Lesson one: Don't assume anything! When you sign a ticket you are not admitting guilt. You are promising to appear in court at the time and place indicated on the ticket. From what you say it sounds as if you failed to appear for the ticket for the summer speeding violation, you were then cited for expired tags and when you went to court, the judge told you he didn't see anything else on your record. You then just assumed you were "clear". Your assumption provides no lawful immunity for your failure to appear on the speeding ticket. Many jurisdictions will suspend your license for a failure to appear. In California you must have been given notice of this suspension before you can be convicted of driving on a suspended license as a misdemeanor. When the officer saw that your license was suspended he may, or may not have had a reasonable suspicion to arrest you (much turns on the question of whether there needs to be an indication of notice to you). If the officer has probable cause to arrest then the handcuffing and search of your vehicle interior is lawful as incident to a lawful arrest. Why you were not informed of the suspension? Who knows? As to your last statement that you cannot pay your fine until they send you the amount owed: This makes me think you are back to assuming that nothing can befall you until you are told the amount. You should have learned that this is a foolish course to take considering your previous experience. It is really a good idea for you to become more pro-active about these matters. Go find out how much you owe and pay it. This is your best defense against further problems. Good luck.