WSMR Legal Office
It’s Friday afternoon, after a full work week. You need to be at the El Paso airport by 5 p.m. to pick up some visitors. You figure you will be able to make it if you leave right at 4 p.m. The traffic on War Road seems light enough. Before you know it, your speed is pushing 70. About that time you remember that your driver’s license is out-of-date and so is your car registration. Then you notice the blue flashing lights in your rear-view mirror. Well…you will be late now.
After the White Sands Missile Range police leave you with a small pile of traffic tickets, you begin to question whether or not you were actually going as fast as stated in the ticket. You then ask yourself what your next step should be if you decide to contest the tickets.
If you are one of the “lucky” few who have met with one of the Special Assistant United States Attorneys (SAUSA), you may already know the answer. There are four attorneys, Tyler White, Kevin Dent, Justin Blood, and Myles Blanchard, all authorized to act as a SAUSA. They work within the WSMR Office of the Staff Judge Advocate and prosecute traffic violations as well as other minor offenses, as part of their SAUSA duties. The part of WSMR where most employees work is under exclusive Federal criminal jurisdiction. In other words, crimes committed on the Range are considered “Federal crimes” and are prosecuted in U.S. District Court. Traffic offenses and many misdemeanors are prosecuted before a Federal Magistrate Judge.
Upon receiving most citations, you can either pay the fine by mail or pay the magistrate court clerk in person. If you do not pay the fine, you must appear before the magistrate judge. However, for some offenses you are required to appear in court (e.g. Driving While Intoxicated). In either case, if you must appear in court, you will receive a letter from the Central Violations Bureau notifying you of the hearing date. Failure to appear can result in a warrant for your arrest by the U.S. Marshals.
You decide to fight the tickets. Contesting a traffic ticket you received on WSMR, frequently requires more than one court appearance. When you first appear at the U.S. District Court, the Magistrate Judge will advise you of your rights and ask how you plead. If you plead guilty, the judge will probably determine your fine at that time and the clerk will tell you how to pay. If you plead not guilty, the judge will schedule a trial—usually within a month. If you are facing imprisonment upon conviction and are unable to afford an attorney, you may be entitled to one, appointed by the court. Generally, unless you hire an attorney, you will have to represent yourself. Also, unless you are being charged with a more serious crime such as theft or simple drug possession, these are classified as Class A Misdemeanors, which are punishable by a year in jail or $100,000 fine, you will not be entitled to a jury trial.
At your trial, the Government must prove your guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, and you will have the Constitutional right to cross-examine Government witnesses. You may also make an opening and closing statement as well as call your own witnesses, take the witness stand yourself, or assert your Constitutional right to remain silent. After hearing all of the evidence, the magistrate judge will announce her decision. If you are found guilty, you can appeal your case to the District Court.
The next time you are in a rush to get to El Paso remember…is the risk of speeding and getting caught, or the risk of an accident, worth the extra few minutes? Be considerate of others and drive safely…don’t speed.