Arraignment and Court Trial

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What to expect from an Arraignment or Trial

Your court appearances for your traffic infraction ticket will include an arraignment and, if requested, a court trial.  if you do not want to go to court, you may also choose a Trial by Written Declaration.
What Is an Arraignment?

At an arraignment in court, the judicial officer will explain what the charges are, inform you of your rights, and ask you if you want to plead guilty, not guilty, or no contest (also called “nolo contendere”). If you say “not guilty,” the judicial officer will give you a date for a court trial by a judicial officer without a jury. Unless you elect one of the statutory arraignment alternatives pursuant to Vehicle Code section 40519 (a) and (b) (described in the section titled “Options After Getting a Traffic Ticket (for Infractions)"), you are not required to deposit bail to appear for arraignment.

A “no contest” plea is basically the same as a “guilty” plea. It is a way of saying, “I don’t believe I did all that the officer charges, but I admit violating the law.” This plea is traditionally used if there was an accident or other reason you don’t want the plea to be used as an admission of liability in a civil case related to the incident.

At arraignment you may ask for a court trial without deposit of bail. If you request a trial at your arraignment in court, you will not have to deposit bail unless you do not sign a promise to appear as required by the court or the court makes a finding that you are unlikely to appear without a deposit of bail and states the reasons for the finding.

If you are able to post bail, you may choose the convenience of avoiding multiple appearances for your arraignment and court trial. In order to have the convenience of deciding how you wish to appear for arraignment and trial, you must pay bail as required by Vehicle Code section 40519. Most people who choose this procedure do so because they want to take care of their ticket with one court appearance. However, you also have the option under section 40519 to schedule an arraignment and trial for separate days.

Asking for a trial
You have two options when it comes to having a trial:

  1. You can ask for a court trial; or
  2. You can ask for a trial by written declaration.

Payment of bail for a traffic infraction is not required to contest your ticket except under limited exceptions provided by California law. These exceptions include the following: (1) if you wish to schedule a trial without appearing first for an arraignment (Veh. Code, § 40519), or (2) if you wish to have a trial by written declaration (Veh. Code, § 40902). In those situations you must pay the full bail no later than the “date to appear” on your citation. That money will be returned if you are found not guilty and the case is dismissed.