Road law
California 101

By Jeff McConnell and James Mennella, attorneys at law

We are not talking about the 101 Highway, but about how to handle a traffic ticket in California. You always want to have the best opportunity for a dismissal or an amendment of any California ticket, so you need to have a thorough plan of action.

I received a ticket in California and need to know what to do. Where do I start?

In most cases you will receive a post-card size "Courtesy Notice" before the date at the bottom of your citation. (This often doesn't happen in a timely fashion so always contact the court before the date on the ticket if you don't receive it). This notice will tell you the "bail" amount (California language for fine and costs) and due date for payment or how to request a trial by declaration (TBD) or trial.

Many times it is a good strategy to post the bail and request a TBD. A TBD is just that, a trial on paper. If the officer doesn't submit his/her paperwork to the court or if there is a technical defect in the charge, then there is an opportunity to have your case dismissed.

My TBD wasn't successful, and I was found guilty of the original charge. Now what?

The next step if not successful at the TBD stage is to basically start over and request a Trial De Novo, which essentially means you get a brand-new hearing. The only catch is that the request must be received by the court within 20 days of the date of the decision by the court on the original TBD application.

Once a trial date is set, can a plea agreement be worked out with the prosecution?

Depending on the nature of the charges and the size of the court, the cases are usually handled by the citing officers. However, in some courts there might be a prosecutor who handles the cases. If you can speak with the officer and/or the prosecutor about an amendment or dismissal of the charges, now is the time to pursue that option. Unfortunately, the opportunity to discuss your case is usually right before court begins.

What if the officer doesn't appear?

It depends on the stage of the case, but in most instances the officer is not required to appear on the initial date on the citation. This date is normally a response date and the court is looking for a guilty or not guilty plea in order to move the case.

Once a not guilty plea is entered, the case will be set for trial. The trial date is when the officer or any witnesses would need to be present. It is the state's burden to prove the elements of the violation you received, and not your job to prove you are innocent.

So if the officer or witness is not present, it is a great time to bring a motion to dismiss for lack of prosecution.

Can't I hire a lawyer to do all of this?

Of course you can, and most lawyers will go through many of these same steps to try for the best result. Keep in mind that lawyers can't testify on your behalf, so if you have something to add to your defense it is always best to be present in court even if you hire someone to represent you. LL

Send any questions or comments regarding transportation law to: Jeff McConnell and James Mennella, Road Law, 3441 W. Memorial, Suite 4, Oklahoma City, OK 73134; call 405-242-2030, fax 888-588-8983, or email

This column is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the opinions of Land Line Magazine or its publisher. Please remember everyone’s legal situation is different. Consult with an attorney for specific advice on your situation.