How to Fight a Traffic Ticket in California

David C. Garner

Written by

Employment / Labor Attorney

Contributor Level 15

Posted over 5 years ago. Applies to California, 25 helpful votes



Getting the citation and the "courtesy notice".

Ok, you got the ticket. Soon a letter should appear in your mailbox letting you know that you can just pay the fine and be done with it. To do so is an admission of guilt. I would never do this because you will have no chance to argue before the court, no opportunity to mitigate the fine, and will wind up with a mark on your driving record. At the same time, who wants to take time off from work to go to traffic court. There has to be an easier way to fight for your rights. Behold the plea of Not Guilty By Written Declaration.


Noticing the court of your intention to plead not guilty by written declaration.

As soon as you get the "courtesy notice", write the clerk of the court a letter and let them know you intend to plead not guilty by written declaration. They will take your court date off calendar and send you some court forms - most importantly a TR-205. The next step is the really important one.


Completing your request for a Trail by Written Declaration

Once you ge the form, note the date that it is due back to the court. Now, rather than appearing in court, you have yourself a writing assignment. First of all, fill out the form. If you think you can address your situation in the space provided, do so. I recommend however that you attach a careful, well-written, carefully thought out explanation of what happened and why you feel you are not guilty as a separate document. In this section offer all the facts you have to prove your case and discuss anything you would discuss if you were in front of a judge. The beauty of this method is that you have time to think about what you are going to say rather than being nervous in court and being caught off guard. You can include any evidence that helps your case, including photographs, maps, statements (declarations) from witnesses, etc. Be honest, but fully explain your side of the case. You can also ask the court to dismiss the fine if it finds you guilty in a close case.


Send in your declaration

Once you have drafted your well-written declaration, make sure you sign it. Then include the bail amount listed on the notice and mail it to the court. Yes, you have to post the bail, but you would have to do that if you pled guilty, and this way you may get it back if the court finds in your favor. Now, mail the package to the clerk of the court.


Wait for the decision.

It may take a month or more, but you will receive a notice of the decision of the court. If you are successful and receive a not-guilty verdict, your bail deposit will be returned to you. If you are found guilty, they are keeping your money. You will not be given traffic school at this point in the process.


If you are unhappy with the decision...

If you are dissatisfied with the court's decision, you may ask for a new trial ("trial de novo"). In order to obtain a new trial, you must file the Request for New Trial (Trial de Novo) (form TR-220) within 20 days after the date the court's decision was mailed to you. The thing that makes this whole process wothwhile is that if you lose on your declaration, can get a second shot at a not guilty verdict. If you request a trial de novo you get a second bite at the apple. The court will schedule a hearing just like you would have had if you had gone to court in the first place. Then you can appear and argue the case in front of a judge. If successful there, you win, the previous verdict is set aside and you get your money back. If you lose, you lose, but you cannot be fined any more than you have already paid. Basically you have nothing to lose and everything to gain. At his point, if you lose, you can request traffic school as well.

Additional Resources

Here is the official court information on this process:

California Courts Form Website

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