How to contest your California traffic ticket.
If you already know about the Trial by Written Declaration process and want to skip right to the Shareware Document Library, go ahead.
The “courtesy notice” the court sends you after you are cited seems to suggest that you must appear in person twice for a single chance of winning at trial: the first time to plead not guilty, the second to stand trial. This is simply not true. The law allows you to contest your traffic infraction entirely by mail.
You can appear via mail through a Written Not Guilty Plea (pursuant to CVC 40519(b)). In your plea you can request a Trial by Written Declaration (pursuant to CVC 40902). In this way you can contest your citation without appearing at all and will have a better chance of winning than at trial. Further, if you lose your trial by declaration, you have 20 days to request a new trial! (a “Trial de Novo” pursuant to CVC 40902-d). You then can appear in court for the first time for your second chance of winning.
Shareware available on this site contains blank forms, examples, and specific directions for completing a written not guilty plea, trial by written declaration and trial de novo. This shareware is available for a small fee (very small when compared to the cost of your ticket plus the increase in your insurance bill).
Unlike your confusing “courtesy notice,” this page explains all of your available options when you receive a traffic citation. Since your “courtesy notice” does such a fine job of exploring the “give up and pay” options, we choose to stress your “fight back and win” options.
Contesting a Citation
Contesting a Citation is your only chance for total victory: if you win, you pay no fine and have no conviction recorded on your DMV record.
Only fighting a citation can provide total vindication for an unfairly cited citizen. Amazingly, less than one percent of defendants ever contest their citations. Why? Our traffic courts make contesting your ticket seem too inconvenient and intimidating for most busy Californians.
“Arrest warrant”, “license suspension”, $250 civil assessment”: these are the fascist threats made in your so-called “courtesy notice.” The court makes contesting seem difficult and inconvenient and bullies defendants into pleading guilty. The only simple part of this state-sponsored extortion is paying the fine. Most courts now allow you to pay your exorbitant fine with a credit card and have conveniently located ATM machines in the court house.
Fighting Your Traffic Ticket
Step one: Plead Not Guilty By Mail
A written not guilty plea takes 5 minutes or less to write and will save you the time and stress of a court appearance.
Here’s how it works: Under section 40519(b) of the Vehicle Code, a defendant is entitled to enter a not guilty plea in writing in lieu of appearing in person in front of a judge. This option allows you to mail a letter to the court pleading not guilty to the charge against you. In this letter, you can request a Trial by Written Declaration, allowing you to contest your citation entirely by mail.
Submitting a Written Not Guilty plea is your legal right (under 40519b), but there is no state approved form for this plea. It seems suspicious that the best and easiest way to contest a traffic ticket is not supported by a state approved pleading form.
We at Ticket Assassin have created a Written Not Guilty Plea template since the state has neglected to do so. You can find this form in our shareware section. Access to the shareware section requires registration (keep reading).
Step two: write your trial by written declaration
Requesting a Trial by Written Declaration (CVC 40902) gives you the best chance to win your case. Most people (99% of defendants) never contest their alleged violations due to the inconvenience of making two separate court appearances: the first to plead not guilty (appearance date) and the second to stand trial. In reality, the law permits you to contest an unfair citation with zero court appearances.
You can fight your ticket by mail with two documents: your Written Not Guilty Plea (CVC 40519(b)) and your Request for Trial by Written Declaration (form TR-205).
Examples of completed written declarations for various offenses are available in our shareware section (requires registration).
You’ll be given three to four weeks to turn in your written declaration. In the written declaration, you can give testimony and present evidence (pictures, diagrams, etc.) to support your case. The officer who cited you will also have the same deadline by which to complete a written declaration describing his justification for citing you.
There are many advantages to contesting by written declaration. The most obvious advantage: the officer gets paid over $300 to show up in person at a court trial but gets paid NOTHING to complete this declaration paperwork. In my experience, about 30% of police officers fail to submit a response to the court by the deadline. If the officer does not turn in his declaration on time, your case is DISMISSED and your bail is returned. By simply contesting by written declaration, you stand a decent chance of dismissal regardless of your argument.
There are many other advantages to contesting your ticket via Trial by Written Declaration, but they are too numerous to list here. Click here to read other advantages to a trial by written declaration.
Trial by Written Declaration: Judgment
If the citing officer fails to respond by the due date in writing, your case should be dismissed and your bail will be refunded. The Clerk of the Court will inform you of this dismissal in writing.
If the officer returns his declaration by the due date, the judge or commissioner will rule on the case. You will be informed by mail of the verdict via a Trial by Declaration judgment. If you are found not guilty, the charge is dismissed and your bail is refunded.
If you are found guilty, a fine (taken from the bail you sent in with your written declaration) may be imposed. Your bail is usually equivalent to the maximum legal fine for the charge. This fine may be reduced or suspended at the court’s discretion. The judge may also assign you to complete a DMV approved Traffic Violator School. When you provide proof of completing traffic school, the court will set aside your conviction and no violation point will be reported to the DMV.
Trial de Novo: A New Trial and Second Chance of Winning Your Case
Section 40902(d) of the Vehicle Code states: If a defendant is dissatisfied with a decision of the court in a proceeding pursuant to this section, the defendant shall be granted a trial de novo.”
If the judge finds you guilty after reading your declaration, you are automatically entitled to a new trial! Nowhere else in criminal law are you entitled to a new trial simply because you are unhappy with the outcome of the first trial. This is only a legal right in traffic infraction cases that begin as a Trial by Written Declaration. This “Trial de Novo” will be an in-person trial in which the judge hears evidence and testimony from yourself and the citing officer.
The legal right to a new trial has a host of advantages. If the officer does not show up at the new trial, your case is dismissed. By the time you get to a trial de novo, three to six months after you were cited, the officer may no longer remember significant facts of your case, leading to a dismissal. If the new judge at your second trial is fairer than the first judge and accepts your argument, he can dismiss the case or find you not guilty. Even if you are found guilty at your second trial, the judge can still reduce your bail and assign you to traffic school.
To request a Trial de Novo, you must submit a form TR-220 (Request for Trial de Novo) to the court postmarked within 20 days of the mailing date of your guilty verdict. This form is available in our Ticket Assassin Shareware section or may be requested from the court.
Why doesn’t the court clearly inform us that we can appear just once in court for two chances of contesting our traffic infractions? Money. Last year the traffic courts in California collected approximately one billion dollars in fines and forfeitures on uncontested traffic tickets. Ignorant of their legal rights, confused and intimidated by the courts and police, 99% of Californians ticketed simply pay up.
Last year, over four million Californians paid their citation without a fight, accepting a conviction on their DMV record. Imagine if only one in four of them exercised their legal right to complete a Trial by Written Declaration. Imagine over one million written statements flooding into California traffic courts every year. Imagine the expressions on the judges faces as bag after bag of mail is unceremoniously dumped on their desks. Let the avalanche begin.