When you draw a mental image of what the American court system looks like, it’s easy to conjure a romanticized view. The mental gymnastics of legality; Shouting lawyers arguing, objecting, witnesses struggling to remember or ardently denying truisms—it’s a thrill.
But this is Los Angeles traffic court.
The land of the most grueling, forcefully expedited, bite-size cases shoveled onto a graveyard of failed appeals. It’s not ideal.
The best way to avoid a citation or ticket is to equip yourself with the necessary skills and knowledge through online traffic school. But, to err is human—and sooner or later, something will probably happen; you’ll misread a sign or be forced to make an illegal last-second maneuver that will land you a citation. So, here’s what to do, and what to expect.
It’s Incredibly Difficult to Appeal a Citation
If a citation is thrown out, it’s typically done so because the accusing officer fails to show up in court to defend his or her citation. Otherwise, it’s you defending yourself against the world and/or evidence of a police officer. Your word against theirs. If your citation is an unreasonably hefty or serious one, you might consider finding a lawyer to appeal for you, but that can end up costing you quite a bit as well. Which leads us to the next point:
Balance Your Priorities
Appealing your case in court takes time and energy and involves a slight bit of risk. And as said above, if you involve a lawyer, it may then involve a monetary investment. In some cases, unfortunately, it may be in your best interest to swallow your pride and simply pay off the citation to get rid of it, rather than draw it out in a longer legal battle that doesn’t guarantee a better outcome.
The strongest force in your favor is evidence and/or witnesses. If you can provide proof that your citation was unwarranted within the context of the situation, especially when confirmed by evidence or a disinterested third party, the case can swing heavily in your favor.
Stay True to Your Story
Know the details of the incident. Even small details that help paint a picture and demonstrate an acute memory to the judge. Stay consistent, be ready to answer any question regarding what happened. And remember, you are under oath. Lying is perjury—a felony in the state of California.
Keep It Quick
When appealing in traffic court, you’ll typically be lined up with everyone else appealing their citation slated for a certain date. If you’re lucky, your case could be among the first called forward. But even if you’re last, you’ll notice how quickly the hearings fly by. The sheer number of them forces the judge to speed things right along the conveyor belt.
So, you won’t have all the time in the world to state your case and make your claim. Nor will the judge have too much patience for you to do so. Give your best case to prove your innocence in as little time as possible. The longer the hearing goes on, the more likely the judge will grow frustrated and annoyed.
Some of the most successful lawyers and defendants know how to charm a jury. In your case, it will likely just be a judge you have to convince, but it never hurts to go the extra mile to show respect and civility toward both the judge and your accuser. The ability to which you handle yourself emotionally and rhetorically reflects on the character the judge will ultimately find guilty or innocent—so stand firm and defend yourself vehemently but do so with courtesy and respect.