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.

Monday, July 22, 2019

Did you receive a “fix it” ticket?

So you received a "fix-it" ticket.  I'm actually expecting to receive one shortly, because my windshield was hit by a rock a few months ago, which gave it a [formerly] little star just behind the rear-view mirror.  But I came out to the parking lot after work one day a few weeks ago, to find it looking like this:
But, always wanting to count my blessings, at least it [currently] doesn't look like this:

Although the end result is the same - I have to replace the windshield.  The only benefit for having it looking like the second photo above is that I wouldn't be able to put it off.

But you, being a conscientious person and/or having a firm deadline called your "court appearance date",  have to take care of your fix-it ticket.  First, go to your state court's website.

Click here for the traffic self-help section for California.

Click here for the Los Angeles County traffic court information section.

Read the information because lots of times, you'll be able to find answers to your questions. You can sometimes do other things like reschedule your appearance to a date that's more convenient for you [not like it's ever convenient to go to court, but you get the idea], pay your ticket online and avoid a court appearance entirely, and other things.

Next, read the ticket. If the box is checked that the ticket is for a “correctable violation”, you need to have the problem corrected and bring proof of correction to court on or before the date shown on the ticket.

There are two types of corrections for missing documents [driver's license, registration, insurance].
This is NOT me
First, you have the required document but it wasn't in your car at the time you were stopped. Isn't that like Murphy's Law in action?  The ONE day you forget your driver's license, is the day you're stopped for your expired registration or cracked windshield.  And you'd have probably just received a warning EXCEPT that you didn't have your license with you.  Ggggrrrrrr. 

Second, you don't have the required document and you need to obtain it.

For the first problem, bring the document to your court hearing. In California your fine will be reduced and the ticket will be dismissed. For the second problem, obtain the required documentation and bring it to the hearing. You may not receive a reduced fine, but you'll have been a conscientious person and cleared the violation.

For problems with your car [like my cracked windshield], generally you need to have those repaired. So get your broken taillight or cracked windshield or too-dark window tinting or bald tires fixed [or replaced] and bring the car to a police station to be signed off. Then bring the signed ticket to your hearing.

Annoying and a hassle, but you won't risk any increased fines, jail time, or evening news exposure from Aunt Marge.

Tell us in the comments about your current vehicle problem that you're - like me - putting off having repaired!

Next week, handling your traffic violation. 

Monday, July 15, 2019

So you received a traffic ticket

We all know that sinking feeling when we see this in our rear view mirror:
Or we drive by this:
It means - the dreaded traffic ticket.

In California, at the bottom of the ticket [the formal name is “citation”] is a date, time, and courthouse address.  Under that is a statement that says something like “without admitting guilt, I promise to appear at the date/time/place indicated above.”  That's where you signed, promising to appear.

If you don't appear on or before that date, lots of bad things can result.

Okay - maybe not this bad
A warrant can be issued for your arrest, your driver's license can be suspended, and additional fines can be added.  Then the next time you're stopped for a traffic violation, Murphy's Law will dictate that you'll have your 85-year-old great-aunt Marge in the car with you.  You know the one.  She's the lady who everyone in your family calls “little miss busybody” because she's always gossiping about family matters.
Your Great-Aunt Marge
Not only will you be embarrassed to be pulled over by the police, you'll be hauled off to jail on the outstanding warrant along with the additional charge of driving on a suspended license, which is generally a misdemeanor.  None of this is fun, except to Marge who WAS THERE WHEN IT ALL HAPPENED.  Pretty soon your unfortunate predicament will be reported on the evening news and you'll need to change your name, have plastic surgery, and join the witness protection program.
Don't let that happen.  Write your court date in LARGE BLACK PERMANENT MARKER on your calendar, enter the date into your phone/computer/PDA/whatever you use.  Tape a note to the back side of your front door.

And, if you accidentally miss your appearance date, go to court immediately to take care of it.  You'll probably still be looking at an increased fine, but the license suspension and the warrant can be removed.  Sorry Aunt Marge!

Tell us in the comments about your Aunt Marge.

Next week, how to clear a “fix it” ticket.

Monday, July 8, 2019

You found the courtroom! Now what?

If your jury panel was called for trial selection, just wait outside the courtroom until the bailiff lets you in.
Once inside, you'll usually be seated in the audience, called the “gallery”, until your name is selected to be seated in the jury box.
Here's a jury box in Ohio
Here's a jury box in Nebraska
Here's a jury box in Kansas
Here's a jury box in Texas
Then the judge and attorneys will ask the jurors questions to determine which ones will be selected to decide the case.

If you're in court to attend a hearing on your own case, check the wall outside the courtroom door.  You should find a list of the cases on calendar for that day, sometimes on a cork board and other times in a glass display case.

This courthouse is in Arkansas
Here's one page from a recent calendar in downtown Los Angeles.
Find your case name/number.  Next to your case will be a calendar number.  See there on the left?  Remember that number.  That's how you check in.  At least, that's how you check in if you're in court in Southern California.  For attorneys, we write the calendar number and the party we represent on our business card, or two cards if the courtroom has a court reporter.

In many courtrooms, the bailiff will ask you to sit on a specific side of the courtroom based on whether you are plaintiff or defendant in the case.  Plaintiff's side is closest to the jury box.  Sometimes there's even a placard on counsel table.

This is the defense table
So if you're a plaintiff, you'll sit in the gallery on the side with the jury box.  If you're a defendant, you'll sit on the other side.  Since the whole point of “going to court” is because the parties have a dispute, this is one step the bailiffs take to keep the courtroom as orderly and non-confrontational as possible, at least until the hearing starts.

Before you go inside the courtroom, TURN OFF YOUR CELL PHONE.

Sometimes this is okay, other times not
If your phone makes noise while the judge is on the bench, most of the time the bailiff will send you out into the hallway.  Sometimes this means you miss your hearing.  Other times, the bailiff will confiscate your phone.  If you're lucky, you'll get it back when your hearing is finished, but I've been in some courtrooms where you don't get it back until 4:30 in the afternoon.  Ouch.

Fun cell phone anecdote #1:  Usually the bailiff will give a speech before the judge comes out, informing everyone of the consequences of their phone making noise.  Then the judge comes out and things proceed.  One morning about 30 minutes after the judge came out, a phone rang.

From the front of the courtroom.

The judge grinned
sheepishly, reached under his robe, retrieved his OWN PHONE, shut it off, and handed it to the bailiff.

Fun cell phone anecdote #2:  I was waiting for a small claims trial to finish.  The defendant didn't show up, so all the plaintiff had to do was prove his case and he would have judgment in his favor.  During plaintiff's presentation, his cell phone rang.  [This happened to me once, and I smacked my pocket to shut it off, then apologized profusely to the judge who still ordered the bailiff to take my phone until my hearing was finished.  Now I usually put my phone on vibrate AND airplane mode before I even enter the courthouse.]


Everyone else in the courtroom was stunned.  We sat there with our mouths hanging open, staring at this plaintiff, or at the judge, or at the bailiff, wondering what would happen.

The judge sat there patiently while the plaintiff concluded his call.  No one moved. We may not have even been breathing.  Once the call was finished, the judge said “that call must have been very important to you.”  The plaintiff acknowledged that yes, it was a very important call, which is why he interrupted his trial to take it.  He then thanked the judge for his consideration.

The judge responded “you now have a decision to make.  Which is more important to you?  This trial, or your phone?  If you choose your phone, you can keep it and I'll grant judgment in favor of DEFENDANT.  If you choose this trial, I'll grant judgment in YOUR favor but you'll have to surrender your phone until TOMORROW MORNING.  Which do you choose?”

The man chose his phone and lost the case.

Turn off your phone.

Monday, July 1, 2019

You're inside but where's the courtroom?

The least populated county in California is Alpine County, population 1120 in 2017.
Alpine County, California
It is located high in the Sierra Nevada mountains, with elevations between 4,500 and 11,500 feet above sea level.
Welcome to Alpine County
The county seat is a town called Markleeville.
Downtown Markleeville

It has one courthouse with one courtroom and two judges.
Markleeville courthouse
In Los Angeles County, there are currently 38 courthouses in operation.
Los Angeles County
The Catalina courthouse has one courtroom and is open every other Friday in the morning only.  This courthouse serves the 4100 folks who live on Catalina Island.
Avalon, Catalina Island
Because Los Angeles is the most  populous county in California, all the other courthouses have more than just one part-time courtroom.

Courthouses with numbered courtrooms include downtown Los Angeles civil courthouse with courtrooms 1 through 99 on nine floors.  It's not that easy tho.  For example, it starts with 1, 1A [both on the 5th floor], 2, 2A, 2B, 2C [all on the 2nd floor], 2D [on the 6th floor].  After that, it's a normal progression through 99 with certain numbers skipped.  I have no idea why.

Here's a courtroom number 205A, see the sign on the right?
Courthouses with lettered courtrooms include Norwalk, with courtrooms A through Z on seven floors with certain letters skipped.

Then to really mess with your mind, there are courthouses with both lettered and numbered courtrooms.  For example, in Compton the courthouse has twelve floors and courtrooms are labeled 1 through 14, 260 and 261, A through Q, and “traffic” which apparently wasn't important enough to be assigned any number or letter.

So what do you do?  If you're in court for a traffic hearing, those courtrooms are usually on the first or second floor and are reasonably easy to find.  Just ask one of the Sheriff deputies at the security checkpoint and you'll be on your way.

Otherwise, you'll usually be able to find a marquis on the wall by the elevators/escalators with a list of courtrooms and what floor they are on. 
Check the paper you brought with you [you did bring it, right?] to find the courtroom number/letter.
The last line on the middle right shows the courtroom number
Otherwise, you might see several large screens that list the names of people who have a case on the calendar for that day.  Here's an example of one such screen.  Next to your name will be the courtroom number/letter.
If all else fails, find a court employee and ask for directions!

Let us know in the comments your last time trying to find where to go.

Come back next week to learn what to do once you find the courtroom.