So many cool things about California, starting with its long overlap with the blue Pacific Ocean. Here's another draw: You can fight a traffic ticket without going to court – and you might win. But California isn't the only state that offers trial by written declaration. Maybe your state does, too.
Duking It Out Over a Traffic Ticket
Traffic tickets can cost you a pretty penny. The first expense is the fine itself, but that is not all. In many states, including California, drivers accumulate points for moving violations. As the points on your record increase, your insurance premiums can rise as well. You may have to take driver education classes to reduce those points, costing you even more. In time, if you get enough points, your license will be suspended.
Anyone can contest a traffic ticket in any of the 50 states. But that often involves heading to court and perhaps hiring an attorney to help walk you through the steps and present your arguments. This takes time and money, and the police officer who wrote your ticket may well show up and testify against you, since testifying in court is considered part of an officer's work responsibilities. But if the only other option is pleading guilty and paying the fine, it may look like a lose-lose choice. So what's an innocent driver to do?
Read More: How to Understand a Traffic Ticket
Trial by Written Declaration
In some states, you have a third option known as trial by written declaration. The bad news is that you must pay the full bail amount on your courtesy notice before you proceed, but you'll get it back if you win. California allows this, as do several other states, including Oregon and Illinois. The time limit and form vary among states.
You have a month from the time you pay up to file a formal Request for Trial by Written Declaration. In California, this is form TR-205. You are the defendant in the case, so you'll need to follow the directions for defendant on form TR-205. What does it mean to have a trial by written declaration? It means that you get to argue your case, but instead of heading to court, you and the officer file statements and any evidence in writing. The court sends a form to the officer who gave you the ticket to fill out.
When you fill out form TR-205, you'll need to attach a written statement of the circumstances, including all details. Explain in the statement about any evidence you are attaching. You can use form MC-030, Declaration, for your written statement. If you write your own, add at the end that you make the declaration under penalty of perjury under the laws of the state of California. Do not forget to sign the statement.
If this procedure seems overwhelming, you can hire one of several private companies to do the dirty work for you. For around $100, the company prepares your TR-205, using the legal arguments that apply to your case. One company says that, in some cases, police officers are not paid to fill out these forms and so often they simply don't do it. If the officer doesn't respond, you win the case by default.
In states like California, Illinois and Oregon, you can fight a traffic ticket without leaving the comfort of your home by a process called trial by written declaration.
- California Courts: Trial by Written Declaration
- County of Los Angeles: What Is Trial by Written Declaration?
- California Courts: TR-205
- Superb Crew: GetDismissed – The Best Way to Dismiss Your Traffic Ticket
- TicketBusters: Trial by Written Declaration
- Oregon Judicial System: Plea Options
- Take Traffic School Online: How to Fight Your Ticket in Illinois
Teo Spengler earned a JD from U.C. Berkeley Law School. As an Assistant Attorney General in Juneau, she practiced before the Alaska Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court before opening a plaintiff's personal injury practice in San Francisco. She holds both an MA and an MFA in English/writing and enjoys writing legal blogs and articles. Her work has appeared in numerous online publications including USA Today, Legal Zoom, eHow Business, Livestrong, SF Gate, Go Banking Rates, Arizona Central, Houston Chronicle, Navy Federal Credit Union, Pearson, Quicken.com, TurboTax.com, and numerous attorney websites. Spengler splits her time between the French Basque Country and Northern California.