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Civil Motor Vehicle Infraction De Novo Hearings: One More Bite At The Surcharge Apple

In Massachusetts, a civil motor vehicle citation can cost you a lot more than the face value of the ticket itself.  Surchargeable events can stay on your driving record for years, and may cost a driver hundreds, if not thousands of dollars, in insurance premiums.  There are ways to fight driving tickets in Massachusetts, and this short article is meant to be a road-map to fighting Massachusetts’ driving tickets.

Clerk Magistrate Hearing: Hitting the Bull’s Eye When Not Looking

After receiving a Massachusetts’ driving citation, a driver is left with two choices.  First, the recipient of a Massachusetts driving ticket may simply pay the ticket.  This is the most common approach.  However, one must understand that paying the ticket itself may not be the only cost involved in obtaining the driving ticket.  In fact, most driving tickets in Massachusetts, such as speeding tickets, negligent operation, and marked-lane violation tickets, may very well be considered surchargeable events, and as such, a driver may be paying for this one alleged violation for years to come.

Further, upon paying the Massachusetts driving ticket, the driver is admitting that the driver in fact committed the act that the Massachusetts police officer has cited the driver for.  You will not have the opportunity to be heard. You are assumed to have violated the Massachusetts driving laws, and you will be considered a risk driver.  Accordingly, your Massachusetts’ driver’s insurance will most likely increase, and it will increase substantially.

The second choice a ticket recipient has is to fight the driving ticket.  In this instance, the driver completes the back of the citation, sends the citation to the appropriate venue, and a clerk-magistrate hearing will be scheduled.  The clerk-magistrate hearing is an opportunity for the driver to request an unbiased party to review the facts of the alleged incident, and determine if the Massachusetts police officer was justified in issuing the citation.  More often than not, the clerk-magistrate will side with the Massachusetts police officer, as the issuance of the ticket itself is evidence that the driver did violate the Massachusetts’ driving laws.  However, a well-prepared driver can present an excellent case that may sway the clerk-magistrate to find the driver “not responsible” and to dismiss the ticket from the driver’s record.

A well-prepared driver will bring pictures, provide testimony, and present witnesses to testify at the clerk-magistrate’s hearing.  Also, the driver will need to have a working-knowledge of the actual offense the driver was cited with.  This is critical, and will allow the driver to craft his argument and create his defense as to why he did not violate the driving regulation as asserted by the Massachusetts police officer.  This will provide an excellent opportunity to not only see the bull’s eye, but to also hit it squarely.

Finally, if the driver is unsuccessful at the Clerk-Magistrate’s hearing, she still has another bite left at the surcharge apple:  The Massachusetts’ Civil Motor Vehicle Infraction De Novo Hearing.

The De Novo Hearing: And the Judge’s Gavel Fell

If a driver is unsuccessful in appealing his citation before the Clerk-Magistrate, he may appeal the Clerk’s decision to a District Court judge.  The District Court judge will hear all evidence and testimony “de novo”, meaning the judge will not take into account the Clerk’s decision, and will look at all of the evidence and will hear all of the testimony without any deference to the clerk’s decision.  These hearings take on a much more formal dressing than the Clerk’s hearing, and a driver should almost always retain counsel to assist with the de novo hearing process.

The Massachusetts’ Civil Motor Vehicle Infraction De Novo hearing looks and feels like a “mini-trial.”  The Massachusetts police officer will take the stand and will testify as to her observations in regards to driver’s alleged violation of Massachusetts’ driver’s law.  The driver will have an opportunity to cross-exam the police officer, and to present a case of her own.  The driver may call witnesses, present evidence such as pictures, and video, and the driver may take the stand and testify on her own behalf.  Further, the driver is allowed to make a summation as to why she should not be held responsible for the alleged violations.

At the completion of the de novo hearing, the judge may only make two findings: “responsible” or “not responsible.”  The judge may not continue the case, or dismiss the citations.  The driver may appeal the judge’s decision; however, success on such an appeal is extremely slim.

It is strongly recommended that if a Massachusetts’ driver is going to fight a Massachusetts’ driving ticket, he should obtain an attorney immediately to make certain he has the best opportunity to avoid paying the ticket, and the surcharges that almost certainly will follow.

Attorney Anthony Rao has been successful in numerous Civil Motor Vehicle Infraction De Novo hearings here in Massachusetts, and may be retained on a flat-fee basis.  He may be reached at 617-953-0836, or at