This is a must-have for all California drivers whether you deserved your recent traffic violation or not. Fight Your Ticket & Win in California shows you how to determine if your ticket is beatable and how to challenge it successfully in court. Plus you’ll learn the right things to do and say if you’re stopped for future violations like:
Win your traffic court case with the book that's helped thousands of Californians!
A traffic conviction can add hundreds of dollars to your yearly auto insurance premiums. Fight Your Ticket & Win in California shows you how to handle your case in traffic court, get the right kind of hearing -- and win.
Attorney David Brown provides you with the detailed tactics you need to:
prepare and present your evidence
argue before a judge
cross-examine a police officer's testimony
get your case dismissed
appeal a decision
determine the consequences of your violation
This edition provides the latest legal information for California drivers, including fines and penalties, and contains fully up-to-date information on recently signed legislation regarding cell phone use.
David Brown practices law in the Monterey, California area, where he has represented both landlords and tenants in hundreds of court cases -- most of which he felt could have been avoided if both sides were more fully informed about landlord/tenant law. Brown, a graduate of Stanford University (chemistry) and the University of Santa Clara Law School, also teaches law at the Monterey College of Law.
You’re driving home from your friend’s place after a beautiful, romantic Friday evening. It’s 2:30 in the morning. As you’re reflecting on this, you suddenly realize you took a wrong turn someplace. You’re now in the middle of a quiet residential district and realize you should turn around. You look for traffic coming from either direction and all you see is a car parked about three blocks away with its headlights on, so you make a U-turn.
Suddenly, in your rear view mirror you see a flashing red and blue light that seemingly grows out of the parked car. You begin to pull over to the right to let it pass. Instead, the car follows you to the curb. You realize you’ve just been pulled over by the police. As soon as your car stops, the officer has his high-intensity spotlight pointed at you. Then, you hear his door slam, the sound of gravel under his boots, and finally you see a big, grim face just behind the flashlight pointed into your eyes.
Before you get a chance to ask him what’s the problem, he says, “May I see your driver’s license, please?” You fumble through your wallet, slowly and carefully, since he has his hand uncomfortably close to the butt of what looks to be a very big gun. Finally, hands shaking slightly, you hand him your license. (Don’t you feel like a common criminal?)
The police officer returns to his car and uses the radio. A minute later he returns, hands you your license, and unemotionally says, “You made an unlawful U-turn in a residential district. Sign here, please.” He then thrusts a three-part form in your face. You meekly sign the ticket (which he tells you is not an admission of guilt, but merely a promise to appear), and he hands you a copy. You gaze at the ticket, wondering how this could be happening to you. The officer spins out, off to catch another “criminal.”
If you don’t fight the ticket, you may very well end up:
• paying a fine you can barely afford
• paying a higher insurance premium for the next three to five years, and
• starting or adding to a bad driving record with the DMV.
Should You Fight Your Ticket?
Does it make sense for you to fight your ticket? The answer is that it depends. There are some people who almost always answer this question with a proud and forceful “Yes!” unless they have done something incredibly stupid or dangerous (such as driving through a busy school zone at 50 mph). But there are others who don’t believe in spending large amounts of time fighting cases where there is but a small chance of winning. It might be wise to try to separate the hopeless cases from those with a reasonable chance of success. (On the other hand, thousands of seemingly hopeless cases are won when police officers fail to show up in court to testify.) A determined person can achieve great success in traffic court if he or she knows what to do.
In deciding whether or not to fight, you should first consider the consequences of giving up and paying the ticket. Will your insurance rates increase? Will you increase your chances of losing your license? Can you get your case dismissed by attending traffic school? Do you want to spend the time and effort it will take to fight your ticket effectively? This book will help you answer all these questions.
Once you understand the consequences of not fighting your ticket, you should try to determine your chances of winning, taking into account these tips:
• The main way to beat traffic tickets is to request a trial with the officer present and then get the ticket dismissed when the officer doesn’t show up. There’s a chance this might happen to you. You may want to try your luck. You’ve got nothing to lose but your time.
• Even if the officer does show up, “guilt” (and “innocence”) is often a matter of subjective interpretation. For example, under California law it’s not illegal to drive 45 mph in a 35 mph zone if it is possible to show that your 45 mph speed was safe under the circumstances. (See Chapter 4 on speed violations.)
• You might not be guilty of a particular violation, even if you think you are. When you read the Vehicle Code section, you will find that the offense you are accused of committing is more complex than you might have thought. It may be that you didn’t do all the things that the prosecution must prove in order to convict you. We tell you in the next chapter how to read a Vehicle Code section with this in mind.
There are indeed the situations in which you were in fact scrupulously obeying the law and the police officer just plain got it wrong. The radar gun was used improperly, the police officer’s visual perspective resulted in a mistake, you were accused of rolling through a stop sign when in fact you did come to a complete stop. When you get a ticket under these circumstances, and realize that you will have to undergo what can be a considerable hassle to fight it, you will most likely be torn between giving it a good fight and cutting your losses by paying your fine and getting on with your life.
What about the times when you were doing something wrong, but not wrong enough, in your opinion, to warrant intervention by a police officer? While most people manage to obey every traffic rule when they take their driving test, there are few—if any—drivers who continue to be the model of good driving once they get their license. Rather, the average driver tends to find an individual compromise between fanatical adherence to the law and unsafe behavior. Most people will commonly technically violate one or more traffic rules virtually every time they get in their car—but usually not, if ever, under circumstances that pose any danger to themselves or others. In fact, traveling a few miles over the speed limit on a clear and dry road will tend to put you among the snails rather than the greyhounds.
When people are behaving badly or stupidly in their cars, they are inclined to welcome a ticket (after some initial grumbling) as a warning to get their act in order. The problem is, many tickets are given not for bad or stupid behavior but rather for insignificant violations of obscure rules in a book—things that are, in the classic sense, “mere technicalities.” How many times have you seen cars run red lights with impunity, only to find the blue light flashing when you have rolled through a stop sign—however cautiously—at four o’clock in the morning at a deserted intersection? The problem is, when mere technical violations end up costing $250 to $450 in fines, adding points to your driving record and dollars to your insurance rates, they have a way of getting under your skin. You don’t think you deserved the ticket. Why do the police waste time on you, when they could be doing serious work?
In this situation too, you may wish to fight your ticket, either for economic reasons or because you’re just plain mad at being singled out for what most people do without getting caught. This book is for you, whether or not you’re an innocent victim. However, you should understand that:
• Being singled out isn’t normally a defense unless you can establish that the discrimination was for vindictive purposes (almost impossible to do).
• Being a little guilty still means you’re guilty, although the judge may cut your fine.
• For the most part, the traffic court system is inefficient and corrupt, packed with police-oriented judges who care more about feathering their own nests than about justice. (More on this in Chapter 18.)
In short, to win a traffic ticket fight, you must either obtain a dismissal or convince the judge you were innocent.
Parking tickets have their own logic. These tickets are given more to fill the city’s coffers than to regulate parking. The procedures for fighting parking tickets are quite different from the procedures for fighting traffic tickets.
Abbreviations Used in This Book
We use these standard abbreviations throughout this book for important statutes and court cases.
B&P Business & Professions
CCP Civil Procedure
H&S Health & Safety
PC Penal Code
VC Vehicle Code
U.S.C. United States Code
A. or A.2d Atlantic Reporter
Cal. App. California Court of Appeal
Cal. Rptr. California Court of Appeal and California Supreme Court
Cal. California Supreme Court
F. Supp. United States District Court
F.2d or F.3d United States Court of Appeal
P. or P.2d Pacific Reporter
S. Ct. United States Supreme Court
U.S. United States Supreme Court
Rules of Court
CRC California Rules of Court
Ops. Cal. California Attorney General Atty. Gen. Opinions