A “ticket” is merely a citation issued by a law enforcement officer. Police issue tickets for traffic violations, misdemeanors, and even felonies. The decision as to whether the offense listed on the ticket will ever be charged is not made by the police officer. A prosecuting attorney will review the ticket and other available information before filing a complaint with the court indicating that he is pursuing criminal/traffic charges. Put simply, the ticket itself is no guarantee that charges will be filed by a prosecutor or that they person receiving the ticket will be found guilty by a jury or judge.
Most minor traffic infractions can be paid by waiver. For instance, if you are issued a speeding ticket the bottom of the ticket will likely indicate that while you have the right to appear in court you may choose to plead guilty and pay a fine of $60 plus court costs of $48 for a total of the $108. In the interest of saving time and money some people prefer to pay via waiver. Others appear in court on the date designated on the ticket and plead not guilty. The matter is then set for a trial at a later date.
More serious traffic violations as well as allegations of criminal conduct generally result in the issuance of a non-waiverable citation. This citation requires that the accused appear in court at a later date. The accused can plead not guilty and have a trial at a later date, or plead guilty. If the accused is found guilty the judge may sentence him to a fine, probation, jail time, or other constitutional form of punishment
Sometimes the ticket is not justified by the facts or the law. In these instances attorneys often contact prosecutors immediately after the ticket is issued and prior to charges being filed in an effort to convince the prosecutor not to file criminal charges because the basis for the charge listed in the citation is insufficient. Sometimes prosecutors agree.
Whether the matter involves a speeding ticket or a criminal misdemeanor the person receiving the ticket is required to sign it. The signature is not an admission of guilt nor the waiver of a right. The signature on the ticket is merely a promise to appear in court at the time and place listed on the ticket. Refusal to sign the ticket can result in an arrest and an additional criminal charge.
Yes, you still have the right to an attorney and you have the right to remain silent when police question you. But, when police issue a citation, the accused must sign it indicating they will appear in court even though the citation does not guarantee that charges will ever be filed against them. Finally, those who choose to ignore the citation and do not appear in court on the court date on the ticket risk an additional criminal charge for “failing to appear.”