Introduction: The court's job is to decide all cases as the law requires, which
should make driving safe, and help people obey the law. You need to know your
rights and the meaning of words that are used in court BEFORE you go to court.
Then you can better understand court operations and be ready for court when you
get there. (Don't forget to read the traffic ticket and the instructions on it)
Traffic Ticket or Summons: command by court order to appear in court. Failure
to appear may result in a warrant for your arrest.
Charge: what the police officer says you did.
Plead: to answer the charge in court.
Plead Guilty: to admit the charge.
Plead Not Guilty: to say that you do not believe that you broke the law.
Defendant: the person charged with the traffic violation.
Continuance: having the judge change the trial to another day in the future.
Subpoena ("sa-pee-na"): an order from the court that tells a person to come to
Prosecutor: the lawyer for the city or county.
Court Costs: the money needed to pay for the operation of the court system.
Testify: to speak under oath (swear to tell the truth) in court to prove what
Witness: a person who tells the court what happened.
Appeal: to have your case heard again by a higher court.
When You Get To Court: If you don't know, ask the clerk if your name is on the
list for that day, then sit down in the court room.
When your name is called, walk up to the judge and answer the judge's questions.
If you are charged with breaking the law, you are the defendant.
The judge will read the charge. If you do not understand it, ask the judge to
When the judge asks how you plead, you must say "guilty" or "not guilty."
If You Plead Guilty: You may then tell the judge everything that happened. The
judge may ask you questions. You must answer them. The judge will tell you how
much money to pay as a fine or what sentence you must serve. Before you plead
guilty, you have the right to ask the judge if you will go to jail. Some of the money
you pay is a fine, turned over to the government. Some of the money you pay is
for court costs for the operation of the court system.
You Should Plead Not Guilty:
If you did not do what the police officer says you did.
If you are not sure that what you did was against the law.
If you plead "Not guilty," you will be given a trial.
Trial: If you do not have a lawyer and you, your family or a friend think you need
the help of one, you should contact one BEFORE going to court. The judge may
set your trial for another day (continuance), but only for a good reason. You have
the right to bring witnesses to the trial. If you need the court to help you bring
witnesses, the court will give them subpoenas to tell them they must come to
court for you. If you want a jury, you may ask for one; the judge will tell you if the
law allows it in your case.
The prosecutor may bring witnesses to tell what they saw and heard. You or your
lawyer may ask them questions. The prosecutor has the right to ask your
witnesses questions and, if you testify, to ask you questions. (You don't have to
testify if you don't want to.)
If the judge decides that you are not guilty, the trial is over, and you may leave. If
the judge decides that you are guilty, the judge will tell you what the penalty is
and what then to do.
Penalties: Fine; Jail; Both fine and jail. Other - The judge may include in the
penalty an order to go to driver's school, alcohol safety school or other schools to
help you better understand how to drive safely on the public street or highways.
You must go to the school so you won't face more penalties, including a jail
Appeal: Also known as "trial de novo" which means new trial. If you think what
the judge or jury decides is unfair or wrong, you may ask for your case to be sent
to a higher court. Tell the judge you want to appeal. You must file the necessary
paperwork and post bond within 10 days. You cannot appeal if you pay any
portion of the fine or costs the judge set in your case.
Remember, you have the right to: Have a reasonable time after you are charged
with a traffic violation to get ready to answer the charge in court. Have a lawyer.
The judge may provide you with a lawyer if you are poor and if the judge might
send you to jail if you are found guilty. Ask witnesses to speak for you. Ask for a
jury if the law permits you to have one in that court. Testify or not testify.
Ask the court to issue subpoenas for witnesses.
For Legal Advice See Your Lawyer
If you need help finding a lawyer, call Missouri Bar Lawyer Referral Service at