How to contest your California traffic ticket.
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.
RECEIVING A CITATION
Once you've received a citation, you have two options:
1. Plead Guilty (the worst option)
If you plead guilty, the court will typically require you to
pay the maximum fine allowed by law and will record a conviction
on your public DMV record for five years. A conviction on your
record will increase your insurance by an average of $250 per
year for three to five years. Clearly, this is the worst
possible option to choose.
Sadly, most ticketed motorists grimace, grab their ankles, and
pay up. This is why traffic fines have become a gold mine for
state, county and local governments, netting over a billion dollars
a year in revenue. If you choose to plead guilty, read no further.
Go back where you came from, shopping
on ebay for old lady's bloomers.
2. Plead Not Guilty and contest--the best option (keep
STEPS TO CONTESTING
First step to contesting: Plead Not Guilty
You can plead not guilty in person or by mail. Here are your choices,
Plead Not Guilty In Person: Four Hours of Your Life You'll
Never Get Back
Your appearance date is noted at the bottom of your citation.
This is the date by which you have promised to appear in court
and enter a plea. Most defendants cannot spare the time from their
busy lives to wait around in court for three to five hours to
enter a "not guilty" plea and set a trial date.
To compound this inconvenience, if you plead "not guilty" the
court makes you wait until everyone else in the court pleading
guilty is heard. By pleading "not guilty" you get to plead last.
Older defendants have died of natural causes before they could
proclaim their innocence. People who want to plead "not guilty"
often give up under these circumstances and plead "guilty" or
request traffic school just to flee the boring hell of traffic
court. Going to court is a demoralizing pain in the ass and should
Plead Not Guilty By Mail: (Ticket Assassin
Recommends) This is Your Best Option
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. (requires registration)
Second step to contesting: Choose Your
Trial Option (in-person or by mail)
You can have your trial in court in person or by mail. Here are
your choices explained:
Court Trial: Smug Cops, Gawking rubes and 720 donuts.
There are many disadvantages to an in-person trial. Most people
are too nervous to represent themselves well in court. Also, since
most defendants are inexperienced with the law, they tend to lose
their cases. This steady stream of "guilty" verdicts may predispose
the judge to find you guilty as well, even if your case is well
Another disadvantage to an in-person court trial, is that you
are not entitled to a jury. Since 1968, traffic infraction defendants
are entitled to a trial decided by a judge alone.
A court trial is a one-shot deal. If you're found guilty, you
have no right to a new trial. The citing officer testifies against
you and also serves as prosecutor.
Officers usually are called to trial on their days off and many receive
over $300 in overtime pay for their brief appearance, enough money
to buy him 720 regular donuts or 579 fancy
donuts (bear claws, apple fritters, eclairs, etc.). As a result,
cops usually make it to court.
Traffic court judges tend to be consistent, if not fair. You
may be found guilty with the other defendants, even though you
have a solid case for dismissal. Many judges choose to favor the
officer in open court, to avoid embarrassing him before a crowd
of gawking rubes.
Trial by mail with a written declaration: The
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 plead not guilty with a Written Not Guilty Plea (CVC
40519(b)). In this plea you can request a Trial by Written Declaration,
a legal right in all traffic infraction cases under CVC 40902.
The court will mail the Judicial Council approved Trial by Written
Declaration (TR-205) form to you. 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 will 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
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
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