Question:What do you consider an unfair ticket? I am an honest decent person and I got a speeding ticket. I don’t consider the ticket fair or reasonable, but I did violate the traffic law I was cited under. Would you, from a moral, not legal, point of view recommend that I still contest this?
Answer: Yes, I would. It is not immoral to contest an infraction charge. In fact, it is a legal RIGHT to do so. Even if it is illegal to go 70mph in a 65mph zone, I don’t believe it is immoral to do so, as long as the road conditions were favorable and your speed did not, in itself, endanger life or property.
I always contest every charge, whether I’m technically “guilty” or not. You have to remember that guilt or innocence is a result of the process of law as interpreted subjectively by people, including the cop who stopped you and the judge deciding the case. In traffic infraction cases, you are denied a trial by jury. As such, the biases of the cop and the judge and their potential for error and unfairness become magnified. They are not perfect and the process is not perfect. You run a greater risk that they might find you guilty, even if you are not. This is why I contest every case.
I know that I may lose cases, despite my innocence, due to cop and judge errors, including lies and incompetence. I also know that I may win cases where I obviously broke the law, due to cop and judge errors. In the end, I believe these errors balance out, leaving me with some rough approximation of justice. This approximate justice only happens if I mechanically and habitually exercise my legal right to contest every case. There is no other way to overcome the built in prosecutorial bias of traffic enforcers and traffic courts in California.
Let’s say that half of the citations you’re issued are totally fair and legitimate and the other half are bogus and based on overzealous policing. Let’s also approximate that you have a 50/50 chance of beating any particular ticket you contest. If you pay the tickets that you feel were deserved without a fight while only contesting the tickets that you thought were unfair you would be convicted in 100% of the cases where you surrendered and 50% of the ones you contested. By not contesting every case, you become a victim of the court’s prosecutorial bias. However, if you contested every case, you’d beat 2 out of 4 tickets total. It should not matter if you beat two tickets when you were guilty, especially if you are found guilty on two tickets that were unfair. This is what I mean by the term “rough justice” or “approximate justice.” This is why I recommend every citation be contested. You might need to beat a fair ticket now to balance the unfair ticket a cop may issue on a whim in the future.
No cop. No lawyer. No angel. Citizen, yes. Militant, perhaps.
I’m an Irish rebel and Buddhist anarchist, born too late for the better revolutions.
I taught traffic school for six years and owned a DMV licensed school for 5 years. I started my own traffic school after my two idiot traffic school bosses pissed me off. I don’t know if “revenge” is a good reason to start a small business, but I am Irish.
Some 11,000 students with 11,000 questions later, I had had enough but did not want the information I’d learned to be lost forever. This led to Ticketassassin.com, a monument to 5 wasted years that, in reflection, were not wasted at all. I decided to combine my ticket knowledge, English degree and writing skills to create a website for California drivers with ticket problems.
I teamed up with my friend, diabolical web designer Tim Wayne, to create a space where “sticking it to the man” would be our daily business and pleasure. The site was my revenge against the DMV and courts for playing God with my modest traffic school with their red tape and threats for 5 years. Neither liked that I would inform my students about their rights under the law. The bureaucrats at the courts and DMV wanted none of it and threatened to shut me down repeatedly.
Also, since any yahoo could start a traffic school, there were too many schools and not enough students to fill the classes. My advice: never get into a government regulated business unless you can make a pile of money—like car dealerships, bars and methadone clinics.
So after five years of tilting at windmills inside the “system”, I now use the vector of the Internet with a virus called “the truth” to make the court and DMV wish they had let me be. I hope to encourage so many people to contest that the traffic court system is eventually destroyed by the weight of too many written declarations. This is my second revenge-based business.
For more info, read about this site.
“TBD” and “TBWD” stands for Trial by Written Declaration. Writing a successful TBD is what this site is all about.
Some courts never required it. Other courts required it but are no longer allowed to enforce that requirement due to a recent ruling of the Judicial Council of California (the people who set the rules for the courts).
It’s confusing, so I wrote this blog post about it to help clarify.
No, not anymore.
On June 8, 2015, the California Judicial Council (the people who make the rules for the courts) ruled unanimously that courts can no longer require full bail when people submit their not-guilty plea. Therefore, courts are no longer allowed to make that requirement.
When we moved this site over to WordPress, I started a new blog to post news about traffic law in California. Mostly Tim and Alex post to it, because they have more time than I do (and Tim is really into writing stuff). You can see that blog here.
There is no venue on this site for members to share their own experiences. Since verdicts are based on the unique details of each case, there is not much sharing of experience going on. Also, most people are cited infrequently and just want to beat their ticket, not gab about the process. It’s been my role to collect the details of tens of thousands of different cases while helping people prepare their defenses. Strategies for contesting the most common offenses are in my member shareware. The newest strategies and declaration examples are emailed to paid members when they pay. I also apply my 10 years of experience in fighting tickets to help my supporting members create the best defense based on the details of their case.
If you feel compelled to share your traffic-ticket-fighting experience, I recommend either leaving a review on Yelp or Google Places. You can share your ticket-fighting experience on ExpertLaw in the Traffic Court forum.
Question: Combined Bail: Expensive Ticket (Speeding plus No Proof of Insurance) I just got the courtesy notice in the mail and they’ve set bail at $774.00! This was for 80 mph on the freeway plus no proof of insurance. I do have insurance, but couldn’t find the proof in time for the cop. Anyway, I see on the courtesy notice that the traffic school fee is only $153, so it seems this bail is set high just to discourage folks from fighting their tickets.
Answer: No. You are misreading the often confusing “courtesy notice.” The bulk of this fine is for the insurance violation (Over $600). If you show proof of insurance, that fine is dismissed regardless of the outcome of your speeding case. You will then not have to post the portion of bail assigned to the insurance violation. Any “fix-it” violation (insurance, registration, license, mechanical) should be cleared up prior to contesting to drastically lower your bail amount.
Trial by Declaration is the best option unless money is no concern for you. Considering the time it takes the average person to earn $150-200 dollars after taxes, many do not consider traffic school a better or easier option. Even the cheaper fines are over $100 plus a $39 traffic school referral fee plus the $30 cost of traffic school. The best-case scenario for a less expensive citation approaches $200. The average ticket handled through traffic school will cost the driver around $250—the traffic school referral fee plus traffic school will push this up to around $330.
For a red light ticket, you’d be looking at a fine of $341 plus $39 for traffic school referral plus $30 for traffic school: over $400 total, over a week’s take-home pay for some people. Unless you have an unlimited supply of cash, it’s hard to imagine how paying up is better than writing a declaration letter that may result in paying nothing. Add to this the cost a day of your life wasted in a boring 8-hour DMV traffic school. Your instructor might be the cop who cited you or some painfully unfunny “comedian.” Even the courts that allow online classes now require you to take a proctored exam at an approved site. If you fail, you have to wait a week to retake the test.
Question:I went through my checking account tonight and found that a month ago the court cashed my bail check. Does that means I lost my case? I never received the court’s decision on my trial by declaration.
Answer: Don’t assume you lost. The court cashes every bail check it gets. You get a refund check if you win. Until you get a decision in the mail, you can assume there is no verdict yet.
Answer: There is no mandatory format for a witness statement in a TBD case. Don’t include anything you don’t want or need too. However, the statement has more credibility if the witness includes a full address and phone number. The only “mandatory” element is that the statement be sworn and signed under penalty of perjury. Witness statements lend support to your defense and can result in dismissal. I have formatted examples of witness statements for various violations on file and provide them to paid members.
Answer: Yes. Your Written Not Guilty Plea will count as your appearance under California Vehicle Code 40519b. Appearing by letter is a legal right in infraction cases.
Answer: RECEIVED. Be sure never to be late on a court TBD deadline. At minimum, you will be found guilty of the original charge. Also, the court might add a $250 fine for a Failure to Appear (FTA). However, most courts will just find you guilty and keep your bail as the fine.
Answer: No. In fact, the court is under no obligation to send the “courtesy notice.” It is merely a “courtesy” that helps the court process loads of tickets faster. Many drivers are not aware of this, and will do nothing until their courtesy notice arrives. This can lead to trouble when they miss their appearance date while waiting for a courtesy notice.
If the court totally blows you off and does not sent a notice, you are still obligated to appear on the date noted at the bottom of your ticket. By signing the citation, you “promised to appear” on this date, for which you were released without posting bail. If you miss this date, they typically find you guilty of the original charge while adding on a Failure to Appear (FTA) charge and an additional $250 fine. Some courts will even suspend your license for a Failure to Appear and issue a warrant for your arrest. If you then get stopped by a cop, they’ll charge you with “driving on a suspended license” while enforcing the FTA charge.
It’s an easily avoidable mess of trouble. You are in charge of your own defense. Be pro-active. Don’t miss your deadlines. Do not rely on the court for anything.
Answer: The officer should not be permitted to read your statement during the Trial by Declaration. If you lose the TBD and go to a Trial de Novo, the officer may request to see your original statement, but very few bother to do so.
Answer: Never worry about “pissing off” the judge merely by exercising your right to contest. If nobody contested, he’d be back chasing ambulances or robbing widows.
Question: I’m considering using your defense example that demand’s proof of the officer’s completion of the 24 hour radar course. However, it seems that a judge would not look favorably upon a lawbreaker challenging an officer and implying his testimony is “hearsay.”
Answer: Why would you call yourself a “lawbreaker”? You are a defendant. You are presumed innocent until otherwise proven by the state. That’s what the judge is supposed to assume. If he assumes otherwise, he is violating judicial ethics and his oath. The process of contesting is confrontational by definition. The argument you refer to challenges the officer’s evidence, not his integrity. Don’t fear that you will annoy the court by mounting an aggressive defense.
Question: I got my ticket in a rural county about 80 miles from my home. I requested a Trial by Declaration from the local court. They wrote back saying that since I didn’t live more than 100 miles from the court, I was not entitled to a TBD. Does the law allow them to do this?
Answer: No. The Ticket Assassin has seen this sort of court scam before. Typically, such distance rules are never adopted by the court formally but are invented to deter contesting by out-of-town drivers like you. The California State Vehicle Code (section CVC40902) allows a Trial by Declaration “upon demand” without any distance criteria. Cite this vehicle code section to the clerk and insist upon your right to a Trial by Declaration.
Question: Can I Contest After Paying Bail? I just learned about your site. I did not ask to contest and already mailed in my bail. Can I still contest this violation after sending in the bail payment?
Answer: MAYBE. You’d should go to court immediately and request a Trial by Declaration. If you just sent in payment, they will probably let you contest. If the court already reported a conviction to the DMV (that is, if you sent in payment many weeks or months ago) it is less likely that they will allow you to contest. Still, it’s certainly worth a shot. Go to court ASAP and request a Trial by Declaration. Insist on asking a judge if the clerk blows you off.
Question: I got a ticket a few months ago that I went to traffic school for. Is there anything I can do to contest it after the fact? Could I contest other tickets in the past as well?
Answer: No. Generally speaking, once a case is closed via traffic school dismissal it cannot be contested. Also, once you plead guilty (if you had not gone to traffic school) the court collects your fine, reports a conviction to the DMV and closes the case. The court has no reason to reopen a closed case. If a case is closed prematurely due to a court error, a judge may reopen the case upon request.
I’ve seen red light camera cases reopened when the defendant declared that he had never received the citation notice in the mail. Since no “Promise to Appear” is signed in these automated cases, defendants often miss appearance deadlines when courtesy notices are misplaced. Missing an appearance deadline will cause the court to add a $250 Failure to Appear fine to the original $341 red light fine.
Some defendants are not aware of their citation until a $600 collection notice arrives in the mail. Quite often the judge will dismiss the $250 FTA assessment and reopen the case when the defendant appears and disputes that the original citation was never received. Since there is no signed “Promise to Appear” at the original appearance date in these cases, there is much more leeway from the court (since they can’t prove you intentionally missed your court date.)
Expect no leeway if you miss an appearance date after signing a “Promise to Appear.” Emergency hospitalization or military deployment are about the only excuses the court accepts if you fail to appear on a signed promise.