Notifying the Court
Citations are dealt with by each county. Refer to your citation to find where the court is located. It is best not to ask an officer of the law about your concerns. Once your citation is issued, your concerns should be aimed at the designated court. It is important to keep in mind that the court cannot provide information about your ticket until it receives the citation from the citing agency (CHP, sheriff’s office, local law enforcement, etc.), which generally takes two to three weeks.
Informing the Court in Person
You must inform the court of your intentions to contest any citation. To do so, you must appear at the court on the date and time posted on your ticket and/or courtesy notice. At the hearing, the judge will explain the charges brought against you and your rights. You will then be asked if you want to plea either guilty, not guilty or no contest.
If you argue innocence, the judge will then issue you a trial date. Depending on the court, you may be asked to pay your fine, which at this juncture in the proceedings, is referred to as bail. This fine will be returned to you if you win your trial.
If you are charged with a misdemeanor or felony, the presiding judicial officer will ask if you can afford a lawyer. If you can’t, the court will assign you one.
Informing the Court by Mail
If you were cited for a traffic infraction, you may have the opportunity to request a trial by written declaration. This means, instead of appearing in court, you may challenge your ticket by providing the court with written statements and evidence supporting your case.
In addition, you may ask for a trial by written declaration in-person at the clerk’s office, or via mail sent to the courthouse address posted on your citation and/or courtesy notice. Be sure to include a stamped, self-addressed envelope if you do so by mail. The court will then mail you instructions and a Trial Declaration paper.
You can only request a trial by written declaration, if:
- Your ticket was for an infraction violation only
- Your ticket’s due date has not passed
- Your ticket or courtesy notice does not allow it
For more information, read Instructions to Defendant.
Hiring a Traffic Ticket Attorney
It is always advisable to consult with a traffic ticket attorney, especially when challenging an infraction. Lawyers specializing in such cases will use their expertise to your advantage, thus increasing your chances of getting your ticket dismissed or having the charges reduced.
Preparing Your Case
After notifying the court of your intention, you will be issued a trial date. You will also be allowed to hire a traffic ticket attorney to represent you. If you cannot afford such legal counsel, you will need to represent yourself (the court does not provide attorneys for traffic infractions). Before the court date, be sure to gather evidence and witnesses in order to be prepared to argue your case.
Pleading Your Case Before a Judge or Jury
In most California cases involving a traffic infraction, a judge or a judicial officer will hear your case. If you need an interpreter, you will need to notify the court at least one week before your trail date.
Either you or your lawyer during the trial will be allowed to:
- Question the officer who cited the ticket
- Introduce witnesses
In the case that you are ruled innocent, the case will be dropped and your money returned. If you end up being found at fault, however, you will have to pay the amount due. If your citation amount is lower than the amount due for bail, then you will get the difference back. However, in the case that your fine is more than the amount due for bail, you will have to pay the difference. In many cases, you may be able to request to complete a defensive driving course with a online traffic school in California to dismiss one of the violations on your citation.
If the ruling is still unsatisfactory to you, you can always appeal the decision.
Checking Your Driving Record
Regardless of the verdict, it is important to check your driving record to ensure no driver’s license points were erroneously added or left on your record after dealing with your citation. These negative points on your record could have an adverse affect on your car insurance rates.
What about a correctable ticket?
If you get a fix-it violation in the state of California, your ticket will indicate whether you must pay for the violation or provide proof of correction. You need an authorized person (law officer, Department of Motor Vehicles staff, etc.) to sign it. Then, you need to show up before the ticket’s due date with the signature and amount due. The court will then dismiss your case.