Fight Traffic Ticket in CaliforniaPage Overview
(Plead Guilty or No Contest)
- Pay the fine
- Pay to go to traffic school
- Provide proof of correction if you receive a ticket for a “correctable violation” (e.g., fixing a broken taillight or providing proof of car registration)
- Incur points on your driving record
- Possible increase in auto insurance rates
Learn more about
Paying your Traffic Ticket »
(Plead Not Guilty)
- A court trial by a judicial officer
- A trial by mail, or what is often called a “trial by written declaration”
- Choose to represent yourself in court or hire an attorney
- Possibly forfeit option to plea bargain for lesser charges
- No penalties if found guilty but must pay court and legal fees
Pleading not guilty indicates to the court that you want to contest the ticket. After entering a non-guilty plea the court will then issue you a trial date and time and request that you pay the ticket fine (or what many courts refer to as bail). If you win your trial, all charges will be dismissed and the court will return your fine.
Pleading Guilty or No Contest
Pleading guilty or no contest waives your right to a trial by judge or jury. This means you have agreed to pay the fine and, depending on the violation, also enroll in a court-approved traffic school. Visit our Paying Your Traffic Page for more information.
Respond Before the Ticket’s Appearance Date
Failing to respond to the court before the Appearance Date posted on your citation and/or courtesy notice carries the following possible consequences:
- The suspension of your driver’s license
- A hold placed on your vehicle registration
- A possible civil assessment added to your bail amount
- A warrant issued for your arrest
- You may be tried in absentia and your case referred to a collection agency
Locate the County Court
CA traffic tickets are handled by county courts. Consult your citation for your court’s location or look online for the county website. Do not contact law enforcement with citation questions. Once the ticket has been issued all questions must be directed to the presiding court. Keep in mind that the court cannot provide information about your ticket until it receives the citation from the citing agency (California Highway Patrol, sheriff, local police).
Inform the Court in Person
You must inform the court of your intentions to contest your ticket. To do so in person, appear at the court on the date and time posted on your ticket and/or courtesy notice. At the hearing the judge will explain the charges and your rights and ask if you want to plead guilty, not guilty or no contest.
After pleading not guilty the judge will then issue you a trial date. Depending on the court, you may be asked to pay your fine, which at this juncture in the proceedings, is referred to as bail. This will be returned to you if you win your trial.
If you were charged with a misdemeanor or felony case, the presiding judicial officer will ask if you can afford a lawyer. If you can’t, the court will assign you one for your case.
Inform the Court by Mail
If you were issued a ticket for a traffic infraction, you may be allowed to request for a trial by written declaration. This means instead of appearing in court you may challenge your ticket by providing the court with written statements and evidence supporting your case.
You may ask for a trial by written declaration in person at the presiding clerk’s office or by mail sent to courthouse address posted on your citation and/or courtesy notice. Be sure to include a stamped, self-addressed envelope. The court will then mail you instructions and a Trial by Declaration form.
You can only request a trial by written declaration if:
- Your ticket was for an infraction violation only
- Your ticket’s due date has not passed
- Your ticket or courtesy notice does not state you must appear in court
For more information, read Instructions to Defendant.
It's always advisable to consult with an traffic ticket attorney, especially when challenging an infraction. These traffic ticket lawyers will use their expertise to your advantage, increasing your chances in getting your ticket dismissed or having the charges reduced.
After notifying the court of your intention, you’ll be issued a trial date. You will be allowed to hire a traffic ticket lawyer to represent you. If you cannot afford legal counsel, you will need to represent yourself (the court will not provide an attorney for a traffic infraction). Before the court date, be sure to gather evidence and witnesses.
In most California cases involving a traffic infraction a judge or a judicial officer will hear your case. If you need an interpreter, you will need to notify the court at least 1 week before your trail date.
Either you or your lawyer during the trial will be allowed to:
- Question the officer who cited the ticket
- Present witnesses
- Provide evidence
- Argue the law
If you are found not guilty, the traffic infraction will be dismissed and your bail will be refunded. If the court finds you guilty, you will be required to pay the fine. If the fine is less than the bail amount you initially paid during the hearing, the court will refund the difference. But if the fine is higher than the bail amount, you will need to pay the additional penalty.
If you disagree with the court’s guilty verdict, California will allow you to appeal the decision.
Regardless of the verdict, check your driving record to ensure no driver’s license points were erroneously added or left on your record. Points could have an adverse affect on your car insurance rates. For more information on points, visit our CA point system page.
If the court ruled you guilty and assigned points to your driving record, check with your auto insurance company to how these points will affect your rates. Depending on the infraction, points may remain on your record for 10 years, causing your insurance premiums to jump. You always have the option to shop online and compare car insurance rates.Other Topics in This Section