Monday, September 9, 2019

Preparing your case to fight your traffic ticket, part 2

Here's a great page that explains the steps to prepare your case.

First, read the actual statute/law that was written on your ticket.  In California, texting while driving is a violation of Vehicle Code section 23123.5.  However, I was cited for violation of Vehicle Code section 23123.  I looked up that code and found this:

A person shall not drive a motor vehicle while using a wireless telephone unless that telephone is specifically designed and configured to allow hands-free listening and talking, and is used in that manner while driving. 

This section does not apply to a person using a wireless telephone for emergency purposes, including, but not limited to, an emergency call to a law enforcement agency, health care provider, fire department, or other emergency services agency or entity.

This section does not apply to an emergency services professional using a wireless telephone while operating an authorized emergency vehicle, as defined in Section 165, in the course and scope of his or her duties.

This section does not apply to a person driving a schoolbus or transit vehicle that is subject to Section 23125.

This section does not apply to a person while driving a motor vehicle on private property.

First, check to see if what you did qualifies as an exception, which are identified in bold italics above.

1. Emergency purposes – including [but not limited to] an emergency call to law enforcement, health care provider, fire department, other emergency services or entity.
2. Emergency services professional while operating an emergency vehicle, on duty.
3. Driving a schoolbus or transit vehicle
4. Driving on private property

Numbers 2, 3, and 4 obviously did not apply.

Number 1, however, was a possibility.  I could argue that texting my son the day before he reported for Navy boot camp was an emergency.  He was my oldest child and moving out to join the military and my BABY was leaving me and I wouldn't be able to talk or text or email or have pretty much ANY contact with him for THREE WHOLE MONTHS.  All of which was true at that time.  Plus, the contents of the text was related to his leaving the next day.

It was a long shot, but it sure sounded like an emergency to me.

Next is very important.  Sure my testimony would be valid, but what other evidence could I use to support this argument?

1. The text message itself.  I printed a paper copy to bring to court.  Do NOT just plan to show your phone to the judge.  You'll need to have your actual phone in court, because it's the original evidence, but also bring a paper copy.  It's awkward to hand your phone to the bailiff for the judge to look at, then have it returned to you so you can find the next piece of evidence and hand it back to the bailiff, etc.  Easier to hand up the paper copy and let the judge know you have the phone with you in case the judge wants to look at it too.
2. My son's orders.  I made a copy of my son's paperwork showing he was scheduled to report to boot camp the day after I received the citation.
3. Photo of me and my son.  Not really relevant but couldn't hurt, right?  I had a great one on my phone, which I printed so I had a paper copy in court along with the original photo on my phone.

If nothing else, maybe the judge would have mercy on me and reduce my fine =)

Next week, we'll look at the main part of the code section itself.

Monday, September 2, 2019

Have a happy Labor Day!

Today is Labor Day here in the US.  As you read this, I'm driving home from a camping trip with my family.
We stay in cabins like this
Have a great Labor Day!  We'll continue with preparing for a traffic trial next week.

Monday, August 26, 2019

Preparing your case to fight your traffic ticket, part 1

If you decide you want to fight the ticket
Fight your ticket!
the first step is to plead “not guilty” at [or before] your first court appearance date.  Some states allow you to mail your “not guilty” plea so you don't need to appear in court.  Go to your court's website to learn more specific information.

After pleading “not guilty”, some states allow you to select “trial by declaration”.  For this option, you write what happened [more on this part in a future post], sign under penalty of perjury, attach any supporting written documents, and mail to the court BEFORE your trial date.  You will usually also have to enclose payment of full bail.  If you lose, the court keeps your bail.  If you win, the court returns your bail.

The officer does the same thing, or doesn't.  If the officer doesn't, you usually win the case, but not always.  For example, if your declaration admits that you're guilty, you may still lose.

The judge then decides the case.  If you lose, in CA you have the option of requesting a new trial in court in front of a judge.

If this is an option in your state, definitely consider it.

Next week, part 2 of Preparing Your Case

Monday, August 19, 2019

Deciding to fight your traffic ticket

Fight your traffic ticket!
First, research whether the violation you were cited for includes any points on your record.  Here's the CA list of point violations.  Your state will probably have its own list. 

If there are points involved, you have a greater incentive to fight the ticket or request traffic school, because points go on your record and can affect your driving status and your insurance rates.  This is especially important if you have a commercial license where points can result in losing your license and your job.  In CA, traffic school is usually not available for commercial drivers, but there are exceptions so do your research and/or contact a traffic attorney for advice.
Next, read the citation and look up the exact code section it states that you violated.  As mentioned previously, I was cited for texting while driving but the vehicle code indicated on the ticket was for TALKING on the phone while driving, not texting.  Are you guilty of violating the exact code section written on the ticket?
Also, do you have any defenses?  For example, if in fact I was talking on the phone but I was reporting an emergency to a 911 operator, that's an exception and not a violation.
If you aren't guilty of the exact violation indicated on the citation, or if an exception applies to you, then you may decide to fight the ticket rather than just paying it.

Next week, preparing your case to fight your traffic ticket.

Monday, August 12, 2019

Pleading guilty or no contest

If what you did that resulted in a traffic ticket might also result in you being sued in a civil lawsuit [for example, you ran a red light and hit someone], you don't want to plead guilty.
If you want to resolve the ticket, plead no contest instead.  In CA, this works like a guilty plea in traffic court, but can't be used against you in the civil action.

If you decide to plead guilty or no contest, your bail/fine for a typical CA infraction will include base bail which begins at $35.  Added to that will be penalty assessments and fines which will increase the amount to $237 or higher.  Here's the CA bail/fine schedule.  It's long but if you have nothing to do some day, take a look.  You can probably find your state's bail schedule online also.

Paying your fines in pennies!
Depending on certain factors, you may be able to attend traffic school.  Usually you pay full bail/fine plus state fee [currently $52 in CA] plus the traffic school cost which in CA is usually less than $50.  Depending on your state/county, traffic school can be completed in person or online.
Benefits to online classes =)
Successfully completing traffic school will keep points off your record, so it's only worth it if the infraction includes points.  For example, at the time of this writing, my texting ticket would not result in any points on my record, just bail/fines, so traffic school wouldn't make sense.

You can usually do lots of things online.  Here's the Los Angeles County traffic court page.

It include a really handy one-page description of your options.

If you simply want to pay the bail/fine and maybe do traffic school, you can usually take care of that either online, by mail, or at the clerk's office without seeing the judge.

If you want to request community service, fee reduction, or payment plan, you may have to see a judge.  Ask the clerk for information.

[Note:  your state might be different, so always do your research, ask questions, and even consult an attorney if necessary.]

Next week, deciding to fight your ticket.

Monday, August 5, 2019

Your first traffic court appearance - part 2

A few years ago I received a ticket for texting while driving.  I was absolutely guilty of doing so, because even tho my car was stopped at a red light, I was still technically driving.  I saw the red lights in my mirror after the light changed [and I'd put my phone away] and sighed.  Oh well.
Step 1:  Cooperate with the officer.  Maybe you'll get lucky and only receive a warning.  I've had this happen several times, but unfortunately not for this texting ticket.
Step 2:  When you get home, read the ticket.  It will generally include the time of day, weather conditions, and road conditions.
Did the road look like this?
Make notes on what YOU remember about those items.  Sometimes they're wrong on the ticket and you can prove it [weather reports etc] and throw doubt on the officer's recollection.
Or this?
A traffic violation is a technically a criminal offense, so the officer must prove your guilt BEYOND A REASONABLE DOUBT.  Anything you can find to cast doubt is a good thing.

Step 3:  Note the number of the law the ticket says you violated and LOOK IT UP.  For example, the officer said he stopped me for texting while driving.  The actual Vehicle Code number he wrote on the ticket was NOT for texting, it was for TALKING.

WRONG!  I was (1) inside the car, and (2) texting not talking
Step 4:  Are you eligible for traffic school?  In CA you can choose traffic school once every 18 months for certain violations.  You'll have to pay the amount of the fine PLUS the traffic school charge, but once you complete the program you won't get a point on your record, which will help with your insurance costs.
Traffic School in Assen, Netherlands
Step 5:  Decide if it's in your best interest to fight the ticket or just pay it.  Consider things like how many tickets are currently on your record, whether you'll lose your license or your job if you have another point on your record, the inconvenience or expense of taking more than one day off work, and other factors.

Next week we'll look at deciding whether to just plead no contest.

Monday, July 29, 2019

Your first traffic court appearance - part 1

Are you in court for a traffic ARRAIGNMENT?
Not this kind of rain
This is the date indicated on your citation/ticket, or otherwise called your first court appearance.

In Southern California, the vast majority of folks who receive a traffic ticket either pay the fine BEFORE the court date on the ticket [so they don't have to show up], or show up at the first hearing, plead guilty or no contest, pay the fine, and put it behind them.  If you really want to do either of those, please do.  At least you took care of it.
I am guilty!
Failure to appear is a misdemeanor in CA and generally results in (1) a bench warrant for your arrest, (2) your driver's license suspended, and (3) an additional fine of $300+.  Receiving a ticket is bad enough.  Don't makes things worse for yourself.
This bird is having a bad [hair] day
A “no contest” plea has the same basic effect as a guilty plea in the criminal/traffic case, but can't be used against you in a civil case.  For example, if you ran a red light and crashed into someone, you can plead “no contest” and pay the fine.  This plea can't be used against you if/when the driver of the car you hit sues you for personal injury.  However, if you plead “guilty” in the traffic case, your admission of guilt can [read: will] be used against you in the civil case.  So basically, best to plead no contest.
I typed "no contest" into Wikimedia and this was the first image
Showing up in court, rather than just paying the fine, does have some benefits.  For example, you can request a lower fine, a payment plan, or to convert your fine to community service.
In SoCal, most community service is picking up trash on the freeway or the beach
Next week – deciding whether to fight the ticket.