Cops and Courts, News

How tickets are dealt with in Mon County Magistrate Court

MORGANTOWN — After law enforcement hands out a ticket, be it for a traffic violation or other reason, there are 10 days to respond, according to court officials.

The Monongalia County Magistrate Court handles tickets given out by the Monongalia County Sheriff’s Department, State Police and WVU Police, said Amanda Stemple, deputy clerk.

The court also handles non-traffic violations given by city police, such as underage consumption tickets; city municipal courts handle traffic violations given by that city’s police, she said.

Magistrate court is on the second floor of the Monongalia County Justice Center on High Street.

Failing to deal with a ticket in a timely manner can result in a suspended driver’s license, Stemple said. She said the computer system automatically checks, and clerks have no control over whether a license is suspended.

For this reason, she recommends people deal with their tickets as soon as possible. She also suggest people bring their copy of the ticket, as the copy law enforcement submits can take up to a week before appearing in the court system.

Once face to face with a magistrate’s clerk, a ticket holder is presented with two different options: “Plea and pay,” or plead not guilty and schedule a hearing date.

If someone decides to pay, he or she is given the option of pleading guilty or no contest. Stemple explained that a guilty plea is simply owning up to the mistake and paying the ticket.

Pleading no contest is not an admission of guilt, but those who plead no contest are still required to pay the fine.

In-state and out-of-state residents have a different amount of time to pay off the fine, Stemple said. West Virginians are given six months to pay while non-residents only have 90 days from the date of the ticket.

Stemple said she understands the limited time given to out-of-state violators is related to the length of time it takes for violations to be reported to another state and the fact that a violator’s license can only be suspended for one year after the ticket.

The court takes cash, credit and debit cards, and even pre-paid cards. Stemple said people can pay as much or as little as they want, as long as the entire balance, including court costs, are paid off in time.

If a defendant decides to plead not guilty, a hearing is scheduled before one of Monongalia County’s four magistrate judges. The law requires at least 42 days of notice prior to a hearing, and Stemple said it normally takes a couple months on average.

Judge Sandy Holepit said people fight tickets for a variety of reasons, and respect and honesty count for a lot when appearing before her. She said she’s noticed a lot of people who decide to fight their traffic violations are worried about the points on their license, but she said she has no control over that.

“It’s all the DMV,” she said.

Holepit said she has complete discretion in handing out fines, as long as she follows state code. For example, running a stop light can result in a fine of $5 to $100. The court also assesses $165.25 in court costs.

Another key to a successful court appearance is to dress appropriately, she said. People have appeared wearing flip-flops and even with profanity on their shirts, she said.

“I wish people would think,” Holepit said. “You’re not going to the beach. You’re going to a court of law.”