In our series of articles on some of the most frequently asked questions about Highway Traffic Act and Compulsory Automobile Insurance Act charges in Ontario, we’ve covered a lot of ground. Receiving a traffic ticket or summons raises a lot of important questions. Questions about whether or not the offence is serious, what penalties will occur if you’re convicted, and whether or not it is a charge that you can reasonably contest at court to have it thrown out or reduced?
You’re not alone in having these questions. Every day Ontario’s city police or OPP issue hundreds of charges. Other people just like yourself contact our staff every day seeking answers and help. If you have a question that hasn’t yet been answered, ask us and we’ll try to include it in a future article. Here are some more of he most common questions we get asked.
Let’s take a look!
What Happens If I Don’t Pay A Court Fine?
This is a surprisingly common scenario. Generally at the end of a court case, if there is a conviction and a fine owed to the court, the court will set a deadline for that fine to be paid. The details of how big that fine is and how long you have to pay it are provided to you or your legal representative at the end of your final court hearing. Those same details are then mailed to you in writing in a Notice of Fine and Due Date letter. Generally a Justice of the Peace will set the payment deadline in terms of “days to pay,” “months to pay,” or “years to pay.” However, your Notice of Fine and Due Date will have the exact calendar date by which your fine must be paid.
Generally, the larger the court fine the longer the court will permit for the fine to be paid. You or your legal representative may also be able to argue as to any extenuating circumstances why your payment period should be longer. You don’t have to pay the fine all at once in one big payment. You could make multiple smaller payments, so long as the full amount is paid to the court before your payment deadline.
If your fine has not been paid by your deadline, your driver’s licence will generally be suspended by the Ministry of Transportation. You will receive a Notice of Suspension by mail advising you in writing that your licence is suspended. Until that fine has been paid and a licence reinstatement fee has been paid, your licence will remain suspended. As long as your licence is suspended, it is important that you do you not drive. Being stopped by the police for driving under a suspended licence can result in a summons for driving under suspension and facing very serious penalties at court.
Can I Get My Licence Back While My Licence Is Suspended For An Unpaid Fine?
Sometimes you can. If your licence has been suspended for an unpaid fine, you could speak to a court clerk about filing an Application For An Extension Of Time To Pay Fine. You would need to fill this form out and file it with the court. The court will then have a Justice of the Peace review your application and decide whether to approve or deny it. The Justice of the Peace may consider factors such as how old the fine is and whether or not you have been making an effort to pay it off within your means.
If your application for an extension of time to pay your fine is granted, assuming there are no other reasons that your licence is suspended, you can go to Service Ontario to seek a reinstatement of your driver’s licence. You will need to ensure that you keep on top of your newly agreed to payment terms. Having your licence suspended for failing to keep on top of your new payment terms would likely mean a greatly decreased chance of having a second payment extension granted.
What Happens If I Don’t File My Ticket?
If you have been issued a ticket by the police, the ticket will list your options in responding to the court. These options can vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. The options on your ticket may include:
- Pay the ticket and accept the conviction
- Plead guilty at court with an explanation
- Book a resolution meeting with a Prosecutor
- Book a trial date
One way or another, it is important that you choose one of the options listed on your ticket. Not surprisingly, legal problems tend to become worse the more you ignore them. Your ticket will generally list 15 days from the date that you received the offence with which to respond to the court. If you have gone beyond this 15 day period, don’t panic. Contact our office and speak with one of our staff. Many jurisdictions in Ontario will permit filing your case with the court beyond the 15 day period. Failing that, there are other legal avenues that can be discussed.
If you do fail to file within the allocated period of time for your specific jurisdiction, you will be convicted for having failed to respond to the court. The court will then set a period of time by which your fine must be paid. This could be as little as 7 days, possibly a month, it is at the discretion of the Justice of the Peace that deals with your conviction.
A Notice of Fine and Due Date would then be mailed to you with the details of your conviction, fine amount, and payment due date. Failing to pay your fine will result in your driver’s licence being suspended. This situation could be made worse due to the court having an out of date mailing address for you, Canada Post labour strikes or delays, or you having received but not opened your mail. Whether or not you receive and open your Notice of Suspension, your licence is suspended. Driving on that suspended licence, knowingly or not, can result in being charged with driving under suspension by the police.
Being convicted at court for having failed to file your ticket in time also has other penalties. Your driver’s licence will now show a record of conviction. The Ministry of Transportation will apply any appropriate demerit points against your driver’s licence. You may be facing a licence suspension due to the nature of the offence for charges like drive with handheld communication device (cell phone). You could trigger an MTO warning letter, interview, or suspension of your driver’s licence for having accumulated too many demerit points. Your conviction could result in your insurance rates going up or in having your insurance policy cancelled outright. Novice driver’s could also trigger escalated sanctions penalties if any of these conditions occur:
- Convicted of breaking graduated licensing rules
- Convicted of a Highway Traffic Act offence that results in four or more demerit points (e.g., street racing, careless driving)
- Subject to a court-ordered suspension for a Highway Traffic Act offence that would have otherwise resulted in four or more demerit points
These are all very serious penalties that can happen. One of the good things about hiring a paralegal is that you have the piece of mind that they will ensure that your matter is filed with the court on time and confirm that the court filing has been done properly.
What Happens If I Don’t Attend My Court Date?
Just like not properly taking care of filing your ticket can cause serious problems, so too can not attending a court date. Ignoring legal responsibilities will almost always lead to more legal problems. So what happens if you don’t attend a court date? The answer is ‘that depends…’
If you have been charged with a summons for a serious offence and do not attend your ‘first appearance’ hearing or a court date such as a ‘set date’ or ‘to be spoken to’ court date, the court will use it’s discretion and adjourn your matter to a trial date or another place-holder court date. If your matter is adjourned without you having been present, you will likely not be mailed a court notice with your next court date. It will be your responsibility to contact the court to determined when the date and time of your next court hearing is set to.
Some courts will simply convict you if you do not attend an early resolution meeting that you have booked with the prosecutor’s office, while other jurisdictions will simply set your matter to a trial date if you do not attend that meeting. It is important to very carefully read your Early Resolution Meeting Notice for these details.
Missing a trial date will almost certainly mean that you will be convicted in absentia. What will likely happen is that your trial will proceed without you being present. The prosecutor will provide their evidence and call any of their supporting witnesses. Your defence will not be heard by the court as you are not present to provide it. If the court is satisfied with the evidence and testimony provided by the Prosecutor, you will be convicted. If the offence(s) of which you have been convicted carry a range of court fines, licence suspension, or imprisonment, the court will rely on its discretion and the recommendation of the prosecutor as to what penalties should be applied against you.
The thought of being in that position would cause most people a great amount of justifiable anxiety. It is important that you are either present for your court dates, or that you retain a legal representative to be present for you. Paralegal firms such as OTD Ticket Defenders Legal Services can appear at court on your behalf and have administrative safeguards in place to make certain that court dates are not missed. If fact, the vast majority of cases before the court can be resolved without you ever having to step foot in a courtroom.
That’s Great Information! I Have More Questions!
We’re here to help you. If you have more questions, you can either submit a blog question and we’ll answer it for you in a future article. Or you can contact our office directly and one of our friendly staff will be happy to assist you. We offer a no-cost, no-obligation initial consultation to go through your case history and details with you. You can contact our office via our toll-free number 1-844-647-6869, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by text at 226-240-2480. You can also submit an online consultation request any time of the day or night and one of our staff will contact you during regular business hours to assist you. Before you make any important legal decisions, it is important that you seek out the relevant information you will need to ensure you are making informed decisions.