The official legal term for a ticket is a statement of offence.
A statement of offence means that a police officer, or any other person authorized to hand out a statement of offence, claims you broke the law and can prove it. This document is the basis of the case against you if you don't pay the fine.
The statement of offence contains this information:
- the name and title of the person handing out the ticket (e.g., Yvan Bouteille, police officer)
- the signature of the person who who gave you the ticket (or, if the ticket was issued electronically, the person's employee number and work unit)
- your name and address (or for parking illegally, the description and registration number of your vehicle)
- a description of how you supposedly broke the law ( the "offence")
- the fact that you must plead guilty or not guilty
- the smallest possible penalty for this offence
- the penalty actually imposed (e.g., a $100 fine)
The police officer will usually hand you the ticket in person, but it might also be mailed to you, or stuck to the windshield of the car.
You can be handed a statement of offence for things unrelated to driving/parking a car. For example, you might be accused of
- smoking in an area where smoking is prohibited,
- having a sign for your restaurant that does not comply with the law on the language of commercial signs,
- selling alcohol without a licence, or
- hunting protected animals.
What can I do if I receive a statement of offence?
The statement of offence gives you instructions on how to respond.
In all cases, you have 30 days as of the date you receive the statement to plead guilty or not guilty and to send your answer to the address indicated on the statement of offence.
If you committed the offence described and you want to plead guilty, check the "guilty" box on the form attached to the statement of offence and follow the payment instructions.
You should know that, if you pay the fine, you are assumed to be pleading guilty.
Pleading Not Guilty
If you didn't commit the offence described on the statement of offence, or if you have an argument you want to raise, check the "not guilty" box on the form attached to the statement.
For more information on the steps that follow, see the question "I want to plead not guilty. Are there things I should know?".
- Motor Vehicle Offences (for example, speeding)
If your answer has not been received within 30 days, a judge will, without notifying you, examine the file in his office. The judge could order you to pay a fine and costs in your absence.
- Other Kinds of Offences
If your answer has not been received within 30 days, it is assumed you are pleading not guilty. Your case will be heard by a judge in court without you being notified. Everything will take place in your absence and you will be notified of the judge's decision.
- Motor Vehicle Offences (for example, speeding)
I want to plead not guilty. Are there things I should know?
First, you can write the following sentence on the reply form attached to the statement of offence: "I request disclosure of the evidence". This allows you to get copies of the evidence that the prosecutor has against you. The prosecutor is the person presenting the case against you. (See the question "Do I have a right to get a copy of the police report?")
Also, you will see there is space on the form attached to the statement of offence that you can use to explain the reasons you are pleading not guilty. You should know that you are not obliged to fill this out. It can even be risky to provide this information because it will be communicated to the prosecutor and the judge and could be used in ways you did not intend. In fact, this information will often be used against you and rarely has the hoped-for result (for example, having the fine cancelled).
It is a good idea to make a copy of the form before sending it and keep proof it was sent (send it by registered mail and keep the receipt, for example).
You will later receive a court notice asking you to appear in court on a particular date and at a specific time. This is what is called a "notice of hearing".
You should know that if you are found guilty, costs will be added to the fine.
Where and when will the hearing take place?
The date, time, and place of the hearing are mentioned in the notice of hearing you will receive. If you don't show up, the judge can find you guilty or not guilty in your absence.
If you can't make it on the date scheduled, contact the court that sent you the notice as soon as possible to ask for another hearing date. Most municipal courts have hearings in the morning, afternoon and evening.
A request to change the date is normally made in writing and you must have a very good reason to ask for a change. The judge may ask you to explain your reasons in person or request certain documents before agreeing to change the date. He may even refuse to change the date.
Remember, as long as the judge has not agreed to change the date, the original date on the notice applies.
How do I prepare for the hearing?
There is no substitute for being prepared! If you're organized, you'll make a better impression.
- Note the names and addresses of any witnesses.
It is a good idea to ask these witnesses to write down their version of events, if the police officers haven't already done so.
However, contrary to what many people think, it is not always a good idea to have witnesses. Why? Because you don't have control over what they will say in court, nor how they will react to questions asked by the prosecutor.
- Write down your version of events as soon as possible after you have received the statement of offence.
This will help you remember details such as times, dates, colour of a car, description of a person or a place or any other relevant facts.
- Ask your witnesses to testify in your favour at the hearing.
You can oblige them to come by sending them a "subpoena", also called a "summons to testify". This is a document sent to a witness ordering him to go to court at a precise date and time to give his version of events.
You can get a subpoena form at court. It must be signed by a judge, clerk or lawyer. You can send it to the witness by registered mail. Make sure you keep proof of receipt.
If the witness does not show up on the day of the trial, the judge will be more likely to put if off to another date if you have sent a subpoena to a witness. The judge can even issue an arrest warrant for a witness who does not show up.
- Gather any documents, photos, sketches, maps, bills, estimates, etc., that support your version of the facts.
For example, suppose you are accused of driving with an expired driver's licence. It is an administrative error because you definitely paid the renewal fees on your birthday. Find the bank statement showing the transaction and put it in a file to present to the judge at the hearing. Be sure to make copies for the judge and the prosecutor.
Am I entitled to a copy of the police report?
Yes. It is important to ask for and read a copy of the report, along with all the other evidence the prosecutor has compiled against you.
If you ask for it, the prosecutor must give you copies of any evidence he has, even if he doesn't intend to use it at the hearing. He must also tell you about any object or other evidence he has regarding your case. This is what is called the "disclosure of the evidence".
You can get police reports from officers involved in the file, written witness statements, and even photos, videos, maps, sketches, or expert reports. You might be asked to pay fees for copies or translations. You are not entitled to contact information for witnesses.
Important! It is up to you to ask for the disclosure of the evidence and you must do this within a reasonable period prior to the hearing.
In most cases, you must send a written request to the Bureau des infractions et amendes. To learn more, visit the website of the Bureau des infractions et amendes. You can also contact the courthouse, the Municipal Court or the prosecutor's office for information about the rules to follow in your area.
Read all the documents you receive. Why? Because it will help you identify the facts or witnesses that support your case. It will also allow you to see if certain witnesses contradict themselves or each other.
Will the police officer be present in court?
The police officer will only come to court if the prosecutor decides he should be questioned in front of the judge. Otherwise, he will not come to court.
The statement of offence and the written incident report that the police officer made will serve as his testimony since they are considered to be what he would have said had he testified in person in court.
The prosecutor may therefore decide that the statement (or the report) is sufficient. In fact, officers rarely come to court to testify.
If you think the police officer should be present because you want to ask him questions as part of your defence, you must ask ahead of time for him to be present. The prosecutor will arrange for the officer to be there.
Take note! If the judge thinks the statement of offence and incident report are sufficient and the officer's presence was not justified (which is often the case), the judge can order you to pay extra costs.
What should I do when I get to court?
Dress conservatively the day of the hearing. Make sure you get there early. Once you're at the courthouse or Municipal Court, find the hearing room and tell the court clerk (the person seated in the middle of the room in front of the judge's bench) you are there.
If you have any witnesses, make sure they are there. Have your file organized and in hand and go sit in the hearing room with your witnesses.
Several dozen people might have been given the same hearing date and time as you. The cases will be called one after the other, so you might have to wait a couple of minutes or several hours. Plan on spending between half a day and a full day in court. Watch how the other cases proceed to learn more about how the process works.
When the clerk calls your name, come forward with your file.
What happens at the hearing?
In the courtroom, the judge makes all the decisions. He will decide whether you are guilty or not. He must therefore understand your version of what happened.
Address the judge as "Mr. Justice" (or "Madam Justice"). The expression "Your Lordship/Ladyship" is no longer used.
You can ask the judge to order the witnesses to wait outside the courtroom before testifying so they are not influenced by what the other witnesses say.
Don't forget that at this point, the only thing the judge knows about your case is the information contained in the statement of offence. He does not know the story that will be told him. You must therefore be clear and precise.
The Prosecutor's Evidence
The prosecutor presents his evidence first. It normally includes:
- the original statement of offence
- the incident report prepared by the police officer, if there is one
- objects, photos, etc.
If the prosecutor has any witnesses, he will question them. Once the prosecutor has finished questioning a witness, you can ask the witness questions so that he provides details or clarifies any elements that support your case, or to point out contradictions.
Be careful! Questioning the prosecutor's witnesses can be risky if you aren't sure of what you're doing. You won't have control over the answers they give.
To be in better control of the process, you can ask the prosecutor's witnesses questions to which there are only "yes" or "no" answers. Prepare your questions in advance. A few well-targeted questions are often sufficient.
The prosecutor's witnesses tell their versions one after the other until they have all testified.
Now it is your turn to present your defence, that is to say, your evidence.
Your Defence (Your Evidence)
Now it's your turn. You can testify yourself and have your witnesses testify, one after the other. Don't forget that the prosecutor is allowed to ask you questions after you finish your testimony, and also ask your witnesses questions.
See the question "What are closing arguments?"
Can I testify?
Yes, you have the right to testify, but are not obliged to. Even if you are not obliged to, your testimony is often necessary since you are the best person to explain your version of events to the judge.
One thing is certain: if you decide to testify, you must answer any questions put to you by the prosecutor or the judge. However, you can object to the prosecutor's question if it is asked in a way that's not permitted by law. If the judge agrees with you, you will not have to answer the question.
Here are some tips to prepare your testimony:
- Prepare in advance. You can practise your testimony in front of a parent or friend. You can also try to anticipate the questions the prosecutor and judge might ask you.
- When you get to court and have been sworn in as a witness, explain the facts clearly. Look at the judge and speak directly to him. Use any documents or photos you have prepared. (See the question "How do I prepare for the hearing?")
- If you don't know the answer to a question, or if you are not sure you understood the question, say so.
How do I question my witnesses?
Before or after you testify, tell the judge you have witnesses you want to question.
Ask your witness to explain his version of events. Note that, as a general rule, he can only talk about what he personally experienced.
Example of questions asked to the wrong witness (the prosecutor can object to this):
You: Do you remember what happened the evening of December 8, 2008?
Witness: Yes. My aunt called me. She said you were driving at the speed limit when...
In this example, the witness did not personally see or hear what happened because he was not there the evening of December 8, 2008. He is repeating what someone else told him. It is the aunt who should have been called to court to say what she saw and heard that evening.
Also, you cannot give the judge a letter from the aunt in which she explains what happened.
Start by asking general questions and then ask your witness for details.
Example of how to effectively question your witness:
You: Do you remember what happened on the evening of December 8, 2008?
Witness: Yes, of course. I was with you.
You: Where were we?
Witness: On Lajoie Street, in a car.
You: Did we cross the intersection of Lajoie Street and Clerc Avenue?
Witness: Yes, I remember we did.
You: Do you remember what colour the light was when we crossed this intersection?
Witness: We stopped on the red light, and when it turned green, we continued on.
You: Why do you remember this?
When questioning your witness, be aware that the prosecutor can object if you formulate your question with the answer already in it. However, the prosecutor can't stop you from asking these kinds of questions to his witnesses.
An example of questions that could lead to an objection:
You: Do you remember what happened the evening of December 8, 2008?
Your witness: Yes.
You: Isn't it true that we were together in my car on Lajoie Street?
Your witness: Yes.
You: Wasn't the light green when we crossed Clerc Avenue?
Your witness: Yes.
When you have finished testifying and all your witnesses have been heard, tell the judge you have finished presenting your evidence. As a general rule, you are not allowed to add anything whatsoever to your version of events from this point on.
What are closing arguments?
A picture is worth a thousand words! You've probably seen the scene in American movies: a lawyer trying to convince a judge that his client's version of events is the right one by emphasizing certain elements of the case. This is the closing argument stage, also called pleading.
Closing arguments are a summary of why you think your position is the right one, given everything that was said in front of the judge, and your evidence (photos, receipts, permits, etc.).
Careful! This is not the time to repeat your testimony. The judge will let you comment on the offence you are accused of and on the evidence. Also, if you have any comments on the way the law should be applied to your case or on decisions made by other judges in similar situations, this is the time to present them. You should have a copy of any court decisions you refer to.
The prosecutor will also have a chance to present arguments.
After the arguments have been presented, the decision is in the judge's hands.
Our video No Money to Pay a Fine
This article explains in a general way the law that applies in Quebec. This article is not a legal opinion or legal advice. To find out the specific rules for your situation, consult a lawyer or notary.