Q: How do I figure out what to do with my traffic ticket?
A: Read your “Notice to Appear.” You will find:
- The name of the court that will decide your case;
- The deadline to pay the ticket or go to court; and
- What you must do to respond to the ticket.
However, if you were under age 18 when you got the ticket, this information could be sent to you later by the court. Courts have websites that include information about how to handle traffic tickets.
Q: Where is the court?
A: The court’s address is on your “Notice to Appear.” If it is not on your ticket, you can find your court’s address and contact information on your court’s website.
Q: Who do I call if I want to talk to somebody?
A: For a “Notice to Appear” ticket, call the court listed on the ticket or look for the Traffic Department in the Government Pages of your phone book. Or get their phone number from the court’s website.
Q: Must I go to court?
A: If you got a ticket for an infraction (like running a stop sign), you may be able to do everything you need to do online or by mail. You may also be able to call the court to deal with your ticket without having to appear. You may call the court before your “Notice to Appear” date. However, the necessity of your appearance at court will be determined by how you chose to deal with your traffic ticket and may be determined by the nature of your violation. If you have any doubts, contact the court clerk or talk to a lawyer.
You MUST go to court for a misdemeanor.
Q: How do I contest my ticket?
A: Read your “Notice to Appear.” You have two options when it comes to having a trial:
- To ask for a court trial
- To ask for a trial by written declaration.
If you appear in court at arraignment, you will not have to deposit bail to schedule a court trial, unless:
- You refuse to sign a promise to appear as required by the court;
- A statute requires deposit of bail; or
- The judicial officer requires bail and states a reason for the deposit. (Cal. Rules of Court, rule 4.105.)
If you request a trial by written declaration, deposit of full bail with your request is required. (Veh. Code, § 40902.) If you wish to schedule a trial date without appearing in court for an arraignment, deposit of bail is required. (Veh. Code, § 40519.)
Q: Will I get my bail back if I am found not guilty?
A: Yes. If you have a trial and are found not guilty, the court will return the bail to the person that paid it.
Q: What can I do if I am found guilty and I cannot pay the fine ordered for the case?
A: If you have a financial hardship and can show that you are unable to pay the full amount for the offenses in your case, you may ask the court to consider your ability to pay in deciding the amount to order for the conviction. (Veh. Code, § 42003(c).) In addition, you may ask for an installment payment plan that is based on your ability to pay or ask the court to approve community service as an alternative to payment. After consideration of ability to pay, the court has discretion whether to reduce your fine, approve community service, or approve a payment plan.
You may ask the court for an ability-to pay-determination at any time while the judgment remains unpaid (even after the case has been sent to collections.)
Q: Do I need a lawyer?
A: You can go to traffic court without a lawyer. If you want a lawyer for a traffic infraction (like speeding or running a red light), you can hire one. But the court will not give you one.
For a misdemeanor, like driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, it is a good idea to have a lawyer because of the potentially high fines and possibility of a jail sentence. If you cannot afford one, the court will give you one, so make sure you tell the judge you want the court to appoint a lawyer to represent you.
Q: Does my DMV (Department of Motor Vehicles) record change when I get a ticket?
A: After you pay your fine, points may show up on your DMV record unless you can go to traffic school and you complete traffic school before the deadline, the points should not show up on your record.
If you get points on your record, your insurance company may ask you to pay more for insurance because of this, or they may cancel your policy and tell you to find insurance elsewhere. Points can stay on your record for 3 to 7 years.
Q: Can I go to traffic school?
A: Generally, you can go to traffic school if:
- You have a valid driver’s license, and
- Your ticket is for an infraction that is a moving violation.
If the court issues you a reminder notice, it will say if you are eligible for traffic school. You may also contact the court to see if you are eligible. You must do so by your “Notice to Appear” date.
You CANNOT go to traffic school for:
- Equipment violations
- Non-moving violations
- Violations with a mandatory court appearance
- Alcohol-related violation
- Violation in a commercial vehicle
You are also NOT eligible for traffic school without approval of a judicial officer if you have gone to traffic school for another ticket that you got in the last 18 months.
There are other reasons you may not be eligible for traffic school. Talk to a lawyer if the court says you are not eligible for traffic school but you believe you should be.
If you are eligible to go to traffic school and you are unable to pay the full amount of the fee for traffic school for the eligible offenses due to a financial hardship, you may ask in court at arraignment or after a trial that the court consider your inability to pay and lower the fee for traffic school for the offenses or approve a payment plan. (Veh. Code, § 42007(a)(1).)
Q: What do I do if I get a “fix-it” ticket?
A: If a police officer gives you a “fix-it” ticket on a “Notice to Appear,” the “yes” box will be checked below “Correctable Violation” on the front of the ticket. The police can give you another ticket if you do not fix the problem immediately.
When you fix the problem, get an authorized person to sign the “Certificate of Correction” part of your ticket. Take the proof of correction to the court and pay the dismissal fee before the deadline. You can check your ticket or contact the court to see if the court accepts proof of correction by mail.
The court will then dismiss your case and it will not go on your record.
Q: What if I got a ticket for a car registration or driver’s license violation?
A: There are many ways you can handle this problem.
One way is to go to the local Department of Motor Vehicles’ (DMV) office. Ask a clerk at the DMV to help you. After you correct the problem, the DMV will sign the “Certificate of Correction” part of your ticket.
You must take or mail the signed ticket with proof of correction to the court along with your dismissal fee. Do this before the deadline on your ticket.
The court will then dismiss your case and it will not go on your record.
Q: What happens if I get cited for a car insurance violation?
A: In California, you must have car insurance that covers you when you are driving any car. If a police officer stops you, you must show proof of insurance.
- If you have insurance but do not have proof to show the officer, you will be charged with an infraction for driving without proof of insurance and must provide proof of your insurance to the court and pay a fee. Once you pay the fee (called a “dismissal fee”), the court will dismiss the charge.
- If you do not have insurance, you must buy it. Then, provide your proof of the insurance to the court and pay a fine. Some courts will let you pay the fine in installments.
Q: What if I do not go to court or pay for my ticket?
A: When you sign your ticket, you promise to go to court or pay the fine.
If you do not go to court or pay your fine, your driver’s license can be suspended. And you may not be able to renew your car’s registration. The court can also charge you with “a failure to appear.” If that happens, the court can charge you with a misdemeanor and issue a warrant for your arrest or add an additional fee (called a “civil assessment”) of up to $300. If you get a “civil assessment” but had “good cause” for not appearing in court or paying your fine, you may be able to ask the court to cancel it, if you ask in a timely manner.
You don’t have to pay the civil assessment to address your ticket.
Q: What are the fines and penalties for “driving under the influence” (DUI)?
A: If you have been charged with a DUI for the first time, you may go to jail for up to 6 months and pay close to $5,000. You may also lose your driver’s license for 6 months and be ordered to complete a 3-month or 9-month program.
Q: How do I pay my traffic ticket?
A: When the court has decided your fine, you can pay in person at the court or by mail. Some courts allow you to pay your ticket online. Check the ticket, reminder notice, or court website to see whether you can also pay by phone or online. If the court allows payment online.
Q: What if I cannot afford to pay my traffic ticket?
A: If you have a financial hardship and can show that you are unable to pay the full amount for the offenses on your traffic ticket, you may request the court to consider your ability to pay at any time until the judgment remains unpaid (even after the case has been sent to collections.) However, once the court determines your ability to pay you can only ask it to reconsider the amount you owe if your financial circumstances change. Additionally, regardless of your plea, if you are ordered to pay a fine you may ask the court for an installment payment plan that is based on your ability to pay or ask the court to approve community service due to financial hardship, although not all courts offer all of these options.
A pilot program is currently operating in four counties to allow online application for ability to pay consideration and will soon expand to four additional courts. The Ability to Pay tool is currently available in Fresno, Monterey, San Francisco, Santa Clara, Shasta, Tulare, and Ventura counties.
Q: How do I appeal if I am found guilty?
A: The Information on Appeal Procedures for Infractions (Form CR-141-INFO) has instructions on how to appeal infractions, and the Notice of Appeal and Record of Oral Proceedings (Form CR-142) is used for a notice of appeal for infraction cases.
If you were found guilty after a trial by written declaration, you must first file a request for a new trial. Use a Request for New Trial (Trial de Novo) (Trial by Written Declaration) (Form TR-220). Also check out Instructions to Defendant (Trial by Written Declaration — Traffic) (Form TR-200).
from California Courts