By Craig Wismer
I wrote this commentary on a Friday night having earlier that day completed a full calendar of civil traffic hearings in the Arrowhead Justice Court.
Civil traffic hearings are probably the most common reason people set foot in a court of law, so I want to spend some time explaining to you how they are conducted.
When someone is issued a citation for a violation of civil traffic laws, they will be required to make their appearance in court in the not too distant future for an event called an arraignment hearing. In the alternative they may choose to enter a plea with the court in advance in lieu of appearing in person. In either case, defendants are given the option of entering either a plea of responsible or not responsible to the charges. If they plead not responsible, the case will be set for a civil traffic hearing.
At the hearing the officer will give testimony as to the basis for citing the defendant for the civil traffic violations noted on the complaint (most people know this as the ticket). The officer will be permitted to call witnesses to testify on behalf of the state (this doesn’t occur very often) and offer exhibits for admission into evidence. Exhibits most often take the form of equipment calibration records, accident report or a copy of the defendant’s motor vehicle record. Once the officer concludes his or her testimony the defendant will be given an opportunity to engage in cross examination, that is ask questions, after which the presentation of the State’s case will have concluded.
The focus of the hearing now shifts to the defendant. Just as did the officer, the defendant may testify, call witnesses and offer exhibits for admission into evidence. Unless the citing officer is licensed to practice law in the state of Arizona, he or she will not be permitted to cross-examine the defendant. However, the officer will be allowed to offer rebuttal testimony, that is respond to or refute testimony given by the defendant, after which the hearing will conclude.
If the state is to prevail, the judge, having reviewed all the evidence presented, must be of the opinion that it met a certain burden of proof, that being proving its case by a preponderance of the evidence. Think of it as a slight tipping of the scales in favor of the state. If the judge is of the opinion that the state prevailed, he or she will enter a judgment of responsible against the defendant.
Because the case was disposed at a hearing, the defendant may appeal the judge’s decision to the Arizona Superior Court. If the state doesn’t prevail, a judgment of not responsible will be entered in favor of the defendant.
Editor’s Note: Craig Wismer is justice of the peace for Arrowhead Justice Court.