When you get a traffic ticket that you feel like you didn’t deserve, contesting it can actually add to the headache. You have to schedule a court date, take time off from work or your family, and go to the courthouse — sometimes to spend hours waiting for your ticket to come up on the docket.
In California, you have another option: trial by written declaration. This provides a way for people who get traffic tickets in California to contest them without physically going to court — but there are pros and cons to this approach. Curious about trial by written declaration, how it works, whether you’re eligible, and how to navigate the process? You’ve come to the right place. Read on for the ultimate guide.
What is a Trial by Written Declaration?
California Vehicle Code section 40902 allows for trial by written declaration (often called trial by dec), which means that you can challenge traffic infractions in writing instead of appearing in person at a trial. If you choose this option, you must either mail or physically bring to the court a written statement that explains the facts of your case and why the court should rule in your favor.
You can include any evidence you have, including photos, videos, and statements from witnesses. The police officer who issued your ticket will also submit a written statement. The judge assigned to your case will review both statements and any attached evidence, and then issue a ruling.
Who is Eligible for Trial by Written Declaration?
Anyone who is charged with an infraction or violation of a local ordinance under the California vehicle code is eligible for trial by written declaration, unless the charge involves alcohol or drugs or requires a mandatory court appearance.
The due date to address your ticket must also not have passed before you request a trial by written declaration.
Is Bail Payment Required for Trial by Written Declaration?
In short, yes. In order to pursue trial by written declaration, you must first pay any fines associated with your ticket (which are referred to as “bail” in this instance).
If the judge finds you not guilty or lowers your fine, the court will refund you accordingly. If you are found guilty and your fine is not adjusted, you will not receive a refund.
What Happens in a Trial by Written Declaration?
In a trial by written declaration, you have until the due date on your citation to submit your written statement and any evidence supporting your case. The officer who issued the citation will submit their own statement and any evidence they have against you.
The judge assigned to the case will read both statements and examine all the evidence that was submitted. They may also review statements from witnesses, if there are any.
The judge will use all the submitted information to decide if you are guilty, not guilty, or guilty of a crime different from the one you were originally cited for. You will receive notice in the mail informing you of the judge’s decision. The decision is also forwarded to the DMV as soon as it is made.
If you are found guilty, the court will keep any money you paid for bail, and the DMV will issue points for your license. If you are found not guilty, the court will refund your bail payment and you will receive no points.
If you are not satisfied with the judge’s decision, you can appeal it within 20 days after receiving your notice in the mail. If you choose to appeal, you will be granted a new trial, but required to attend in person to make your case to the judge.
How Do You Request a Trial by Written Declaration?
If you’ve received a traffic ticket and you want to request a trial by written declaration, follow the steps below.
Step 1: Carefully Read the Instructions for Your Notice or Court
The court handling your ticket may have specific instructions for how you need to request a trial by written declaration. You should be able to find these instructions on your ticket or the court notice you received. You can also look them up online, but make sure you’re looking at the website specific to the court that will handle the ticket.
Step 2: Fill Out the Appropriate Forms
Requesting a trial by written declaration in California requires filling out Form TR-205. There may be more forms specific to the court handling your ticket.
Form TR-205 includes basic information like your name, address, and contact information. You must also include a statement of facts about your case. You can attach your evidence to the form. Evidence can include photos, videos, statements from witnesses, and anything else that helps prove you did not commit the violation you were charged with.
Step 3: Pay Your Bail
In order to request a trial by written declaration rather than appear in person in court, you must pay all fines associated with your ticket ahead of time as bail. These must be paid by the due date on the ticket, or your request may be denied.
Step 4: Make a Copy of All Your Forms and Other Written Materials
Make a copy of all your forms and written materials to keep for your own records.
Step 5: Submit Your Forms, Statement, and Evidence By the Due Date
Submit the originals (not the copies) of all your forms, written statements, evidence, and other materials. Make sure you do this by the due date on your ticket, or your request for a trial by written declaration may be denied.
In many cases, you can submit this information online through the court’s website or a special portal. Sometimes, you may be required to drop off forms and other written materials in person at the courthouse. Refer to the instructions you looked up in Step 1, and follow them very carefully. Improperly submitting your materials could result in your request being denied.
Step 6: Wait for the Court’s Decision
When you submit your materials, the court will request that the officer who issued your ticket do the same. Once the court receives both sets of statements, documents, and evidence, the judge assigned to your case will examine it all and make a decision.
You will be given a date by which the judge must decide your case. You will receive their judgment by mail.
Step 7: Request a New Trial if You Are Not Satisfied with the Decision
If the judge finds you guilty and you do not agree with their decision, you can request a new trial, called “trial de novo.” This must be done within 20 days of receiving the original judgment.
If you request trial de novo, you and all other parties will be required to appear in person in court to readjudicate. The trial will start over from the beginning, and you will have a chance to present your evidence to the judge in person. You may also have an attorney represent you.
Pros and Cons of a Trial by Written Declaration
Pursuing a trial by written declaration has both upsides and downsides. Here are some you should consider when choosing whether trial by dec is the right way to fight your California traffic ticket.
Pros of Trial by Written Declaration
- Convenience. Trial by dec doesn’t require you to travel to where your court is located, or spend time appearing there on your court date.
- You have a right to a second trial if needed. If your trial by written declaration doesn’t go the way you want it to, you can request a trial de novo and start over.
Cons of Trial by Written Declaration
- Bail is due before your case is decided. With a normal court trial, you don’t have to pay fines until after you’ve been found guilty. With a trial by dec, you must pay all your fines ahead of time, and wait for a refund if you’re found not guilty.
- Certain Constitutional rights get waived. With a trial by dec, you agree to waive your right to confront and cross-examine any witnesses who testify against you.
- A guilty ruling can affect your license. If you’re found guilty in a trial by dec, the result is sent to the DMV right away. Even though you have a right to contest the decision in a new trial, that process can take months, during which time any points from your infraction will stay on your driving record.
8 Trial By Written Declaration Tips
Before you write your statement of facts for your trial by dec, check out these tips for writing a declaration that will clearly present your case and give you the best chance of fighting your ticket.
1. Submit Everything On Time
Your ticket will have a date by which fines must be paid and documents for a request for trial by written declaration must be submitted. Do not miss this date. Judges can be sticklers, and if you submit your documents too late, chances are higher that your request will be denied and you’ll be found guilty by default.
2. Don’t Admit Guilt
If your defense is that you had a good reason for breaking the law, don’t use it. The judge’s job isn’t to determine whether you were justified; it’s to find you either guilty or not guilty of breaking the law related to the violation with which you were charged. Admitting you broke the law for any reason is likely to cause the judge to find you guilty.
3. Don’t Make Excuses
Similarly, don’t make any excuses for your actions. Stick with only the facts when writing your declaration.
4. Write an Original Declaration
While you can find templates and examples of written declarations online, avoid using them. Handcraft your argument using facts and evidence that are specific to your case.
5. Back Yourself Up with Proof
For every assertion you make, try to find evidence to back it up. If you had a passenger with you when you received the ticket, have them write a witness statement. If you have any photos or videos that help show that you didn’t break the law, use them to build your case.
6. Demand the Officer Meets the Burden of Proof
In the American justice system, we are innocent until proven guilty, and in cases of contested traffic violations, the officer who issued the ticket is responsible to prove that you are guilty. Demand that the officer submit enough evidence to meet the burden of proof, beyond a reasonable doubt. If they have no evidence and the case is simply your word against an officer’s, you may be found not guilty.
7. Keep Your Statement Short
Make short, informative sentences. Stay on topic. Don’t ramble or include unnecessary information.
8. Ask for Traffic School
If your infraction is eligible for traffic school, be sure to ask the judge, if you are found guilty, to approve traffic school. This can be included at the end of your statement.
The judge won’t automatically approve traffic school, which can help mask a point from your license in California. If you are found guilty in your trial by written declaration, traffic school can help avoid an insurance increase for having the violation on your driving record.
Whether you decide to fight your ticket with a written declaration, or by appearing in court, knowledge is power. These tips will help give you the best possible chance of successfully fighting a ticket. Good luck!