The Bellingham Municipal Court has jurisdiction over infractions allegedly committed in the City of Bellingham in violation of the Bellingham Municipal Code. These non-criminal violations are punishable by a fine in a presumptive amount set by the State of Washington or the Bellingham City Council. Infractions include all varieties of traffic tickets, parking tickets, and other non-criminal violations of the Bellingham Municipal Code. Special rules govern infraction hearings, and procedures are different from criminal cases.
You must respond to the notice of infraction within fifteen (15) days from the date it was issued. A mailed response must be postmarked no later than midnight on the day the response is due.
Infraction citations contain the word “Infraction” on the upper-left hand corner of the citation, and an infraction number starting with the letters “IB” on the upper-right hand corner of the infraction.
If you receive an infraction, you have four options:
1) Pay your ticket without a court hearing. If you choose to pay your ticket without requesting a court hearing, simply pay the ticket amount in person at the clerk’s window, by mail, or online. Your infraction will be deemed committed and may be reported to the Department of Licensing. For more information please see the court payment options webpage.
2) Deferred Findings (traffic violations only). If you are at least 18 years old, do not have a Commercial Driver's License (CDL) and have not had a traffic infraction deferred finding in the last 7 years, you may request that the Court defer findings in your case, as provided by state law, and not report your infraction to the Department of Licensing. (The Court will not defer an infraction issued for no vehicle insurance.)
Many people apply for deferred findings in order to avoid the potential insurance consequences of receiving a traffic ticket. The Court is unable to advise you whether your insurance rates will be affected by various infractions, but defendants considering deferred findings should be aware that tickets issued for seat belt violations, driver inattention, and failure to maintain control are not reported to insurance companies.
To request a deferred finding, you must meet the following conditions:
If all of these conditions are met, the Court will dismiss your infraction in one year and the violation is not reported to the Department of Licensing. If you receive a deferred finding and then commit another infraction within the one year deferral period, the original violation is reported to the Department of Licensing.
A deferred finding may be requested in one of the following ways:
3) Mitigation Hearing. In a mitigation hearing, you admit that you committed the violation, but ask the judge to reduce your ticket based upon mitigating circumstances. A mitigation hearing is an informal hearing where you may explain the circumstances of your case to the judge, who considers your explanation along with your driving record in setting an appropriate fine. Your violation is reported to the Department of Licensing if it is a reportable offense. You may also ask the judge to allow you to make monthly payments if you are unable to pay the ticket in full on the date of your hearing. There is no appeal from a mitigation hearing. Infractions issued for speeding in a school or playground zone and passing a stopped school bus while its red lights are flashing may not be mitigated, by authority of Washington State law.
4) Contested Hearing. In a contested hearing, you do not admit you committed the violation. The City bears the burden of establishing, by a preponderance of the evidence, that you committed the violation. The City meets this burden if the judge, after hearing all of the evidence, determines that it is more likely than not that the violation was committed. A defendant in a contested hearing has the right to the assistance of an attorney at the defendant’s own expense, the right to present evidence and examine witnesses in court, the right to request a witness list and copy of the officer’s sworn statement from the City Attorney’s Office (which must be requested in writing at least 14 days before the hearing; the City Attorney’s Office should provide you with these materials at least 7 days before the hearing), and the right to subpoena witnesses, including the officer who issued the citation (if you wish to subpoena witnesses, you must apply to the Court in person at least 14 days prior to the hearing; witnesses should be served at least 7 days prior to the hearing). If no witness is requested, the judge will read the officer’s sworn statement and then consider any testimony and/or evidence presented by the defense before deciding the case. If the City prevails, you may appeal the Court’s determination to the Superior Court upon payment of the Superior Court filing fee. You may also request a payment schedule or fine reduction if you are found to have committed the infraction after a contested hearing.
Failure to respond in a timely manner to a citation or failure to appear in Court for a scheduled hearing will result in a finding that the infraction was committed, and imposition of the fine amount listed on the citation without a further hearing. Failure to pay fines, or failure to make a scheduled payment pursuant to a court-ordered payment schedule, will result in an additional financial penalty of $52, and, in a traffic case, suspension of your driver’s license. Additionally, your unpaid debt will be referred to a collection agency and may adversely affect your credit rating.