If you receive a ticket which you felt was totally unjustified, you have every right to challenge it. The problem is, to do so you need to take time off from work to go to court, right? And c’mon, you’ve seen traffic court, it is a total PAIN, as you may spend hours simply waiting for your case to be called.
There is another solution. California allows a person to file what’s called a Trial By Declaration (TBD), which is basically fighting your ticket through the mail. It works like this:
In order to file a TBD, you must post bail, which will be the amount you owe on the ticket. (Don’t worry, if you win, you will get that money back.) The court will not allow you to file a TBD without first posting bail. Call the court clerk in your county with your case number and ask for the bail amount.
Also ask the clerk if there are any local rules you must follow to file a TBD, as there may be procedural differences between counties. However, the forms you fill out are state wide, and the official forms will be accepted throughout California.
The forms you will initially need are the TR-200 “Instructions to Defendant” and TR-205 “Request for Trial by Declaration.” These forms can be downloaded here:
Completely fill out the Request for TBD form and sign it. You may include evidence such as photographs, diagrams, and a statement of what happened (just attach whatever you need). Your written statement must always include the following language: “I declare under penalty of perjury that this statement is true and correct.”
It is helpful to review the law and understand what you have been cited for. You should look up the vehicle (or other) code section to see if you can disprove an element of the offense. A copy of the vehicle code can be found online here:
Once you have filled out your form with your argument, send the completed form along with the proper bail amount to the court clerk. Once the request is received, the court will notify the officer to prepare a declaration regarding the infraction as well. A judge will review the declarations and make a decision.
In your declaration, you may request traffic school in the event you are found guilty. If you do not intend to challenge that decision, and you are eligible for traffic school, this is a good idea. However, a judge does NOT have to grant traffic school, as it is discretionary at that point. Prior to any type of trial, if you are eligible, you may always attend traffic school.
If you are found guilty, you really haven’t lost everything yet, because you can still request a “Trial de Novo”, which is a new trial in court with the officer present. When you receive notice that you have been found guilty based on the TBD, you have 20 days to request a new trial. To do so, you will need to fill out the form TR-220 “Request for a New Trial”, also found at the website provided above.
When you request a new trial, a date will be set by the court for you to appear. The officer will be subpoenaed to appear as well. At that point, you first want to cross your fingers and hope you win the “traffic cop lottery”. If the officer does not show, your ticket will be dismissed. If s/he does show, you can then either request traffic school prior to trial or proceed to argue your ticket. If you are found guilty, you can still request traffic school but it will be discretionary for the judge to allow it, and many will not do so after trial.
Trials by declaration are a handy way to avoid having to spend a morning or afternoon in court. They are not as successful as a court trial, but they can beat your ticket, especially those that are decidedly undeserved.