Trial by Written Declaration
What is a trial by written declaration?
Vehicle Code section 40902 allows a defendant to challenge traffic infraction citations in writing, without having to appear in person at court. This procedure is called a "trial by written declaration." Trials by written declaration are available in cases involving infraction violations of the Vehicle Code or of local ordinances adopted under the Vehicle Code.
Are you eligible to request a trial by written declaration?
If you have been charged with a traffic infraction or a violation of a local ordinance adopted under the Vehicle Code, you can request a trial by written declaration unless you were issued a ticket for an offense involving alcohol or drugs or the violation requires a mandatory appearance in court.
Additional eligibility requirements include:
- You were issued a ticket for infraction violations only;
- The due date to take care of your ticket has not passed; and
- Your ticket or courtesy notice does not say that you must appear in court.
How do you ask for a trial by written declaration?
You can ask for your trial by written declaration in person at the clerk’s office or by mail sent to the courthouse address listed on your ticket.
If you mail your request and enclose a stamped, self-addressed envelope, the court will mail you instructions and a form entitled Request for Trial by Written Declaration (form TR-205). The top portion of the form you receive should be filled out by the court clerk with important information; read it carefully. Once you get the form and instructions, you can fill out the paperwork.
Is payment of bail required for a trial by written declaration?
Yes. Vehicle Code section 40902 requires that you deposit bail in order to have a trial by written declaration. Deposit of bail is the choice you make for the convenience of not having to travel and appear in court to resolve your traffic ticket.
What happens in a trial by written declaration?
Choosing to have your trial by written declaration means that instead of going to court to contest your case, you and the officer file statements and any evidence in writing.
Evidence may include:
- The "Notice to Appear" ticket;
- A business record or receipt;
- A sworn declaration of the citing officer;
- A written statement or letter signed by the defendant; and/or
- Any written statements or letters signed by witnesses.
IMPORTANT: By filing a declaration in a trial by written declaration, you are waiving and giving up the rights to remain silent and not incriminate yourself, and the right to a public and speedy trial. You are also waiving the right to appear in person before a judicial officer, except that you will have a right to a new trial (also called "trial de novo") in court if you disagree with the court’s decision in your trial by written declaration (see further discussion below).
For more information on trial by written declaration, read the Instructions to Defendant (Trial by Written Declaration—Traffic) (form TR-200).
What is the procedure for a trial by written declaration?
Here is a checklist for having a trial by written declaration.
- Fill out your court forms. Fill out the Request for Trial by Written Declaration (form TR-205). Attach a written statement of what happened and make sure to include details. If you are going to attach evidence like photographs or diagrams, explain in your written statement what evidence you are attaching.
- For your written statement you can use a form called Declaration (form MC-030) and, if you need more room to complete your statement, a form called Attached Declaration (form MC-031). If you do not use these forms, make sure you write, at the end of your statement: "I declare under penalty of perjury under the laws of the State of California that this statement is true and correct." Print your name, and sign and date the statement. You can also use these forms if you have witnesses that want to write statements. Your witnesses’ statements must also be signed under penalty of perjury.
- Enclose your bail payment. You must include payment of your bail amount (which is the amount shown on your courtesy notice or provided by the clerk) with your Request for Trial by Written Declaration (form TR-205). Use a check or money order. Do not send cash.
- Make an extra copy of all your forms. These copies are for your records. If you prepare your statement without using a court form, make sure to keep at least one copy of it. And keep a copy of any statements made by your witnesses. Keep your paperwork in a safe place.
- Mail the original of your forms to the court clerk by the due date. Mail the signed Request for Trial by Written Declaration, your statement(s), and any evidence to the court clerk.
- The police officer will provide a written statement. When the clerk receives your Request for Trial by Written Declaration, the clerk will let the police officer who issued your citation know. The officer will then have the opportunity to submit a declaration about the citation by the due date.
- The court will make a decision by a specific due date. A judicial officer will review the papers filed by you and the officer, and make a decision on your case. You will get the court’s decision by mail telling you whether you were found guilty or not guilty.
- If you are found guilty, the court notice will state the amount of the fine, penalties, and fees and will order that it be paid from your bail deposit. If the amount you owe is more than the bail you paid, the court will give you a deadline to pay the balance. If the amount you owe is less than the bail you paid, the balance will be refunded to you (or to the person who paid the bail if someone else paid it) by mail.
- If you are found not guilty, the court will refund the bail money to you (or to the person who paid the bail if someone else paid it) by mail.
- If you are not satisfied with the court’s decision, you can ask for a new trial (called a "trial de novo") in court. When you ask for a new trial, you and the other parties will have to personally go to court for that trial. You have 20 days after the court’s decision was mailed to you to ask for a new trial. The court will start over completely in deciding your case based on the testimony and evidence presented at the court trial, and is not limited by the sentence imposed in the trial by written declaration.
For a trial de novo in court, you will have the following rights:
- To be represented by an attorney employed by you;
- To have a public trial;
- To testify, to present evidence, and to use court orders without cost to compel the attendance of witnesses and the production of evidence on your behalf;
- To have the witnesses against you testify under oath in court, and to question such witnesses; and
- To remain silent and not testify and not incriminate yourself.
For a trial de novo in court, fill out a Request for New Trial (Trial de Novo) (form TR-220).