Traffic Case Process
In Idaho, all traffic violations are handled by the magistrate division of the district court. The method of handling traffic citations depends upon whether the offense is an infraction or misdemeanor.
Any person issued a Uniform Citation (traffic ticket) is required to acknowledge service of the summons by signing a promise to appear printed on the bottom of the citation. The signature of the person receiving the citation indicates only a promise to appear and is not in any way an admission of guilt. If the driver refuses to sign the written promise to appear, the law enforcement officer may serve the citation on the defendant by personal delivery to him.
For misdemeanor traffic offenses, the defendant is normally required to appear in court in the county where the offense is alleged to have occurred. The defendant may request arraignment on the charge in another county more convenient to him or her. This request is made to the officer issuing the citation who may grant or deny it, although usually it is granted.
In the event a plea of not guilty is subsequently entered on a citation transferred from another county, the case may be sent back and the trial held in the county where the offense allegedly occurred.
Citations are filed by the issuing officer with the court indicated on the summons. If the defendant fails to appear in court on the date indicated on the citation, the magistrate judge can issue a warrant for the arrest of the defendant. The charge is for failure to appear. When served, this warrant results in the arrest of the defendant and may lead to incarceration if the defendant is unable to post the bond set by the magistrate judge on the warrant.
The amount of bail for misdemeanor traffic offenses is set forth in the Idaho Misdemeanor Criminal Rules.
A defendant entering a plea of not guilty to a misdemeanor traffic citation charge may have a trial before a judge or jury. A trial before the judge is a relatively informal procedure if the defendant is not represented by an attorney. The prosecuting attorney is representing the law enforcement agency that issued the citation.
A trial by jury always involves a prosecutor for the state, and the defendant is advised, although not required, to be represented by an attorney.
Once a penalty is imposed, the defendant remains in the custody of the court until fines and court costs have been paid. If a defendant is able to pay the fine but refuses to pay, the defendant can be incarcerated in the county jail until fines and costs are satisfied at the rate of $5 per day. Many courts offer defendants the opportunity to perform community service work in lieu of payment of fines.
Minor traffic offenses in Idaho are called infractions. An infraction is not a crime but is a civil public offense for which there is a maximum penalty of $100 and for which there can be no jail time imposed. The Supreme Court has established by court rule a fixed penalty schedule for infraction violations. The fixed penalties cannot be increased, decreased, suspended, or withheld by any court. The penalty is more in the nature of a fee, and the fixed penalty is not a criminal fine. Because an infraction is not a crime, a defendant may never be arrested for an infraction and may never be required to post bail.
Because an infraction is civil in nature, if a defendant does not appear on an infraction citation, the driver cannot be prosecuted for a misdemeanor for failure to appear. Instead, if the defendant fails to appear on an infraction citation, default judgment can be entered against the driver in the same manner as in any other civil action. Also because the infractions are civil in nature, the defendant is not entitled to a trial by jury.
The defendant may admit the infraction charge and pay the fixed penalty by either appearing at the courthouse and paying the court clerk or by mailing the fixed penalty amount to the court. If the defendant denies the infraction charge, the clerk will set a date for a court trial.
If the court enters a judgment finding the defendant committed an infraction offense, either by entry of default judgment in those cases where the defendant failed to appear on the infraction charge, or by entering a judgment after a trial on the infraction, the defendant is notified to pay the fixed penalty amount. If the defendant fails to pay a penalty after notice has been sent, the Department of Transportation suspends the driver's license.
If the defendant resides out of state, the Department of Transportation can request that the defendant's resident state suspend the defendant's driver's license. If the defendant then appears in court and pays the penalty, the defendant may have his license reinstated by the Department of Transportation. The Department requires the payment of a reinstatement fee before the license is issued.