Although traffic tickets are civil infractions and this is a criminal law blog the fact is the lawyers that represent people on traffic tickets are frequently criminal defense attorneys.
In any event, in preparing for a criminal case in Sea-Tac Municipal Court I decided to review their local court rules and STMCLR 2.4 caught my attention. This local rule only allows a contested hearing following a default judgment on a traffic ticket if a defendant can provide written proof he or she had made a timely written request for a contested hearing. This local rule is in stark contrast to CR 60 which is the court rule adopted by the Washington State Supreme Court that sets forth a number of other grounds (such as excusable neglect) for vacating a default judgment. I would submit the most obvious example of excusable neglect that could result in a default judgment being vacated under CR 60–but would not be grounds for relief under STMCR 2.4– is if a defendant was hospitalized and physically unable to appear for court. CR 60 supersedes STMCLLR 2.4 and when I helped draft the court rules in Federal Way it caught my attention that certain rules (such as the Federal Way rule on video proceedings) conflicted with state law.
The practice of the Sea-Tac Municipal Court regarding vacating default judgments may be different than their stated rule–but the publishing and distributing of this rule does put a chilling effect on defendants seeking a vacation of a default judgment.
As we can see, vacating is very important in some situations. The same thing goes for contested hearing and of course for excuses when you are unable to appear on court. In some cases, these possibilities are used to increase the possibility of winning. You would be amazed how some lawyers can bend the rules and use it to vacant a verdict and use that to win the case. But keep in mind that these lawyers are really good, they are aces in their line of work. It is always advised to write an appeal to the higher court in order to achieve better position or a reduced sentence. Even if you did win the case, you can always write an appeal where you state that you think that you should have gained better conditions. Of course, the percentage always play a part in the success of that kind of appeal.