If you’re charged with an ordinance or traffic offense that is not a crime (such as speeding), you’ll be given a citation. In most cases you won’t be taken into custody. Police may not search you or your property without permission if you are not taken into custody in a noncriminal offense. The citation will usually give you a choice of paying a forfeiture or going to court. It will state a date for you to appear in court if you choose not to pay the forfeiture.
Your first court appearance is known as the arraignment, during which you enter a plea of “guilty,” “not guilty,” or “no contest.”
The “non contest” plea means that you are not contesting the offense charged. The “no contest” plea will result in a conviction, but the conviction cannot be used against you in a law suit. For instance, let’s say you have an auto accident. As a result of the accident, you’re given a traffic citation for a violation. In this case you may want to plead “no contest,” in case the other driver decides to sue you.
In most ordinance or traffic cases when you plead “not guilty” you’re given a pretrial date and a trial date. In noncriminal cases you do not have an automatic right to a jury trial. Unless you specifically demand a jury trial and pay the required fee within 10 days of your initial appearance, your trial will be held before the judge. At the pretrial you’ll meet with the prosecutor and try to settle the case. For example, you may try to change a speeding charge to a lesser point violation.
If you can’t resolve the charge at pretrial, you must appear at the trial. You may or may not want to have an attorney, depending upon the seriousness of the offense, the status of your driver’s license, and so on.
If the judge finds you guilty and you don’t pay the forfeiture by the deadline for payment, you’re driver’s license may be suspended if the violation is for a traffic offense. Otherwise, you could be jailed or ordered to perform community service.