Find out what to expect at a traffic ticket hearing

Learn about what will happen at your traffic ticket hearing and what happens if you miss your hearing.

The day of the magistrate hearing

You should come to court on the date and time scheduled for your hearing. Don't arrive late. Unless the hearing notice or posted signs at the courthouse say otherwise, you should 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 don't apply. The police department will present its evidence to support the charge, and you'll then be allowed to tell the magistrate why you believe you weren't responsible and to offer any other evidence that supports your position, including pictures, documents or witnesses. You're allowed to cross-examine police officers or witnesses during the hearing to the extent and in the manner determined appropriate by the magistrate.

After all the evidence has been presented, the magistrate will make a decision. The magistrate can't issue a warning instead of a citation — only the citing police officer can decide to issue a warning instead of a citation.

  • If you were only cited for civil violations — The magistrate will decide whether the police department has proved whether it's more likely than not that you committed each civil violation. If so, the magistrate will find you responsible for that violation. If not, the magistrate will find you not responsible for that violation. You don't 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 jury or to plead guilty. The District Court and Boston Municipal Court standards for these show cause hearings are available online.

Who will be at the hearing?

The citing officer may not be at your hearing. 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 only cited for civil violations, the citation itself is enough evidence of the violation, although it doesn’t necessarily prove you’re guilty.

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 for any civil violations and deny a criminal complaint for any criminal violations.

If you were only cited for civil violations and neither the citing officer or other police representative appears at the hearing, but you don't appear either, your request for a hearing will be dismissed and you must pay the citation.

Paying the civil assessment

If you're found responsible for a civil violation, the magistrate will usually issue a civil assessment of the same amount that's written on the citation. You must pay the amount of the civil assessment written on the citation or the amount  the magistrate has reduced it to directly to the RMV within 20 days. Before the end of the magistrate's hearing, you can request a longer period of time to pay the civil assessment.

Please see the following rules about reductions in these 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 mph 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 percent if there are exceptional circumstances in the particular case, applying these 3 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."

What if I miss my court hearing?

Civil violations

If you were only cited for civil violations and you miss your court hearing before a magistrate because you forgot or for another reason that isn't considered good cause beyond your control, you must pay the citation in full to the RMV within 20 days of the scheduled hearing or you'll have to pay substantial fees.

If you miss your court hearing for a good reason that's beyond your control, you can file a motion with the court explaining why you missed your hearing. You should do this immediately, since the court will tell the RMV that you failed to appear. A magistrate has considerable discretion in assessing these motions, and you can’t appeal that decision.

You can't appeal to the Appellate Division if you miss your hearing. The magistrate or judge must impose the regular civil assessment when you fail to appear at the scheduled hearing. Your only option is a motion to the magistrate or judge requesting that the default be removed and the hearing rescheduled. If the motion is denied, you can't appeal it.

Criminal violations

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 isn't considered good cause beyond your control, you'll 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'll be subject to substantial fees
  • You'll be denied unemployment, workers' compensation, public assistance benefits, and state tax refunds
  • Any professional licenses or permits you have may be suspended or denied

If you miss your show cause hearing for a good reason that's beyond your control, you may file a motion with the court explaining why you missed your hearing. You should do this 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 these motions, and you can’t appeal that decision.

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