How to Fight a California Traffic TicketIn California, you can fight your traffic ticket in person or in writing. You will need to pay bail (your traffic ticket fine amount), which will be returned to you if you win your case.
Wrongly written up? Don’t let that traffic ticket get you down!
You have the option to fight your California traffic ticket if you believe you’re innocent—especially if you have evidence to prove so.
Read below to find out more about this process and what to expect when contesting your citation.
(Plead Guilty or No Contest)
- Pay the fine.
- Pay to go to traffic school.
- Provide proof of correction if you receive a ticket for a “correctable violation” (e.g., fixing a broken taillight or providing proof of car registration).
- Incur points on your driving record.
- Possible increase in auto insurance rates.
(Plead Not Guilty)
- A court trial by a judicial officer.
- A trial by mail, or what is often called a “trial by written declaration.”
- Choose to represent yourself in court or hire an attorney.
- Possibly forfeit option to plea bargain for lesser charges.
- No penalties if found guilty but must pay court and legal fees.
Pleading Not Guilty in California
If you want to contest your traffic ticket, you will have to plead not guilty.
First, make sure you understand that pleading not guilty means you don’t believe you violated the infractions on your traffic ticket. It’s strongly recommended to have evidence of being wrongly cited before going to court.
If you decide to take this route, you can do so either:
- In person:
- At your arraignment on your scheduled court date. You will:
- Hear the charges against you.
- Have a judicial officer explain your rights.
- Be presented with the option to plead.
- At the traffic clerk’s office on or before your scheduled court date.
- At your arraignment on your scheduled court date. You will:
- By phone, before your scheduled date.
- Call your local county court clerk’s office for more information.
- Via mail before your scheduled date.
You will have to pay your ticket fine (also referred to as “posting bail”) at the start of the process if you:
- Request a trial by written declaration.
- Want to have your trial scheduled on the same day as your arraignment.
- Ask to waive your arraignment.
- Call your county court clerk to ask about going straight to trial.
If you’re later found not guilty, the money will be returned to you. If you are found guilty, the money will go toward the fees you owe the court.
Fighting Your Traffic Ticket
Before going to court, you may want to hire a traffic ticket attorney, to help you understand all of your options and give you a better chance at winning your case.
California does NOT offer court-appointed attorneys to fight traffic tickets. If you don’t hire a traffic lawyer, you’ll represent yourself at your trial.
In most cases, if you post bail ahead of time, your trial will be held on the same day of your arraignment. Otherwise, you will be appointed a separate day for your trial.
At your trial, you will be able to:
- Question the officer who ticketed you.
- Call witnesses.
- Present evidence.
- Argue the law.
At the end of the trial, the judicial officer overseeing the case will inform you whether the court accepts or rejects your plea of not guilty.
DMV.org TIP: Consider Traffic SchoolAs an alternative to fighting your ticket, you can pay your fine and take traffic school to avoid having points added to your record. For more, check out our traffic school guide.
Trial by Written Declaration in CA
If you prefer not to go to court, you may have the option to do a trial by written declaration, where you provide all evidence and your statement in writing.You will be eligible for this option if:
- Your citation was for a traffic violation.
- Your traffic ticket due date hasn’t passed.
- Your CA traffic ticket does NOT require a court appearance.
Submit the following to the CA court listed on your traffic ticket in person or by mail on or before your traffic ticket due date:
- Completed Request for Trial by Written Declaration (Form TR-205).
- Stamped, self-addressed envelope (if mailing your request).
- Written statement of events regarding the traffic violation (including witness statements). You can use these forms:
- Declaration (Form MC-030).
- Attached Declaration (Form MC-031—only needed if you need additional space).
NOTE: If you don’t use the provided declaration forms, visit the California courts website for written statement requirements.
- Supporting evidence (and descriptions of each within your written statement), such as:
- Bail payment (total traffic ticket amount).
- Will be returned to you if you’re found “not guilty.”
NOTE: Be sure to keep copies of everything you submit.
The California traffic court will notify you once a decision has been made in your case.
Keep the big picture in mind when weighing the costs and benefits of fighting your traffic ticket in California.
Aside from posting bail, other costs to consider include:
- Hiring a traffic ticket attorney.
- Extra fines if you lose your case.
- Time off of work to attend court.
- Your car insurance rate.
Traffic Ticket FAQ: What Happens to My Auto Insurance?Worried how that ticket may affect your car insurance rate? We’ve put together a guide to how traffic tickets impact auto insurance rates loaded with helpful information that will potentially save you money.
Consequences of Fighting Your Ticket
When fighting a traffic ticket in California, most of the potential consequences of your trial are financial.
If you are found not guilty, you can expect to have:
- Your bail money returned, if you paid it up front.
- Your driving record adjusted accordingly.
If you’re found guilty:
- You’ll have to pay the total cost of the fine plus potential additional court charges.
- If you paid bail up front, this will go toward these costs.
- The infraction will stay on your record.
- If you submitted a trial by written declaration, you may be able to ask for a new trial to be held in court.
Depending on the severity of the violation, you may also have your license suspended or receive pointson your license. Make sure to ask the court or your traffic attorney about all possible outcomes of losing your trial.
Protect Your Driving RecordYour driver record contains vital information! Outstanding tickets can have severe consequences on your future. Order a certified copy of your CA driving record to make sure your ticket has been fully removed.
Missing Your Court Date
If you miss your court date without informing the court beforehand, you will be issued a failure to appear. In some cases, this could be considered a misdemeanor, which could potentially lead to jail time.
Other penalties you may face for missing your court date include:
- A warrant issued for your arrest.
- Extra fees to be added to your fine.
- Your case to be referred to a collection agency.
If you are worried about missing your court date, you should call the California county court where the case is behind heard as soon as possible.