Traffic Trial

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Asking for a trial

You have two options when it comes to having a trial:

  1. You can ask for a court trial, or
  2. You can ask for a trial by written declaration.

To ask for a court trial:

Go to court on the date and time on your ticket or on the courtesy notice the court mailed to you. Ask the clerk for a court date for an arraignment hearing. At this hearing, the judge will:
  • Tell you what the charges are;
  • Tell you about your rights; and
  • Ask you if you want to plead guilty, not guilty, or no contest (also called "nolo contendere").

If you say "not guilty," the judicial officer will give you a date for a trial. The judicial officer may also ask you to pay the fine (which at this stage is called "bail"). The court will hold on to your bail payment. IF you are found not guilty, the money will be returned to you. (Note: For most infractions, you can write a letter to the court to ask for a trial. You will still have to pay the fine shown on your ticket and should enclose this payment with your letter.) You can hire a lawyer for your infraction case. If you cannot afford a lawyer, you can represent yourself, but the court will not give you a lawyer. Click for help finding a lawyer.

If you have a misdemeanor or felony case, the judicial officer will ask you if you have enough money to pay for a lawyer. If you cannot afford to pay for your own lawyer, the court will give you a lawyer for your case.

Your Traffic Trial

In most cases where your ticket is for an infraction a judge or judicial officer will hear your case instead of a jury. If the offense may be charged as an infraction or a misdemeanor under California Penal Code sections 17(d) and 19.8, you can ask that an infraction charge be tried instead with a jury as a misdemeanor. But, unlike infractions, jail may be part of the sentence in a misdemeanor case. Talk to a lawyer before you make this decision to make sure you are doing what is best for you.

If you need an interpreter, let the court clerk know at least 1 week before your court trial.

At your trial, the police officer will state why he or she gave you the ticket.

You or your lawyer can:

  • Present evidence,
  • Argue the law,
  • Bring witnesses, and
  • Question the officer who gave you the ticket.

If you are found not guilty, the court will return your fine (the "bail" that you paid when you asked for the trial).

If you are found guilty, you must pay the fine. If your fine is less than the bail amount you paid when you asked for the trial, you will get the difference back. If your fine is more, you will have to pay the additional money. In misdemeanor or felony cases, you can also go to jail.

If you disagree with the court’s decision, you can try to file an appeal. Read the Information on Appeal Procedures for Infractions (Form CR-141-INFO) for instructions on how to appeal infractions. Get more information on appealing a traffic court decision.

To ask for a trial by written declaration:

If you qualify, you can ask for your trial by written declaration in person at the clerk's office or by mail sent to the courthouse address listed on your citation. If you mail your request, enclose a stamped, self-addressed envelope.

The court will mail you back instructions and trial by declaration form. The top portion of your Request for Trial by Written Declaration (Form TR-205) should be filled out by the court clerk with important information. Read it carefully! Once you get the form and instructions, you can fill out the paperwork.

Your Trial by Written Declaration

In most cases, people who are charged with an infraction of the Vehicle Code or a local ordinance can ask for a trial by written declaration. This means that instead of going to court to fight your case, you and the police officer give the judge statements and any evidence in writing.

You can have the trial by written declaration if:

  1. You were given a ticket for infraction violations only;
  2. The due date to take care of your ticket has not passed; AND
  3. Your courtesy notice or ticket does not say that you must appear in court.

Evidence can include:

  • The "Notice to Appear";
  • A business record or receipt;
  • A sworn declaration of the arresting officer;
  • A written statement or letter signed by the defendant; and/or
  • Any written statements or letters signed by witnesses.
  • For more information on trial by written declaration, read the Instructions to Defendant (Trial by Written Declaration — Traffic) (Form TR-200).

    To have a trial by written declaration:

    1. Fill out your court forms
      Fill out the Request for Trial by Written Declaration (Form TR-205). Attach a written statement of what happened and make sure to include detail. If you are going to attach evidence like photographs or diagrams, explain in your written statement what evidence you are attaching.

      For your written statement, you can use a form called Declaration (Form MC-030) and, if you need more room to complete your statement, a form called Attached Declaration (Form MC-031. If you do not use these forms, make sure you write, at the end of your statement: "I declare under penalty of perjury under the laws of the State of California that this statement is true and correct." Print your name, and sign and date the statement. You can also use these forms if you have witnesses that want to write statements.

    2. Make at least 1 copy of all your forms
      These copies are for your records. If you prepare your statement without using a form, make sure to keep at least 1 copy of it also. And keep copies of any statements made by your witnesses. Keep the paperwork in a safe place.

    3. Mail the original of all your forms to the court clerk by the due date
      Mail the signed Request for Trial by Written Declaration, your statement(s), and evidence to the court clerk. You MUST include the bail amount (which is the amount of the fine shown on your ticket).

      Make sure you do all this BEFORE the due date written at item A of your Request for Trial by Written Declaration. Item B in that same section of the form tells you the bail amount you have to send with your paperwork.

      If you miss the due date, you will not be able to have a trial by written declaration. And if you do not send the bail by the due date, you may be charged more money, for penalties, assessments, and other fees.
    4. The police officer provides a written statement 
      When the clerk receives your Request for Trial by Written Declaration, the clerk will let the police officer who issued your citation know. The officer will then have the opportunity to submit a declaration about the citation by the due date.

    5. The court makes a decision and the clerk notifies you due date
      The judicial officer will review your papers and the officer's, and make a decision on your case. You will get the court's decision by mail telling you whether you were found guilty or not guilty.

      If you are found guilty, the court says what the penalty will be and orders it to be paid from your bail. If the fine is more than the bail you paid, the court will give you a deadline to pay the rest of the fine. If the fine is less than the bail you paid, the balance will be refunded to you (or to the person who paid the bail if someone else paid it).

      If you are found not guilty, the court will refund the bail money to you (or, if you did not pay it, to the person who paid it).

    6. If you are not satisfied with the court's decision, you can ask for a new trial (called a "trial de novo") in court
      When you ask for a new trial, you and the other parties will have to personally go to court for that trial. You have 20 days after the court's decision was mailed to you to ask for a new trial. The court will start over completely in deciding your case based on the testimony and evidence presented at the court trial and is not limited by the sentence imposed in the trial by written declaration.

      To ask for a new trial in court, fill out a Request for New Trial (Trial de Novo) (Form TR-220).
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