Traffic Frequently Asked Questions
1. When traffic bail is not required:
You have the right to appear in court for arraignment to contest the alleged traffic infraction without prior deposit of bail. (Cal. Rules of Court, rule 4.105.) If you choose NOT to post bail under the options described under #2, below, you must appear as instructed on the citation, even if you do not receive a courtesy notice. When you appear for an arraignment hearing, you will enter a plea. If you plead not guilty at arraignment, you may ask for a court trial on a separate date.
The court may require payment of bail at arraignment before trial if:
- you do not sign a promise to appear as ordered by the court, or
- the court finds (and states the reasons for the findings) that, based on the circumstances of your particular case, you are unlikely to appear without a deposit of bail.
(Cal. Rules of Court, rule 4.105(c).)
2. When traffic bail is required:
A. Post (pay) and forfeit bail:
If you do not wish to challenge your traffic citation and there is no mandatory court appearance, you must pay the bail for noncorrectable violations and provide proof of correction and pay the fees for any correctable violations by the due date on the citation. The court will report a conviction for any noncorrectable violations to the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV).
B. State your intention to plead not guilty and request a trial date:
If you want to plead not guilty and schedule a court trial, you may tell the court, in person or in writing, that you intend to plead not guilty. Your case will be set for an arraignment and trial date on the same day, unless you request arraignment and trial on separate days. To take advantage of this convenience, deposit of traffic bail is required. (See Vehicle Code section 40519(a).) If you are found not guilty at trial, your bail will be returned.
C. Plead not guilty in writing and request a trial date:
If you want to plead not guilty in writing and schedule a court trial, you may do so by mail or in person with the clerk. Your case will be set for an arraignment and trial date on the same day, unless you request arraignment and trial on separate days. To take advantage of this convenience, deposit of traffic bail is required. (See Vehicle Code section 40519(b).) If you are found not guilty at trial, your bail will be returned.
D. Trial by written declaration:
You may avoid all court appearances by choosing to have a trial by written declaration. This means that that instead of going to court to contest your case, you and the citing officer provide testimony and any evidence in writing. (See Vehicle Code section 40902.) You must post the bail amount to use this procedure. If you are found not guilty, your bail will be returned. (See further discussion below, under “Trial by Written Declaration,” for more information about this procedure.)
Your options to challenge your infraction ticket include:
- Request an arraignment (no bail required) and request a trial be scheduled at your arraignment;
- Exercise your option to notify the court of your intent to plead not guilty and set court appearances under Vehicle Code section 40519(a) (bail required);
- Exercise your option to submit a not guilty plea in writing and schedule appearance in court under Vehicle Code section 40519(b) (bail required); or
- Request a trial by written declaration under Vehicle Code section 40902 (bail required).
Your court appearances for your traffic infraction ticket will include an arraignment and, if requested, a court trial. Unless you elect one of the statutory arraignment alternatives described under #2 above, you are not required to deposit bail to appear for arraignment. At an arraignment in court, the judicial officer will explain what the charges are, inform you of 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 court trial by a judicial officer without a jury.
At arraignment you may ask for a court trial without deposit of bail. If you request a trial at your arraignment in court, you will not have to deposit bail unless you do not sign a promise to appear as required by the court or the court makes a finding that you are unlikely to appear without a deposit of bail and states the reasons for the finding.
If you are able to post bail, you may choose the convenience of avoiding multiple appearances for your arraignment and court trial. In order to have the convenience of deciding how you wish to appear for arraignment and trial, you must pay bail as required by Vehicle Code section 40519. Most people who choose this procedure do so because they want to take care of their ticket with one court appearance. However, you also have the option under section 40519 to schedule an arraignment and trial for separate days.
In traffic infraction cases, a judicial officer will hear your case instead of a jury. For your arraignment and court trial, you can hire an attorney to represent you for your case or appear on your own without an attorney. The court is not authorized to appoint an attorney for infraction cases unless the defendant is in custody. If you require an interpreter, please let the court clerk know as early as possible before your court trial.
Under Penal Code sections 17(d) and 19.8, if certain offenses are charged as an infraction instead of as a misdemeanor, you can ask that the infraction charge be tried with a jury as a misdemeanor. However, jail may be part of the sentence in a misdemeanor case, unlike infractions where the sentence is limited to a fine. If possible, talk to an attorney before you make this decision to make sure you are doing what is best for you.
For help finding an attorney, visit the California Courts Self-Help site
At your court trial, the police officer will state why he or she gave you the ticket.
You or your attorney can:
- Question the officer who gave you the ticket,
- Bring witnesses,
- Present evidence, and
- Argue the law.
If you are found not guilty and you paid bail before the trial, the full amount will be mailed to you. If you are found guilty and you paid bail before the trial, the court will apply the bail money to the fine. If the fine is less than the bail deposit, any balance to be refunded will be mailed to you by the court. If the fine is more than the bail deposit, you will be responsible for paying the balance due or requesting community service (Penal Code section 1209.5), a payment plan, or a reduction based on inability to pay (Vehicle Code section 42003).
If you disagree with the court’s decision, you may file an appeal. Read the Information on Appeal Procedures for Infractions (Form CR-141-INFO) for instructions on how to appeal infractions.
You may request an arraignment and court trial in person or in writing to contest your ticket for a traffic infraction. You have a right to an arraignment without payment of bail, but in some circumstances the court can require you to deposit bail before your trial. (See discussion above under “Contesting Your Traffic Ticket.”)
1. In-person request for a trial
A. You may ask the clerk in person at the court to appear for an arraignment in court and court trial, consisting of multiple appearances.
Your arraignment may happen on the same day that you make your request. If not, you may be required to sign a promise to appear for the arraignment date. You will not need to deposit traffic bail for a trial unless:
- you elect a statutory procedure that requires the deposit of bail;
- you refuse to sign a promise to appear as required by the court; or
- the court finds and states the reasons for the findings at arraignment that, based on your particular case, you are unlikely to appear for trial without a deposit of bail.
B. You may ask the clerk in person at the court to schedule a court trial, consisting of either a single appearance (arraignment and trial on the same day) or multiple appearances (arraignment and trial on separate days). This option is a convenience to you that requires deposit of traffic bail when you make this request. (Vehicle Code section 40519(a).)
2. Written request for trial
You may choose to ask in writing for a court trial, consisting of either a single appearance (arraignment and trial on the same day) or multiple appearances (arraignment and trial on separate days). This option is a convenience to you that requires deposit of traffic bail with your written request (Vehicle Code section 40519(b).)
Vehicle Code section 40902 allows a defendant to challenge traffic infraction citations in writing, without having to appear in person at court. This procedure is called a “trial by written declaration.” Trials by written declaration are available in cases involving infraction violations of the Vehicle Code or of local ordinances adopted under the Vehicle Code.
If you have been charged with a traffic infraction or a violation of a local ordinance adopted under the Vehicle Code, you can request a trial by written declaration unless you were issued a ticket for an offense involving alcohol or drugs or the violation requires a mandatory appearance in court.
Additional eligibility requirements include:
- You were issued a ticket for infraction violations only;
- The due date to take care of your ticket has not passed; and
- Your ticket or courtesy notice does not say that you must appear in court.
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 ticket.
If you mail your request and enclose a stamped, self-addressed envelope, the court will mail you instructions and a form entitled Request for Trial by Written Declaration (Form TR-205). The top portion of the form you receive 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.
Yes. Vehicle Code section 40902 requires that you deposit bail in order to have a trial by written declaration. Deposit of bail is the choice you make for the convenience of not having to travel and appear in court to resolve your traffic ticket.
Choosing to have your trial by written declaration means that instead of going to court to contest your case, you and the officer file statements and any evidence in writing.
Evidence may include:
- The “Notice to Appear” ticket;
- A business record or receipt;
- A sworn declaration of the citing officer;
- A written statement or letter signed by the defendant; and/or
- Any written statements or letters signed by witnesses.
IMPORTANT: By filing a declaration in a trial by written declaration, you are waiving and giving up the rights to remain silent and not incriminate yourself, and the right to a public and speedy trial. You are also waiving the right to appear in person before a judicial officer, except that you will have a right to a new trial (also called “trial de novo”) in court if you disagree with the court’s decision in your trial by written declaration (see further discussion below).
For more information on trial by written declaration, read the Instructions to Defendant (Trial by Written Declaration—Traffic) (Form TR-200).
Here is a checklist for having a trial by written declaration.
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 details. 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. Your witnesses’ statements must also be signed under penalty of perjury.
Enclose your bail payment. You must include payment of your bail amount (which is the amount shown on your courtesy notice or provided by the clerk) with your Request for Trial by Written Declaration (Form TR-205). Use a check or money order. do not send cash.
Make an extra copy of all your forms. These copies are for your records. If you prepare your statement without using a court form, make sure to keep at least one copy of it. And keep a copy of any statements made by your witnesses. Keep your paperwork in a safe place.
Mail the original of your forms to the court clerk by the due date. Mail the signed Request for Trial by Written Declaration, your statement(s), and any evidence to the court clerk.
The police officer will provide 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.
The court will make a decision by a specific due date. A judicial officer will review the papers filed by you and the officer 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 notice will state the amount of the fine, penalties, and fees and will order that it to be paid from your bail deposit. If the amount you owe is more than the bail you paid, the court will give you a deadline to pay the balance. If the amount you owe 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) by mail.
If you are found not guilty, the court will refund the bail money to you (or to the person who paid the bail if someone else paid it) by mail.
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.
For a trial de novo in court, you will have the following rights:
- To be represented by an attorney employed by you;
- To have a public trial;
- To testify, to present evidence, and to use court orders without cost to compel the attendance of witnesses and the production of evidence on your behalf;
- To have the witnesses against you testify under oath in court, and to question such witnesses;
- To remain silent and not testify and not incriminate yourself.
For a trial de novo in court, fill out a Request for New Trial (Trial de Novo) (Form TR-220).
If you choose a statutory procedure for traffic cases that requires the deposit of bail (a statement of intent to plead not guilty, written not guilty plea, or trial by written declaration — see earlier discussions above) or if the court otherwise orders you to deposit bail, you will need to deposit bail with the court.
A deposit of bail for a traffic infraction is forfeited (which means that you pay the court and do not get your money back) in the following ways:
1. When you do not challenge the ticket and choose to pay the traffic bail. If you choose to pay the ticket, send your payment and the payment stub portion of the courtesy notice to the court. Do not send your original copy of the ticket. When the court receives your payment, if the offense does not require an appearance in court, your case will be closed. It will appear as a conviction on your DMV driving record. You will get points on your driving record and your insurance company may raise your insurance payment or cancel your policy.
2. When you pay bail before arraignment or trial and are found guilty. If you are found guilty at trial and you paid bail before your trial, the court will apply the bail deposit to payment of the fine, penalties, and fees. If the total is less than the amount you paid, the court will mail a refund. If the total is more than the bail deposit, you will owe the additional money. If you are unable to pay, you may ask for community service (Penal Code section 1209.5) or a reduction based on your inability to pay and a payment plan (Vehicle Code section 42003).
3. When you pay bail before arraignment or trial and then fail to appear in court. If you fail to appear as promised, the court can declare your bail deposit forfeited and report a conviction on your DMV driving record.
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