Disputing a traffic ticket that you’ve already paid

Our office routinely gets calls from people who have received a traffic ticket, paid it, and then wish to dispute the ticket late. Typically, the reason for the change of heart is that the individual did not realize or was led to believe that the ticket did not carry any points. People often come to this impression as a result of conversations with the officer, or inaccurate information given to them by ICBC.

Disputing a ticket after you have paid it can be very difficult. But it is not impossible. Two recent BC Supreme Court Cases identify why it is important, however, to seek legal advice before filing such a dispute.

The first case involves a man, Jagger Schurman, who was issued a ticket for excessive noise and two other mechanical violations of his vehicle. The mechanical violation tickets do not carry any points, but the excessive noise ticket carries three penalty points. According to Mr. Schurman, the officer told him that he would not get points for any of the violations.

On the basis of what the officer told him, Mr. Schurman paid the tickets. When he learned that there were points added to his record and, presumably, a driving prohibition, he decided to appeal the tickets. By this point, more than 30 days had elapsed since his conviction and he was required to appeal to BC Supreme Court.

On appeal, Mr. Schurman argued that he would never have paid the ticket if he had known that it carried points. Although the officer, Constable Cain with the Vancouver Police Department, filed an affidavit indicating that he did not tell Mr. Schurman that the ticket had no points, the court found that this was irrelevant because Mr. Schurman came away from the conversation with an incorrect understanding regardless of what he had been told.

The Crown opposed Mr. Schurman’s appeal of the ticket, arguing that it was not a proper basis to appeal because you cannot appeal simply due to a lack of awareness of regulatory consequences collateral to a conviction. That is, the consequence of the ticket in law is the fine amount. The points are collateral to the consequence of the fine, operating as a matter of regulation with the Superintendent of Motor Vehicles.

The BC Supreme Court disagreed, finding that recent case law from the Supreme Court of Canada made it clear that if you do not understand the collateral consequences of a conviction, your plea is not free, voluntary, and informed.

This is an important decision for individuals who came to understand that their tickets did not have points, only to discover after paying them that they did.

But there is a wrench in the process.

After the decision in Mr. Schurman’s case was released, another decision was released from the BC Supreme Court indicating that an appeal of the conviction may not be the correct first step in the process.

The second case involved a trucking company, Creative Transportation Solutions. The company was issued a red light camera ticket, which does not ordinarily carry demerit points – unless you are a commercial driver. Then it carries commercial license points. The trucking company wanted to appeal the conviction on the basis of the fact that they received the commercial points for the violation.

Because the conviction was more than 30 days prior to the appeal being filed, the trucking company had to first obtain an extension of time to appeal. That had been granted in Mr. Schurman’s case. The trucking company did not get the extension, and therefore was barred from bringing the appeal.

The reason for refusing the extension, according to the court, was that the trucking company had not followed the process in the Offence Act for filing a late dispute of a ticket. Apparently, it did not matter whether the ticket was paid. This to me is curious.

Typically, when filing an application for a late dispute of a ticket, the judicial justices hearing the applications will indicate that they have no jurisdiction to allow a late dispute where the ticket is paid. The reason for this is that there has been a guilty plea entered by virtue of paying the ticket.

This leads to a potential problem in the way that these tickets can be addressed. If a driver cannot file a late dispute under the Offence Act and they cannot file an appeal of their conviction in BC Supreme Court, they are caught in a legal loophole.

The Creative Transportation Solutions case tends to suggest that payment of a ticket is equivalent to a deemed conviction, while the Schurman case tends to suggest that this is equivalent to a guilty plea. There needs to be clarity on these issues, so that disputants know what path to take.

But these cases also highlight the importance of having competent legal representation in a traffic ticket dispute – even when trying to dispute a ticket that has already been paid. Lawyers who are aware of the judgment will know what steps to take and in what order, so that time is not lost filing for an extension of the time to appeal a conviction when it may not be the correct first steps. Now that these cases have muddied the waters, hiring someone who is aware of the cases and can respond to them is the best first step to take.

Our office can help with appealing a deemed conviction or a guilty plea by paying a ticket. Give us a call as soon as possible and we can get the process started.

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