Director Woody Allen is credited as the originator of the famous saying, “80% of success in life is showing up.” While Allen may not have specifically had court in mind when he espoused this statement more than 40 years ago, it’s hard to think of aanother statement could not be more applicable.

In municipal court, getting through a violation with the least amount of damage hinges considerably on just showing up. It’s amazing how many people fail to take these charges seriously and simply fail to show up in court or pay their fine. Even if it’s just a traffic ticket, failure to show can lead to major consequences.

I like to refer to it as the snowball effect. You know how the rolling snowball starts off small but as it rolls downhill, it gets larger and larger, and faster and faster? That same situation can apply when you fail to show up and take care of even a simple traffic citation.

Failing to show, or failing to act, shouldn’t be anyone’s option, says Judge Jennifer Jones, the chief municipal court judge for the City of Wichita.

Municipal courts handle traffic citations and low level criminal misdemeanor charges. The overwhelming majority of the charges don’t require a court appearance and can be handled simply by paying the fine, particularly since most municipal courts across the state go the extra distance to make citizen interaction with their courts as painless as possible.

However, if you don’t pay the fine, they’ll really stick it to you, including ordering time in jail.

“If you do what you’re supposed to do, you want have to go to jail,” said Judge Jones. “It’s called being accountable.”

In the case of municipal courts, if you don’t do what you’re supposed to, there is a strong likelihood that you will end up in jail, and sadly for something that could have easily been avoided.

Doing “what you’re supposed to do,” means taking the charges seriously, handling your business, and showing up, even if you don’t have the money to pay the fine. You have 10 days from the date of a citation or violation to act. Your options are to either: pay the fine (for charges with set fees), enter into a plea negation with the prosecutor (for charges with a fee range), apply for diversion, or set a trial date.

If you don’t take action within 10 days allowed, the court will likely issue a warrant. Additionally,for driving related citations, a notice will be sent to Topeka if action isn’t taken with 30 days. Once notified, Topeka can suspend your license.

Paying the fine

You can pay the fine or fees online, by telephone, by mail, at area-Dillons grocery stores (this applies in Wichita), or in person at City Hall. If you don’t have the money to pay the fine, you can asks for a 30-day extension to pay or work with the court administrators to set-up an acceptable payment schedule. In Wichita, you can even request the 30-day extension online or over the telephone.

Diversion

Applications for diversion are also available online. If you’re not familiar with diversion, check into it. Under diversion, individuals who have been accused of a crime are “diverted” out of the official criminal justice system, and typically into programs aimed at addressing issues that may have brought them into the system. People who successfully complete a diversion program walk away without a record.

In most Kansas cities, diversion programs are available for most charges handled in municipal courts including: driving while suspended, drug charges, driving under the influence, theft and financial crimes, and traffic citations. There are fees associated with diversion and an application fee, but depending on the crime, the cost could be well worth keeping the item off your record.

(If you want to learn more about diversions, see our article in the June 9 issue of The Community Voice, the electronic version of that issue is available online at www.communityvoiceks.com.)

While diversion programs are nice, they do require a certain level of the “accountability” Judge Jones refers to. You have to pay the fees according to a schedule, you’re often assigned to complete a related program, and/or complete a certain number of community service hours. If you fail to follow the terms of your diversion, the agreement will be terminated.

“Know that you have done everything you’re supposed to do,” said Jones about the typical six to 12 month diversion program. “If you didn’t, you (your diversion agreement) will be terminated and a warrant will be issued for your arrest.”

Set for trial

If you don’t believe you’re guilty, have circumstances that you believe impact your level of guilt, hope you can get a lower fee and/or penalty if you go before a judge, or if you just want to stall for time, consider requesting a trial. There are additional court costs associated with a trial, but paying the benefits may be far more than the cost. The City of Wichita charges are just a $10 docketing fee and $25 trial cost for a trial before a judge.

While judges and prosecutors may frown on setting trials as a delay tactic, the sheer volume of cases versus the number of prosecutors and judges, helps drag out the trial process. It may be three-weeks before your first court date. Further delays may be possible, if you show up and have a plausible reason for needing a continuance. In Wichita, the fee per continuance is $10.

Trial No Shows

If you request a trial, SHOW UP! Failure to appear for a trial is a much greater violation than just failing to pay a ticket. Failure to show for a trial – even one you requested – will result in the issuance of a bench warrant. If you can’t make your scheduled court date, there are options, as long as you take them before – not after – your scheduled court date.

In Wichita, you’re not allowed to call-in and request a continuance. However, if you have an attorney, your attorney can call in and request a change in your court date.

“We had so many problems with people calling in saying they’re someone,” said Judge Jones. “It was just a big mess.”

If you don’t have an attorney and need to set a new court date, the City of Wichita has a daily walk-in docket, every weekday morning at 7 a.m., except the first Friday of the month and holidays.

“Just be there at 7 a.m. and say I need to see a judge today,” Judge Jones said.

Court administrators pull the citations, set the docket, and court begins at 8:30 a.m. Individuals can sign in and leave, as long as they’re back at 8:30 a.m.

Dismissals

Dismissals are standard, and in some cases required by law. So make sure your take advantage of this process, rather than ignoring the opportunity and letting an issue escalate to a fee or, worse yet, a warrant. In a traffic stop, if you don’t have your license or proof of insurance with you, if you turn in proof you had the missing items in good standing, the citation will be dismissed. The same goes for defective repairs on a vehicle. For vehicle violations such as, broken tail lights, head lamps, mufflers, mirrors and windshield violations, if you get them repaired, and turn in proof of the repair, the citation is dismissed. Failure to make the repairs and/or turn in verification results in a $96.50 fine in Wichita.

Just another indication that responsibility pays off big when it comes to courts. Show up, meet deadlines and do as requested and municipal court doesn’t hurt much. Ignore it and you’ll pay BIG!

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