When you receive a ticket from an officer, it will have the court location where the ticket will be handled, the court date, and the time of the hearing. This information will be at the bottom of the citation the officer gave you. The officer may tell you that you will receive something in the mail from the court (a courtesy notice), but you cannot rely on receiving it and must appear on or before the date on the actual citation. The citation operates as the only notice the officer or court must give you.
The First Hearing--An Arraignment
So what is that date the officer gave you for? It is for the first hearing on your ticket, which is called the arraignment. At this hearing, you either enter a guilty or not guilty plea for the traffic violation.
Whether to handle this hearing yourself or hire an attorney?
If you handle the arraignment yourself, you will have to travel to the court, wait in line to check in, wait again in court for your case to be called, then wait again in the business office to get a copy of the paperwork costing you several hours of your day. Then, if you want to contest the citation and go to trial, the court will generally require you to pay the fine amount upfront to get the trial date.
However, if you hire an attorney, the attorney can handle the first hearing without you needing to be there--saving you hours of your time. Also, when an attorney deals with the case for you, you do not need to pay the fine up front to set a trial date.
What Happens After Arraignment
After the arraignment, the court will give you a trial date to contest the traffic citation. Depending on which court the citation is in, the trial date could be two to six months in the future.
Traffic Trial in San Diego
If you are handling the case yourself, you will report on the date of trial to the traffic court. When you proceed to trial, the officer will present his version of events to the judge first as it is his burden to prove you are guilty. Then you would be able to question the officer about his evidence and testimony. Then you would have a chance to present your version of events either through witnesses, pictures, or argument. After hearing the evidence from both sides, the judge makes a ruling--guilty or not guilty.
If you hire an attorney, then it is possible you would not need to be at the trial date. Depending on the nature of the facts (whether you can testify that you were not violating the vehicle code as cited by the officer), you may need to attend the trial with your attorney. If your testimony would not benefit you, then the attorney can handle the trial date for you on your behalf.
Results of the Trial
You will either be found guilty or not guilty by the judge following the trial. If you are found guilty, the judge will determine a fine amount for the offense and then determine whether or not to allow you to attend traffic school if you are eligible. Traffic school allows the point from an offense to be hidden from your auto insurance which keeps your rates from increasing. The traffic school costs between $20 and $40 and can be completed online.
If you win the trial, the judge will find you not guilty and dismiss the charges against you. You would get a refund if you previously posted the fine and would not need to do traffic school. Do not attend traffic school prior to your trial because if you win you will not need to do it and can save it for future violations. Traffic school can only be done once every 18 months, so you want to reserve the ability to attend until you actually need it.