate will usually impose a civil assessment in the same amount as that written on the citation. Pursuant to statute, the Chief Justice of the District Court has issued the following rules about reductions in such assessments.

For speeding violations, the magistrate must impose the scheduled civil assessment, which is $50 plus an additional $10 for each mile per hour in excess of 10 m.p.h. over the posted speed limit, plus a surcharge of $50.

For civil violations other than speeding, if the scheduled civil assessment is $50 or more the magistrate may reduce the assessment by up to 50% if there are exceptional circumstances in the particular case, applying the following three considerations:

"Any reduction from the scheduled assessment should be based upon articulable and well considered differentiation among cases in order that violators in similar positions may be treated similarly, that justice may be seen to be done, and that requests for reduced assessments shall not become routine.

"An offender's intent or knowledge in violating the law generally should not be determinative in deciding whether to impose a reduced assessment. Civil motor vehicle infractions are in the nature of "public order" offenses, enacted to promote public safety without regard to an individual's moral culpability. For the same reason, the absence of offenses in a violator's driving record, or an out-of-state driver's ignorance of Massachusetts traffic laws, should not justify a reduction in the scheduled assessment.

"An assessment should not be reduced based upon the opinion of the judge or magistrate that, without regard to the presence or absence of exceptional circumstances in the individual case, the scheduled assessment for the particular infraction should be less in many or all cases."

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13. If I am found responsible as to a civil violation, can the magistrate allow me to avoid an auto insurance surcharge?

No. The magistrate is not able to affect the Commonwealth's safe driver insurance plan.

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14. Can I appeal the magistrate's decision?

If you were cited only for civil violations you may appeal to a judge but you must do so immediately and before the conclusion of the magistrate's hearing. (On request, the magistrate may allow you some additional time to consider whether to appeal.) You must pay a non-refundable $20 appeal fee to the clerk-magistrate's office before your appeal to a judge is heard.

If you were cited for any criminal violations you may not appeal the magistrate's decision to issue a criminal complaint. Your only recourse is to file a motion to dismiss the criminal complaint, if you have grounds for doing so, when you are brought before a judge.

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15. Can the police appeal the magistrate's decision?

If you were cited only for civil violations the police may appeal to a judge from a decision in your favor by the magistrate. Since this is not a criminal matter, constitutional rules about double jeopardy do not apply.

If you were cited for any criminal violations the police may request a judge to reconsider a magistrate's decision not to issue a criminal complaint for all or some criminal violations. The judge may choose to reconsider the magistrate's decision but is not required to do so. Since this is a preliminary hearing and not a trial, constitutional rules about double jeopardy do not apply.

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16. Can I appeal from a judge's decision?

If you were cited only for civil violations you (or the police) may appeal the judge's decision to the Appellate Division of the District Court, but only for alleged errors of law - for example, the meaning of a statute, or whether the evidence was minimally adequate. You may not appeal a question of fact - for example, whether or not you were speeding, based on conflicting evidence. In the Appellate Division, a panel of three judges will review the legal correctness of the judge's decision, but not the judge's factual determinations.

If you were cited for any criminal violations you may not appeal the judge's decision to issue a criminal complaint. If you later file a motion to dismiss the criminal complaint and it is denied by a judge, you may raise that denial as part of any appeal to the Appeals Court if you are found guilty.

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17. How long do I have to appeal to the Appellate Division?

If you were cited only for civil violations, you must file any appeal to the Appellate Division within 10 days after the judge has found you responsible. (Saturdays, Sundays and holidays are included, but if the tenth day falls on a Saturday, Sunday or holiday you may file your appeal on the next business day.) Your appeal must be filed with the clerk-magistrate's office on the "claim of appeal" form which you may obtain from any clerk-magistrate's office. You must include with your appeal the non-refundable $180 Appellate Division filing fee. If you are indigent, you may fill out an application to waive the filing fee. If you are determined to be ineligible for such a waiver, you will be given time to pay the filing fee or to appeal that determination. The court does not have authority to extend the 10-day appeal period.

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18. Can I appeal the Appellate Division's decision?

You may appeal the Appellate Division's decision to the Massachusetts Appeals Court within 30 days. You will have to pay a filing fee of $300 unless it is waived by the Appeals Court because you are indigent.

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19. I missed my hearing before the magistrate or the judge. Can I appeal to the Appellate Division?

No. By statute the magistrate or judge must impose the regular civil assessment when a motorist fails to appear at the scheduled hearing. The motorist's only remedy is a motion to the magistrate or judge requesting that the default be removed and the hearing rescheduled. The denial of such a motion is not appealable.

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