Arizona Traffic Ticket Question: I was pulled over for a secondary offense of failure to wear a seat belt in Arizona, and I was given an Arizona traffic complaint with a court date. I went on vacation and forgot about my hearing. What happens now? Can I still challenge the illegal traffic ticket?
Ryan’s Answer: First, you are right that failure to wear a seatbelt is a secondary enforcement law. If you were only pulled over and cited for a violation of A.R.S. 28-909, in terms of that being considered a secondary enforcement law, section 28-909(C) states: “A peace officer shall not stop or issue a citation to a person operating a motor vehicle on a highway in this state for a violation of this section unless the peace officer has reasonable cause to believe there is another alleged violation of a motor vehicle law of this state.” With that in mind, make sure the officer did not indicate any other reason for pulling you over, and if not, then you may have a strong case.
Second, unfortunately, it is likely too late for you to fight your charge in traffic court. There is a traffic court rule that says where a defendant fails to appear as required, the allegations of the complaint shall be deemed admitted, and the court shall enter a judgment for the prosecution, impose a civil sanction, and report the judgment to the Department of Transportation. Therefore, you should call the court where you were told to appear, advise them that you unintentionally missed your court date, and ask what happened with your case. If they continued it (i.e., moved it to to a new date), you may still have a shot. But they most likely entered judgment against you. On the upside, the fine for a seat belt violation is not very high.
Third, even though you probably “lost” your case in traffic court by failing to appear, there is an appeal process in the civil traffic rules. Be careful, you only have 14 days after the judgment was entered to file a notice of appeal. To ensure your appeal is correctly filed in accordance with statutes and rules, it is advisable that you speak with an attorney.