I receive a number of calls from clients who have been involved in accidents, or who have fled from police and who are later given a ticket by the police. It is not uncommon for officers to show up on someone's doorstep and serve them with a traffic ticket for something that happened days, weeks, or even months earlier. Most of these clients have questions about disputing these tickets, and questions about whether the police are entitled to serve a ticket after the fact, or for something they did not observe.
This blog post attempts to answer those questions.
The officer didn't see me driving
This is a common issue that arises in traffic court cases. If the officer did not see you driving that does not mean that he or she is prevented from issuing you a traffic ticket. The officer is entitled to act on information and belief, and is entitled to issue a ticket to to the registered owner of the vehicle. The Motor Vehicle Act sets out in Section 83 the liability of an owner for actions done with their vehicle. I always ask clients who are issued tickets from an officer who did not see them driving to check the ticket very carefully. It will say whether the person is charged as driver or owner.
Those who are charged as owner have only two defences: that the person who drove the vehicle did not have permission to drive it; or that the owner exercised reasonable care and diligence in entrusting the vehicle to the driver. If you are charged as owner and you were driving, you have no defence. If you were charged as owner and you were sitting in the passenger seat, you have a pretty weak defence. But tickets issued to owners, as opposed to drivers, do not carry any driver penalty points and do not result in a conviction on the driving record of the owner.
If you were charged as the driver, but the officer did not witness driving, then you may have a strong defence to the ticket. Not always, however. Oftentimes there are civilian witnesses who have reported bad driving and can identify the driver, or witnesses to collisions with whom you exchanged your information. These witnesses can be brought to court by police to establish that you were driving and to provide the evidence in support of the ticket you were issued. In my experience, once the officer has the civilian witness in court they are emboldened with confidence. They also do not want to back away from the ticket and risk embarrassment. At these times, an experienced traffic or driving lawyer is your best defence.
The third most common situation in which clients have been issued tickets when the officer does not witness driving is following an accident. Most people admit to the police that they were driving, and provide some description of how the accident happened. This is especially the case in single vehicle accidents. The police are entitled to rely on the admissions as the basis to issue a ticket. However, proving the case in court becomes more complex. Statements made by a person to the police are only admissible if the police can prove they were made voluntarily. There are some nuanced legal issues pertaining to statements following collisions. Moreover, many officers are not familiar with the process by which those statements become admissible. Again, an experienced driving lawyer like me can help you keep any statements you made to police out of court.
The officer gave me the ticket days, weeks, or months later
Traffic tickets are offences because of the Offence Act. There is a general limitation period for all offences under the Motor Vehicle Act to be charged within one year of the date the incident occurred. This means the officer can wait 364 days before issuing you a ticket for speeding, if he or she decides they want to do that. The vast majority of tickets are issued at the time of the incident, but there is no defence to a ticket to say that the officer gave it to you after the fact, unless it was more than a year after the fact.
That said, traffic tickets that are issued to a driver some time after the fact are usually done so for a reason. So there are often good defences in these cases that will result in success in traffic court, with the right defence strategy.
Disputing a ticket given to you more than 30 days after the incident
Another misconception about traffic tickets is that they must be disputed within 30 days of the date of the driving incident. This is not the case. Although there is a 30 day limitation period to dispute a traffic ticket, the clock on that limitation period does not start ticking until 30 days after the date the ticket is served on you. So you still can dispute a ticket that is given to you more than 30 days after the driving incident, but you also still must do so within 30 days of the date it was given to you.
If you miss the time to dispute a ticket, do not fret. There are options. In a future blog post, I will explain the different options available to you if you miss your time to dispute the ticket or you miss your court date for your traffic ticket.
The officer gave me the ticket at my house
The Motor Vehicle Act is limited in many respects to offences that occur on highways or industrial roads. For example, only certain provisions of the Motor Vehicle Act apply on Forest Service Roads. Some parking lots are not considered roads and the Motor Vehicle Act does not apply. The same goes for driveways and other private places. But the same is not true for where a peace officer can serve you with a ticket. They are entitled to come to your home, your place of work, or anywhere else you might be found to serve you with the ticket.
Nor is it a defence to argue that the police unlawfully entered your property to serve you with the ticket. There is, at common law, an implied right to knock and approach. There is a significant difference between knocking on a person's door to sniff out marijuana and for the valid purposes of serving a Violation Ticket and charging the individual with an offence. You have, of course, the right not to answer the door and the police will have to find some other means to serve you.
Which brings me to the next issue.
I received a summons to court in the mail for a driving incident
Traffic tickets do not have to proceed by way of the officer personally serving them on a driver or owner. Instead, the Offence Act allows a peace officer to forward charges to the provincial prosecutors and have the matter proceed by summons. This is rarely used, but is most often employed in situations where the officer cannot serve you.
If you receive such a summons, it is important to contact a lawyer and discuss the matter. There are also many instances in which the police proceed this way because there has been an injury or a death that has occurred as a result of a driving incident. You may not always know whether this has happened at the roadside (particularly in hit and run scenarios) and so you should never assume that this does not relate to something very serious. The Offence Act sets out a maximum penalty of a $2000 fine or 6 months in jail, or both. If someone has been badly injured or been killed because of a mistake in your driving, the prosecutor may be seeking jail time.
Never assume someone has not been injured or killed. Brain bleeds, for example, may be fatal and may not be detected at the roadside. Adrenaline can mask the symptoms of serious injuries. You should treat any summons you receive as very serious.
It is important to respond to the summons. Unlike a ticket that is served on you, you do not need to do anything to get a court date. If you do nothing with a regular traffic ticket or you miss your court date then you'll be convicted and owe ICBC the fine amount. If you do nothing after receiving a summons and you will miss your court date, a warrant can be issued for your arrest. You can then face further charges under the Criminal Code for failing to appear for court. This can result in you having a criminal record, if convicted. You must take a summons very seriously, because if you do not you can end up with a very serious consequence.
What to do if you get a traffic ticket
The best advice I can give anyone who receives a ticket is to contact a knowledgeable and experienced driving lawyer. Many lawyers, including myself, offer free consultations and will happily discuss your case with you and explain your options. If something about your ticket seems unusual, then you should absolutely be speaking with a lawyer before you decide what to do. The last thing you want is to miss out on an opportunity to defend your case because you did not realize something was defective in the officer's evidence, case, or manner of serving the ticket to you.
Vancouver Criminal Lawyer with a focus on impaired driving, cannabis legalization and related issues, and immediate roadside prohibition defence.