Traffic Court Trial

What is a court trial?

In traffic infraction cases, a judicial officer will hear your case instead of a jury. For your arraignment and court trial, you can hire an attorney to represent you for your case or appear on your own without an attorney. The court is not authorized to appoint an attorney for infraction cases unless the defendant is in custody. If you require an interpreter, please let the court clerk know as early as possible before your court trial.

Under Penal Code sections 17(d) and 19.8, if certain offenses are charged as an infraction instead of as a misdemeanor, you can ask that the infraction charge be tried with a jury as a misdemeanor. However, jail may be part of the sentence in a misdemeanor case, unlike infractions where the sentence is limited to a fine. If possible, talk to an attorney before you make this decision to make sure you are doing what is best for you.

For help finding an attorney: http://www.courts.ca.gov/1001.htm.

At your court trial, the police officer will state why he or she gave you the ticket. You or your attorney can:

  • Question the officer who gave you the ticket;
  • Bring witnesses;
  • Present evidence; and
  • Argue the law.

If you are found not guilty and you paid bail before the trial, the full amount will be mailed to you. If you are found guilty and you paid bail before the trial, the court will apply the bail money to the fine. If the fine is less than the bail deposit, any balance to be refunded will be mailed to you by the court. If the fine is more than the bail deposit, you will be responsible for paying the balance due or requesting community service (Pen. Code, § 1209.5), a payment plan, or a reduction based on inability to pay (Veh. Code, § 42003).

If you disagree with the court’s decision, you may file an appeal. Read the Information on Appeal Procedures for Infractions (form CR-141-INFO) for instructions on how to appeal infractions.

How to ask for a court trial and receive an arraignment hearing

Go to court on the date and time on your ticket or on the reminder notice the court mailed to you. Ask the clerk for a court date for an arraignment hearing. At the arraignment hearing, the judge will:

  • Tell you what the charges are;
  • Tell you about your rights; and
  • Ask you if you want to plead guilty, not guilty, or no contest (also called “nolo contendere”).

If you plead guilty, you are admitting that you are correctly charged with the violation. The court will set a trial date at which time judgment will be entered and a fine assessed. At that time, you may ask the court to consider your financial hardship and ability to pay and to reduce the fine, order a payment plan, or order community service. A “nolo contender” or “no contest” plea means that you are accepting the conviction without admitting guilt; a judgment will be entered and a fine assessed. At that time, you may ask the court to consider your financial hardship and ability to pay and to reduce the fine, order a payment plan, or order community service. The court may allow you to explain the circumstances that led to the incident.

Normally, you will not have to deposit bail to schedule a court trial. However, the court may require that you post “bail” at your arraignment hearing if:

  • You refuse to sign a promise to appear as required by the court;
  • A statute requires deposit of bail; or
  • The judicial officer requires bail and states a reason for the deposit. (Cal. Rules of Court, rule 4.105.)

If you do not want to appear for an arraignment hearing, but still want to have a trial, you may call the court and request to waive the arraignment hearing. However, for the convenience of waiving your arraignment hearing and only having to go to court for the trial, instead of having to go to court twice (once for the arraignment and once for the trial) you will be required to post bail (the fine amount) before trial. (Veh. Code, § 40519.) After bail is posted, you will be given a trial date.

If you have a misdemeanor or felony case, the judicial officer will ask you if you have enough money to pay for a lawyer. If you cannot afford to pay for your own lawyer, the court will give you a lawyer at public expense (a public defender) for your case.

© 2017 Judicial Council of California