How I Beat My California Traffic Ticket

In May 2009 I received a $450 speeding ticket for violation of California vehicle code section 22356(b).  I immediately made the decision to fight my ticket, and in the ensuing months conducted quite a bit of research.  This past Friday I made an appearance in court and successfully had the case dismissed.

The purpose of this post is to both share with you my experience fighting this outrageously high fine and to share some of the knowledge and documents I accumulated along the way.  There is a lot of information out there on the internet about fighting California traffic tickets, and my intention here is not to duplicate that effort.  Rather my goal is to firstly provide a concise and consolidated guide to some of the more advanced ways of fighting your ticket, and secondly to introduce some tools and documents for your use that I created while fighting my ticket.

I don’t have any formal legal training and nothing on this site should be construed to constitute legal advice; for that, you’ll need to hire an expensive lawyer.  California has been playing a careful game in setting fines for traffic citations:  they’re outrageously high, but just low enough so that it’s not worth your while to retain an attorney who will fully advise you of your rights.

As I said, I don’t have any formal legal training and you shouldn’t need any either to successfully use the tools I provide below.  That being said, although in my undergrad years I majored in electrical engineering, I did take a course in criminal justice (with a focus on military law), a course in maritime law enforcement, and a course in constitutional law.  This basic legal underpinning greatly aided me in navigating the legal system and in creating the documents you see below, as the courts often assume/require a certain level of knowledge.  If you already have a reasonably detailed knowledge of traffic tickets then you can immediately continue below.  If you don’t know what discovery is and you struggle with basic concepts such as the three parties present at any trial (the prosecution, the defense, and a judicial official who serves as a neutral arbiter between the two) then you should visit Help! I Got a Ticket and read the tutorial.  I really can’t recommend that site strongly enough, and even if you’re comfortable with some of the more advanced topics I lay out below you should still visit Help! I Got a Ticket as he covers a broader range of cases and issues than I.

I’m going to post a basic chronology of my case below, along with the documents I used at each phase.  As I get time I’ll creates posts narrating and explaining strategy at each stage; as that happens I’ll update the chronology below with links to the expanded information.  Before I get into the chronology, however, I’ll give you the two most important pieces of advice I received from  First:

Strategy basically comes down to two options:

  • When the facts are on your side, argue the facts.
  • When the facts are against you, argue the law.

And second:

The most important step in arguing based on the law is to know the law (this is why we started by having you look up the section of the Vehicle Code which you allegedly violated).

The excellent (but horribly formatted) site became my best friend while fighting my case.  If you haven’t done so already, go ahead and look up the section of the vehicle code you are charged with violating.  As you read through my documents and find a section of the vehicle code or code that you don’t recognize, look it up so that you know what it says.  This will greatly enhance your ability to defend yourself.

Without further preaching, here is the chronology of my case:

14 May 2009:  Received a citation for violation of VC 22356(b) for allegedly traveling 96 mph on I-5 South in in Stanislaus County.  In a unique coincidence the officer “rounded up” such that I was 1 mph over the eligibility limit for traffic school.

August 2009:  Received my courtesy notice.

August 2009:  Called into the court and requested a continuance on my arraignment.  A simple call to the clerk in most courts will give you a 30 day extension at each phase of your trial.  This was part of my broader delaying strategy because my citation was issued by the CHP — I was hoping that if I pushed the final trial date out far enough the officer would have rotated to another duty station.  Needless to say, this won’t work with local police.  Of course local police are usually out fighting real crime, so a good portion of CA traffic tickets are written as a revenue generating tool by the CHP.

September 2009:  Entered a plea of not guilty via mail.  That’s right folks, you don’t even have to show up in court to enter your plea.  I also requested trial by written declaration, again avoiding the need to show up in court.

September 2009:  Filed my writen declaration on form TR-205.

November 2009:  Received a verdict of guilty.

12 November 2009:  Requested trial de novo (a new trial) on form TR-220.  CVC section 40902(d) provides that any defendant who is “dissatisfied” with the results of their trial by written declaration may request (and shall be granted) a new, in person trial.

23 November 2009:  Served a discovery request via certified mail on the Stanislaus County District Attorney, along with this cover letter to the DA.  I filed both documents along with proof of service with the court.

08 December 2009:  Filed the discovery request a second time, as USPS somehow managed to not deliver the paper the first time.

I never received a response from the DA, but the court was kind enough to send me a copy of the officer’s declaration from my earlier TBWD.  When I showed up in court every CHP officer read a statement based off of the exact same template.

24 December 2009:  Filed a motion to suppress the testimony of the citing officer, as the DA never responded to my discovery request.

08 January 2010:  Showed up for my trial.  Without explicitly granting my motion, the judge dismissed my case “in the interest of justice.”

Surrendering the Doctrine of Original Intent?

In a comment in a thread over at McArdle’s blog on the impact of the recent Supreme Court decision on political spending by corporations and political advocacy groups, themightypuck discusses the demise of original intent:

themightypuck: And, while I agree that the decision is probably the correct one, it is a bit of a high wire act for an originalist to come to said conclusion.

Alsadius: How so? “Congress shall make no law…” seems pretty much what the original intent was, given that that’s how it’s written.

themightypuck: The entire text:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

I’m quite happy that centuries of jurisprudence have defined speech to mean more than speech and I only mention it here as evidence of what I see as the failure of originalism.

The issue with this statement is that the founders clearly meant speech to include the printed word, and you can argue that television advertising is the modern equivalent of the printed word.  Not being a student of the law, I can’t tell you how the original intent doctrine deals with technological development.

The outrage is that this decision, which overrules a law put into place by the people’s elected representatives as well as two past Supreme Court precedents, was handed down by a group of justices (and celebrated by a group of activists) who all claim to be against judicial activism.

Dear Citi Cards

Ever since I gave them my email address so that I could receive “important” account alerts and electronic statements, Citi Cards has been sending me a worthless Card Benefits newsletter.  Today I mailed them this letter.  It took a lot longer than pressing delete, but it was strangely satisfying.

Blackwater Acquitted

Remember that horrible Blackwater shooting in Iraq where guards mowed down 17 unarmed Iraqis in a crowded square?  Well a judge has thrown the case out because the State Department personnel who first interviewed the guards promised them immunity in exchange for their testimony, despite the fact that they had no authority to do so.  Bottom line:  this is why you don’t fight wars with mercenaries.

If you knew the kind of people who go to work for Blackwater it would horrify you that we send we give them guns and send them into foreign countries with no legal mechanism in place for punishing misconduct.