California’s “Pay to Play” Traffic Fines Ends! Now You Can Fight Your Traffic Ticket In Court Without Paying In Advance!

The California Judicial Council ended on Monday, June 8, 2015, the long standing unfair practice of requiring drivers to pay their fines for traffic tickets in advance if they want to contest their tickets in court.  The way it worked was if one received a ticket and wanted to challenge it in court, the driver was required to post bail in advance–that is to actually pay the amount of the ticket in advance, even before being found guilty.

The problem was that the fines, which initially may have run about $100 to $150 or so, then had fees or penalty assessments (PAs) added onto them and these PAs were several times the amount of the fine, so a fine of $100-150 with the PA became about $450 or more.  One purpose of the PAs is to help pay for the cost of special programs.  Such total fines now became totally disproportionate to the offense, not affordable for many and as a result many fines went unpaid, people did not appear in court and many driver’s licenses were suspended.

As a further result, the California legislature is reportedly preparing to vote on a proposal to cut the cost of delinquent fines, provide payment plans and reinstate licenses that may have been suspended for failure to pay and failure to appear in court.

The other issue to resolve is the harsh, oppressive and unconscionable PAs or additional fees that our legislature and courts have tacked onto such traffic tickets.

Meanwhile, according to the Los Angeles Times, the new rule about not having to pay in advance if one wants to fight his or her traffic ticket reportedly will apply only to those who have not yet missed their court date.  If you have already missed your court date, the new rule is not supposed to help you.  So, if you received a ticket but have not yet had your first appearance (i.e., court date), you may request a trial without paying the fine (technically posting bail) in advance.

HELPFUL HINT:  Some courts and their clerks reportedly still have not yet received notice of this new rule so if you encounter any problem you may need to ask to see a supervisor.  To avoid this issue, if you are not facing an immediate court hearing date or other deadline, you may want to wait a few extra days to allow all clerks and courts to receive proper notice of this change in procedure.

The court still does retain power to request the bail amount be paid if the court deems the ticketed person to be a flight risk.

The LA Times reported that almost five (5) million drivers in California since 2006 have had their driver’s licenses suspended for not paying their tickets.  That is a staggering number for just one state, even though California is our nation’s most populous state.

The senior attorney in our law firm, Gary Walch, has served as a judge in traffic court, in the temporary judge program of the Los Angeles Superior Court, and recalls being quite surprised many years ago when he first saw the amount of the PA tacked onto the traffic fines by his clerk.  As a result, when appropriate, he reduced the fines to make them affordable.

HELPFUL HINT:  One other thing to remember:  If you want to fight your traffic ticket in court – in addition to now being sure that you tell the clerk you do NOT want to pay the fine (i.e., bail) in advance – do not forget that traffic court is a criminal court.  It is not a civil court.  That helps you!  It means the burden of proof is on the state (i.e., California, represented by the police officer) and the state must prove its case “beyond a reasonable doubt”.  While that does not mean beyond any doubt, it is still a much tougher test or burden on the state than in civil court where the burden of proof is usually by a preponderance of the evidence (i.e., “more likely than not”).  Should you have any questions about this or any criminal case, personal injury accident claim or immigration matter, please do not hesitate to contact us 24/7.

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