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 helpigotaticket.com.  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 www.leginfo.ca.gov 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 2009Entered 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.”

16 comments

  1. Hi, I got the exact same ticket for the exact same reasons. And I plan to follow the way you handled this. Clocked 92 on Lidar ticketed with 22356(b)VC. Police wrote approx speed was 85+.

    Wanted to mention your “proof of service” link is not working and im trying to gather all the documents I can.

    Thanks

  2. Is it also possible to send me a template of your TR205 form? I don’t know what to write on the statements of facts.

  3. Hi Jay, thanks for your comments. Sorry if it took me a bit to approve them — I have to moderate all comments because I get so many spam submissions on this blog.

    I’ve gone ahead and fixed the proof of service link. My proof of service form is based off of California court form POS-030 (similar to FL-335 and JV-510) – unfortunately the California Judicial Council hasn’t seen fit to publish a proof of service form for traffic or criminal cases. All of the forms under “Proof of service” would work for criminal cases but have “civil” written all over them.

    I don’t want to provide you a copy of my TR-205 because it was really bad. I just wrote some garbage, and was hoping that the officer wouldn’t respond. My general advice for using discovery and other more complex legal maneuverings (i.e. the type that require a proof of service form) is that you should wait until after your trial by written declaration. TBWDs are routine and the (CHP) office likely receives many of them. Discovery requests, on the other hand, are irregular events. They will probably arrive on the Captain’s desk and raise several flags as they are passed down the chain. You can be sure that once that happens the officer will find the time to fill out his declaration.

  4. Thanks for the reply. I know that delaying everything as much as possible increases your chances until finally you have to show up in court. So my plan is to ask for extensions during the last week and proceed with all the steps. Thanks for the heads up and the fact that you put this up on your blog. Really appreciated.

  5. Another thing I wanted to ask if you if don’t mind, is which days you actually needed to show up in court. On December 8 you mention that you “showed up” and then again on your actual court date on Jan. 8th. I’m trying to put this together but I can’t find a reason why you would show up on Dec. 8. Was is to pick up the discovery? You never went to court before Dec. 8th right?

    Also on a quick note. Is the discovery basically asking for proof that the police is certified/trained and the lidar gun are working and calibrated correctly?

    Thanks for your help.

  6. In saying “When I showed up in court” I was referencing my 08 January appearance.

    I believe you’re technically required to request a continuance at least 10 days before your appearance date.

    Regarding discovery: In broad legal terms, discovery exists so that the defendant can acquire any evidence that the prosecution or the police may have that could potentially exonerate the defendant. In the case of my discovery request, the primary use for the information requested would be to question the officer’s competence to use the electronic speed measuring device (or whether the device itself was suitable, etc.). For prosecutions under certain sections of the vehicle code — but not 22356(b) — if the officer isn’t properly certified it’s automatically a speed trap and the evidence is thrown out.

  7. So you still filed for a discovery even though you mention that they were not required for the codes that we both were cited for? 22356(b)?

    I guess I can still try to BS my around. Heh.

    Thanks for your replies man. I will eventually report back because other people are going to look this up and come across your page.

  8. It’s not that the certification becomes irrelevant, but rather that you no longer can automatically declare you were caught in a speed trap. If the officer’s credentials are overdue, you can still argue that he’s incompetent to testify as a witness. The equipment calibration information is useful no matter what, as is some of the other info. At the end of the day, my discovery request isn’t gospel — use it as a template and modify it as you see fit.

    Out of curiosity, how did you find this site?

  9. Well I googled around for speeding ticket help and a lot of it was 22350, etc people going 55 in a 45 or red light and didn’t really help me that much. But I did find out about TBWD through it. I exactly put in my citation and looked up speeding ticket/TBWD as keywords and bingo I visited your site.

    It so happens that we both got the same citation and you were going over 90 on the freeway. So your timeline is exactly what I was looking for. Didn’t know how old or if the site was still active, but I left a comment anyway and am glad that you responded.

    I left another post in your recent blog entry about pleas and would like your input on it. Sorry if I am bothering you let me know and i’ll keep it at a minimum.

  10. I definitely appreciate the comments — please keep it up. If you pick up any special tips or generate any useful documents let me know and I can post them (with your permission).

  11. Hi Peter, I also received the same ticket as the both of you. I was looking at the chronology of your comments and it has indeed helped me understand a bit more about what happens if you lose the TBWD. I had a couple of questions on your post though.

    What did you mean when you said “I filed both documents along with proof of service with the court.” I understood that you filled out both the discovery cover letter, but how do you have proof of service with the court?

    Also, “24 December 2009: Filed a motion to suppress the testimony of the citing officer, as the DA never responded to my discovery request.” I got that this is because they did not give you the information you requested. So if i file this motion, even if the CHP officer shows up to the trial day, the case will get thrown out?

    PS: Thanks for posting this up!

  12. Nelson, Thanks for the comment. I just posted an entry on proof of service — let me know if that helps.

    My motion is not 100% guaranteed to work. Under the law, the DA is absolutely 100% required to respond to your discovery request. However, penal code section 1054.5(b) provides the judge with several options for how to deal with non-compliance by the DA. Suppressing evidence or testimony is simply one of those options. If you intend to use this argument at your trial, it is absolutely essential that you look up the relevant section of the penal code (1054).

  13. I was just wondering what it means to have the discovery request “on record”. All you did was fill out the proof of entry paper and send it in along with the discovery request + cover letter? I’m just trying to decrease my risk of the court saying “they did not receive anything” from me.

    Also, when you were in court, did you move to dismiss the case? Or did the judge just dismiss it right away? I’m just assuming this is what you said in court – “I move to dismiss this case in the interest of justice” and then he concurred.

  14. Any paperwork you send to the court with your case number on it will be added to your file. When I showed up at my trial I said “your honor, before the officer testifies, I have a motion before the court.” The judge said “Yes, I have it here in front of me.” My plan was that once the officer’s testimony was supressed there would be no evidence against me and I would be found not guilty. What happened instead was that after asking a few questions about my motion, the judge said “Ok, I’m going to go ahead and dismiss your case” without explicitly granting the motion.

    Note that to do this properly I probably should have put the motion on the law and motion calendar at least three days prior to my trial (see the local rule here), rather than scheduling the motion hearing for the same day as the trial.

  15. Is it possible to share some of the questions the judge asked you from your motion? I mean thats if you remember of course.

  16. She asked “Have you received any contact from the DA” and “I understand from your motion that you’re unwilling to waive your right to a speedy trial.”