Overview of contesting a Traffic Ticket in Court
There are 4 stages in the process to contest a traffic ticket
We'll walk you through each of these stages. All stages can be completed with or without the help of an attorney. Many stages are 'involved' and a defendant typically benefits greatly from the counsel of an experienced traffic attorney. When a defendant engages an attorney, most of the time an attorney can move through these stages without the defendant being present.
1. The Arraignment
The arraignment is where you plead not guilty (to contest your ticket) or guilty (to pay your ticket). At arraignment you or your attorney stand before the judge and tell them if you plead guilty (contest) or not guilty (pay). You can also ask for traffic school at this time.
It is very important to appear on or before the 'Due Date' of the ticket. If you do not appear before this time, the Court can add a 'Late Fee Assessment' which can add another $300 to the ticket.
You do not give up your right to go to traffic school if you go to trial, but it is important to establish your right to traffic school before you plead not guilty.
If the courtesy notice states that you may attend traffic school, then you have written proof that the court has offered you traffic school. Otherwise, you need to have the judge confirm it at the arraignment. The simple way to do this is to ask the judge if the court is offering traffic school? Once the judge says yes, you need to reserve that right per rule of court 4.104(c)(3) and plead not guilty.
The court has 45 days from the date of your arraignment (i.e., the date you first appear) to give you a trial.
The next stage is 'Discovery', which is just a fancy term for getting evidence. (See Penal Code sections 1054 and 1054.1 for details on discovery) .
Some of the items that are typically requested at discovery include:
Under Government Code section 26500, the District Attorney is supposed to fulfill the Discovery request. But in many situations, District Attorneys will refuse to acknowledge their responsibility to comply with the Discovery Request and will refer you to the issuing agency or elsewhere to get the information. It is not your job to get this information. It is the prosecuting attorney's duty to provide the information.
3. Pre-trial Motions
You or your attorney may file pre-trial motions that allow you to ask for certain evidence to be kept out of the trial, or to ask for a complete dismissal. In some situations where there is strong evidence (such as a speed trap defense), it is advantageous to ask for a dismissal at this stage.
You will need to send the motion to the court and prosecuting attorney - you can ask the court who the prosecuting attorney is if you're unsure.
4. Court Trial
Court Trial is the most involved part of the process. Below is a list of each stage.
A. Roll Call
The clerk will call the roll to determine which defendants are present and which witnesses for the prosecution (e.g. the Officer) are present. If the officer is not there, you will almost certainly have your case dismissed. After roll call, the judge will come in and have the clerk swear in the witnesses.
B. The Prosecution's Witnesses
Trial begins with the prosecution presenting its case. This usually means that the officer who wrote the ticket will get up and give his or her testimony.
C. Cross Examination of the Prosecution's Witnesses
Once the officer (and/or other witness) finish their testimony, you have the right to cross examine. This is when you or your attorney get the chance to ask questions regarding any part of the witness's testimony.
D. The Defense's Witnesses
Now you get to present your case. You may testify, but you do not have to. Indeed, if the prosecution has failed to prove their case, you may wish to simply move for a dismissal. You may also call any other witnesses you have present.
E. Cross Examination of the Defense's Witnesses
At this point the prosecution can ask questions of the defenses witnesses, including you (if you testified). The officer is not the prosecution. Even if there's no prosecuting attorney the citing officer who testified is still a witness.
F. Closing Statements
After all of the testimony and cross examination, each side gets to make a closing statement. The prosecution goes first, and the defendant gets the last word.
6.The Verdict and Sentence
Having heard both sides, the judge will announce his or her verdict. They may or may not comment as to the reasoning behind the decision. If the judge says "Guilty" then you have lost and the judge will pronounce a sentence. Typically this will be the amount of the fine. In some cases the judge may see at least part of your side of the case and reduce the fine - this is a partial victory even though the ticket still goes on your record.
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