Rhode Island Court Records
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How Does the Rhode Island Traffic Tribunal Work?
Created by the Rhode Island General Assembly in 1999, the Rhode Island Traffic Tribunal is a court that oversees traffic cases in the state. The Traffic Tribunal exercises original jurisdiction over all civil motor vehicle and traffic offenses and may exercise authority over some Department of Environmental Management violations. Although the Traffic Tribunal is part of the Rhode Island unified court system, it is an independent court that operates under the supervision of the Chief Magistrate.
Generally, the Rhode Island Traffic Tribunal may hear a wide range of motor vehicle offenses. However, the court does not have jurisdiction over the following:
- Driving under the influence of drugs, alcohol, or other controlled substances
- Crimes which cause severe injury or death
- High-speed elusions or attempts to elude Rhode Island law enforcement agencies
- Driving without a valid license or other required documentation
- Crimes that involve driving or possessing stolen vehicles
- A motorist’s refusal to take a breathalyzer test
The Rhode Island Traffic Tribunal has oversight responsibilities for lesser traffic offenses and shares its jurisdiction over these cases with the state Municipal Courts. The court may also exercise jurisdiction over state violations of public water and boating ordinances. In most instances, these cases are referred to as the Traffic Tribunal by a harbormaster. In places where a Municipal Court does not have jurisdiction, Traffic Tribunals may exercise exclusive jurisdiction over town or city traffic offenses.
The Traffic Tribunal has eight judicial officers, including four magistrates, two associate judges, one administrative magistrate, and a chief magistrate. The court runs multiple daily calendars with events such as arraignments, motions, citation collection cases, and trials.
Depending on offense severity, the Traffic Tribunal may reduce or dismiss certain cases if the defendant has a good driving record. Upon the Traffic Tribunal’s discretion, the court may also dismiss a case upon payment of fees or assessments.
G. L. § 31.41.1–7 allows a defendant with a good driving record to petition the Traffic Tribunal for a dismissal. According to the law, the defendant must have had a valid driver’s license for a minimum of three years. Furthermore, the violation to be dismissed must be the defendant’s first violation within the last three years. If the court decides to dismiss, the defendant must pay a $35 administrative fee for court dismissal costs. Also, the defendant must pay $25 into the Rhode Island highway maintenance account. Note that if a defendant fails to pay Traffic Tribunal fees, the state may withhold, suspend, or revoke the person’s driver’s license.
The Traffic Tribunal may not dismiss a charge based on a good driving record after six months from the date of disposition. The law also does not recognize a parking ticket as a prior violation. Also, note that the Traffic Tribunal is not obligated to dismiss the case even with a good driving record. The Traffic Tribunal maintains records of all dismissed charges for three years.
Regardless of a good driving record, the Traffic Tribunal may not dismiss any of the following traffic violations:
- Any motor vehicle or traffic violation that falls under the jurisdiction of a District or Superior Court
- Any violation that affects a school bus
- Any violation involving a speed higher than the posted speed limit by more than fourteen miles per hour higher
- Any violation involving child restraints as provided by G. L. § 31–22–22
- Any violation resulting in an accident which caused personal injury or property damage
- A refusal to partake in a breathalyzer, urine, or blood test as provided by G. L. § 31–27–2.1
- Any violation committed by a person with a commercial license
- Any violation which occurred in a commercial motor vehicle, caused by a person who does not have a commercial vehicle license
Not all Traffic Tribunal cases may require a hearing. However, a defendant may request a hearing even if the court does not immediately schedule one. Traffic Tribunal cases that involve hearings will involve a first appearance. For the first appearance, the defendant may accept the charges or ask for a full trial. At the trial, the burden of proving that the defendant committed a violation rests on the state or municipality. If the state or municipality is unable to prove the violation, the Traffic Tribunal shall dismiss the case.
Note that all citizens may appeal Traffic Tribunal rulings by right. This right also extends to related cases heard in a Municipal Court in jurisdictions without a Traffic Tribunal. The Traffic Tribunal operates an Appeals Panel that receives and reviews these appeals. Interested persons must file a Notice of Appeal within ten days of the Traffic Tribunal’s judgment.
The Appeals Panel reviews the case records to determine if the court’s ruling is in line with Rhode Island laws. If the Appeals Panel determines that the law was not correctly applied, it may return the case to the trial court for further hearing.
In addition to Traffic Tribunal cases, the Appeals Panel also hears appeals from related Municipal Court rulings and the Division of Motor Vehicle appeals. Note that the Appeals Panel will not hold an evidentiary hearing or a new trial.
The general public may contact or visit the Rhode Island Traffic Tribunal for hearings or court records. Interested persons may use the following information:
Rhode Island Traffic Tribunal
670 New London Avenue
Cranston, Rhode Island 02920
Phone: (401) 275–2700
TTY: (401) 275–2379
Fax: (401) 275–2359
4800 Tower Hill Road
Wakefield, Rhode Island 02879
Phone: (401) 275–2700
The Rhode Island Traffic Tribunal provides computer terminals at the clerk’s office, available for all requestors. Anyone interested in locating records may visit the above addresses to review electronic documents available in the court’s case management system. Interested persons may only visit on weekdays, excluding holidays, during regular business hours.
The Rhode Island Judiciary also provides remote access through its public portal. Anyone who needs remote access may send an email to the Judicial Technology Center (JTC) for authorization. Ensure to attach a request form and signed agreement to the email.
Requestors may also send a written request to the Traffic Tribunal. Note that the written requests must contain extensive information about the desired records. The information should include the names of parties involved, all available times and dates, and possible court rulings.
Requestors who are aware of cases heard by the Appeals Panel may also include relevant information. Note that the Traffic Tribunal may charge a fee to make copies of these records available.
Interested persons may view Appeals Panel decisions online as provided by the Rhode Island Judiciary.