This article will explain the difference between Disposition Court and District Court in Traffic Court. For many who have received a traffic citation, this will be their first experience into the Criminal Justice System. Some find this experience intimidating for many reasons; being charged with a crime, facing a judge, the use of ‘legalese,’ etc. Though many people elect to hire an attorney to resolve their traffic matters (and as one of those Attorneys, I recommend it as well), this article will cover what to expect when going to Traffic Court alone.
This article is not intended to provide advice with regards to the disposition of an individual’s case (i.e. how to handle your ticket). There are many factors that play into what is the best way to handle a traffic matter and the advice of a good traffic attorney is the best course of action to ensure the best outcome. This article will only explain the differences between Disposition Court and District Court.
First to be reviewed is Disposition Court. Disposition Court is an attempt by the court system to provide a more efficient courtroom for the fulfillment of it’s duties. The purpose of Disposition Court is to permit the Prosecutor to attempt to thin out those cases which can be disposed of quickly. These cases are resolved by having the Defendant plead guilty, normally in exchange for a plea deal which includes a reduction of charges. If the Defendant does not wish to plead guilty, their case is continued to another court date. There are no trials in Disposition Court, the case is either plead guilty to, or continued. This is different from District Court, where the Prosecutor will attempt to resolve all cases present that day, which will include pleas of guilty and not guilty – which can lead to a trail.
Some jurisdictions have courtrooms dedicated to Disposition Court; that is, a courtroom dedicated to the Disposition of traffic citations and sometimes minor misdemeanors. These courts are in session everyday of the week the courthouse is open. If the county is not large enough to have a dedicated room for Disposition Court, they will set aside a courtroom normally one day a week, or every-other-week to handle Disposition Court matters.
When Defendants arrive, they are normally filed into a line where they will meet with the Prosecutor. The Prosecutor will, in most instances, offer a reduced charge if the Defendant agrees to plead guilty. In certain jurisdictions, the Prosecutor may agree to dismiss the charge against the Defendant for certain offenses and/or in consideration of the Defendant’s record. If the Defendant does not accept the deal, wishes to have more time to decide, or has hired an attorney who is not present that day, the case will be continued. Due to the fact that there are no trials in Disposition Court, there is never the need for witnesses. Therefore, a Defendant will not see witnesses (normally Police Officers) when they come to this court.
District Court on the other hand, will include pleas of guilty as well as Not Guilty. Though guilty pleas are handled the same in District Court as they are in Disposition Court, a not guilty plea will be resolved by a trial; something that doesn’t occur in Disposition Court. District Court can, and often will, have trials and therefore witnesses are needed in case there is to be a trial. Since District Court is not as efficient, it tends to run longer. It is not unheard of for Defendant’s to spend hours, sometimes even an entire morning or afternoon waiting for their case to be called.
Since District court tends to run longer for most Defendants, here is a suggestion to consider when requesting a continuance. If you intend plead guilty, but need more time (normally to gather the money for court costs and fines), ask the Prosecutor to set your court date in Disposition Court, or on a Disposition Court date. If the Prosecutor agrees, you will have a better chance of getting in and out of court more quickly then you would have in District Court.