California’s Kangaroo Traffic Courts

No Jury Trial for Traffic Citations Since 1969

Before 1969, traffic violations were misdemeanor offenses and defendants were fully protected by our justice system. If you believed your citation was unjust, you had the right to a trial by jury. Your peers in the community, who drove the same roads you did and faced the same potential prosecution that you did, would determine your guilt or innocence. If they found that your driving was unsafe, they could find you guilty. If your community found the prosecution to be unjust or overzealous in your case, they could find you not guilty, rebuking the government’s weak arguments.

Since 1969 in California, citizens have been denied jury trials for most alleged traffic offenses. Before 1969, there were only two classes of criminal offense in the state of California, misdemeanors and felonies. Felony offenses are very serious and can result in the death penalty or state prison time. All other offenses in California before 1968, including traffic offenses, were misdemeanors. Though a misdemeanor offense could result in jail time, most people convicted of a minor traffic misdemeanor usually paid a small fine and had a point recorded on their DMV record.

Beginning on January 1, 1969, the state legislature created a new category of criminal offense called the infraction. The state would preserve all its rights in prosecuting these infraction citations as criminal offenses, but would remove the citizen’s most basic rights to justice in these cases. For the first time in California history, citizens would be legally denied their right to a jury trial in criminal cases. The community would no longer be the arbiter of justice in these contested criminal cases.

Penal Code 19.6 states: “A person charged with an infraction shall not be entitled to a jury trial”. Since 1969, the government alone arrests, prosecutes, and adjudicates traffic cases without any checks on their power that juries from the community provide in a democracy. Since 1969, there has been no check on the scale and scope of traffic prosecutions in California, which have expanded to over six million traffic arrests and prosecutions yearly.

No Free Legal Advice Since 1969

Penal Code section 19.6 states: “A person charged with an infraction shall not be entitled to have the public defender or other counsel appointed at public expense to represent him…” Since 1969, California citizens have also been denied the right to any free legal advice in traffic infraction cases. You no longer have the right to consult a public defender for guidance in contesting your traffic citation.

Recently in San Diego, a wealthy gentleman paid an excellent attorney $2000 to win him a dismissal in a $346 red light camera case. This was accomplished with a twelve page legal brief and a well-crafted argument that focused on red light cameras as an illegal speed trap. Most of us cannot afford the justice that this man was able to purchase.

If you are poor and are accused of a crime, you should have a right to be defended by state appointed counsel. No one even pretends that a public defender, overworked and underpaid, can do as good a job on each case assigned him as a well-financed private attorney. However, public defenders do their best to ensure that a gross injustice is not committed upon their clients. Stripped of their right to state-appointed counsel, drivers who cannot afford a private attorney have been denied their right to equal justice under the law since 1969.

Red Light Cameras Abuse The Working Poor

Traffic infraction fines act as a regressive tax on the working poor. Already struggling to pay increasing insurance and gasoline prices , they can ill afford to pay a fine of $77 to $346. Red Light fines are among the worst of these, tripled in 1998 to $346 to finance the state’s then faultering automated enforcement program.

Automated enforcement produces the most confusing of traffic citations, chock full of indecipherable mathematic equations and technical jargon. Programmed corporate computers and faceless corporate apparachiks determine your guilt. Our poorest citizens are left with no legal help and no where to turn. Their modest income is raided by a profit hungry corporation and money corrupted traffic court system, where the cashiers and ATM machines are far busier than the collective conscience of its judges.

No Witnesses and Judges Acting As Prosecutors in Red Light Camera Cases

Citing officers usually act as prosecutors in traffic infraction trials, but since there is no citing officer in automated enforcement citations, these cases are essentially being prosecuted by the judge himself. The judge’s traditional role as an impartial arbitrator is no longer possible.

Adding to this miscarriage of justice, the sworn testimony of defendants is being disregarded in favor of machine-generated data provided courtesy of a corporate privateer that only gets paid if you are found guilty. The corporate technicians who interpret this data and actually determine one’s guilt are not made available for cross-examination. In fact, the identity of these nameless accusers is never revealed.

California traffic courts have degenerated into a corrupt and unfair institution since 1969, when jury trials and legal advice were first denied to cited motorists. The billion dollars a year in fines collected by these courts to the benefit of state and local government have further blurred the court’s clouded focus on justice.

Automated enforcement has expanded the scope of this injustice. Now corporations determine your guilt behind closed doors with the court’s blessing. This illegal alliance of the court and private enforcement businesses is the ultimate perversion of California’s already perverted traffic court system.