Traffic Ticket Advice
27 Jun 17 - By Annie F.
So, you or someone you know got a traffic ticket. What is the next step to take? In this article you'll find excellent information on the smartest way to handle a traffic ticket.
Traffic Ticket Advice
Hopefully you wonít ever need this information, but just in case, here is my personally acquired experience of the court system regarding traffic tickets. Two different lawyers could not tell me exactly what was going to happen if I went to court with the ticket, so I feel like this is valuable, not broadly known information. It applies at least to the court I was tried in (Temecula, California), probably is similar for any California court, if not any state court.
When you get a ticket, donít say ANYTHING INCRIMINATING to the officer. They take notes and give a statement of what happened when the case is tried.
Acknowledge the officer and take your ticket. They will make you sign a paper indicating you received the ticket; it is not an admission of guilt. If you have a justifiable objection, it is fine to state this to the officer, as long as it is based on facts. The officer may also note this although it is unlikely that he would mention any justifiable objections in your favor to the judge when he gives his statement (if your case is tried). Remain courteous, friendly and respectful. This is your best chance that the cop will just give you a warning as opposed to a ticket.
Police have one year to turn in the ticket. Read your Sixth Amendment and make sure it has not been violated (right to a speedy trial).
Youíll receive the ticket in the mail along with a form showing several options. You will have the option to:
1. Pay the fine and attend traffic school if you are eligible
2. Pay the ticket and take the penalty on your record
3. Plead not guilty and get a court trial
My recommendation is that even if you are eligible for traffic school, check the box to request a court trial and pay bail (the price of the ticket). You are required to pay for the ticket even if you feel you were not guilty. Next, you will receive a letter with your court date. You will have an option to request a postponement. My opinion on this is that you SHOULD REQUEST a postponement. I think that they schedule all the traffic violation court dates for a particular officer on a date that works for the system. If you request a postponement, I think you will have better chances that the officer who cited you will not show up (this is my personal evaluation).
You will get another letter with a new trial date which once again states that if you are not able to attend, you must request a postponement at least ten days prior to the trial date. Once a date is set that you are able to attend, BE SURE TO SHOW UP for the court trial or you will automatically be found guilty.
On the day of the trial, they will have all traffic violation trials scheduled at the same time. They call everyone into the court at the same time and the proceedings start. They will start calling people over one by one and try each one individually. Since this obviously takes some time, even if the time stated on your letter was 10 am, you may not be heard until noon. Make sure that you block off enough time in your schedule to be there for at least a couple hours. You may want to call the court clerk to ask what time period is typically allotted for traffic violations so you can get an idea of how long you will need to the there for.
From what I saw, the ONLY people who got a not guilty verdict were people who had concrete evidence in their favor. For example, there was a guy who passed some stopped vehicles to make his right turn and he cited the section of the code that applied and showed the judge pictures of the scene and had concrete evidence that he did not do anything unsafe or illegal. He was pretty much the only one who had a not guilty verdict. People with pleas such as ďI donít think I was going that fast, your honorĒ were NOT settled in the defendantís favor and the radar gun won on each instance.
There were about thirty or forty of us in the court room who were there for traffic violations. About fifteen to twenty were tried. There were about a dozen officers in the prosecution booth, all of which were appearing for individual cases of traffic violation. Some of those officers had more than one defendant present. The judge called each person up whose citing officer was present.
The following is very important for when your citing officer does attend the trial. The judge should make it clear that you have the option to pay your ticket and attend traffic school if you are eligible. You have the option to do traffic school all the way up until the moment when your citing officer starts giving his statement. The way it works is the judge will call the name of the traffic violator and the name of the citing officer. The violator and the officer will both be made to stand in front of the judge. The judge will then ask the person if they are eligible for traffic school and if they would like to benefit from traffic school. A court clerk will be able to pull up the information right there and then so you will know immediately if you are eligible. If you are eligible, right up to that point you will have the opportunity to opt for traffic school and give up your right to a trial. My recommendation is that, unless you have concrete evidence that you were not at fault, take that option!!! Only ONE person was found not guilty of all the 15 or 20 I saw tried this morning. Defendants with uncertainties and ďI donít think I was going that fastĒ were found guilty and ended up having to pay the fine and had the violation show up on their record. If you attend traffic school, the violation will not show on your record, but you will have to pay the fine plus about $60 for traffic school.
Once you declined the opportunity to do traffic school, (the judge makes it clear that it is a privilege, not a right), the citing officer will start giving his statement. Once that process is started, you no longer will be offered the privilege to attend traffic school. If you are found guilty (which is, by far, the majority from what I have observed), you will have the violation show on your record and you will have to pay the fine, or will not be reimbursed since you will most likely have already paid it as bail.
Here is the other interesting piece of information I collected in this experience. The judge will call ALL defendants one by one, for whom a citing officer is present first. You have to stay for the entire time. Once the present citing officers are all exhausted and no officer is left in the prosecution booth, the judge will then do a roll call on the remaining defendants and will inform the remaining defendants that their citing officers did not show up and that he has no choice but dismiss the case. The stats on this were, from my best guesstimate about fifteen to twenty of us. Since there were about thirty or forty of us to start with, this was pretty much 50%!
Therefore, if you get a traffic ticket request a postponement. You pretty much have a 50% chance that your citing officer will not show up and that your case will be dismissed. Worst case scenario is when your case is called up, if your officer IS there you can always ask for traffic school and you will not have lied or argued your case with no evidence. I highly recommend that you wait until your name is called to see if your citing officer is present before you opt for traffic school, since if your citing officer is not present your case will be dismissed.
Another statistic (at least at my court proceeding) was that there were about forty people scheduled. I was there from 10 am to 12 noon. Within that time period, about fifteen to twenty people were tried. The remaining twenty or so cases were dismissed because the citing officer failed to appear. At one point, I was worried about time and I asked the court clerk if my case was going to be heard before noon and she told me that it definitely would. So basically, they schedule twice as many people as there is time for to try and bank on the likelihood that half of the citing officers are not going to show up. Otherwise there is no way that there would be enough time to try each case! Statistics are in your favor; at least from what I observed in my experience today in that particular court .
Per a friend of mine who is a lawyer, you can contest the validity of the radar gun as it has not been scientifically proven to be accurate. Per this lawyer, it takes a pro attorney to object to this successfully. If thatís the case Iím not sure why the radar gun would be admissible evidence by any judge, or why anybody would be convicted of a speeding violation if radar guns are not proven accurate.
I was among the lucky ones whose case was dismissed as my citing officer did not show up. Once your case is dismissed, you will be reimbursed the fee of the ticket which you paid as bail. I was informed that it would take three months to three years to get reimbursed. I guess Iíll have a surprise $350 coming my way one of these days. Yeah... up to three years. Nuts.
I hope that this helps. However, the best thing you can do is obey the laws of the land and not get a ticket to start with. But if you do, hopefully this will help you gain some understanding of what happens once the legal wheel is set in motion. Iíve been in California for 15 years and this was my first traffic violation. Like I said, I asked 2 different lawyers for advice and neither had all the information that I gained by experience. Notably, neither knew up to which point you could ask for traffic school. Hope you benefit from this.
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"Annie F." resides in Southern California where she drives safely, obeys the laws of the land and learns from experience.