Trial by Written Declaration

Dealing with a traffic ticket in California can often feel overwhelming, but what if there was a hassle-free way to challenge it without physically stepping foot in a courtroom? Welcome to the world of Trial by Written Declaration, a convenient and lesser-known option for contesting traffic citations right from the comfort of your home.

Our comprehensive guide will unveil the process, benefits, and strategic tips to help you confidently navigate this system. Ready to turn your traffic ticket woes into a winnable battle? Let’s dive into the details!

What is a Trial by Written Declaration?

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 a Trial by Written Declaration in California?

Navigating the eligibility for a Trial by Written Declaration is crucial in understanding if this option is right for you. Generally, this option is available to anyone charged with a traffic infraction under California’s vehicle code. However, it’s important to note the exclusions:

  1. Specific Exclusions: If your charge involves alcohol or drug-related offenses, you’re not eligible for this process. These more serious charges often require mandatory court appearances, reflecting their severity.
  2. Time-Sensitive Requirements: Your eligibility also depends on the timeliness of your request. You must opt for a Trial by Written Declaration before the due date to address your ticket has passed. Late requests are typically not entertained, emphasizing the need for prompt action.
  3. Non-Eligible Violations: Besides alcohol or drug-related offenses, certain other violations might also necessitate a court appearance. These can include severe traffic offenses or charges with potential criminal implications.

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.

Trial By Written Declaration Speeding Ticket Example

Honorable Judge,

I am writing to respectfully contest the speeding citation issued to me on [Date]. This letter serves as my not guilty plea and request for a Trial by Written Declaration.

On the mentioned date, I was driving on [Road/Highway Name] heading [Direction], maintaining a steady pace with the flow of traffic. The citation states a violation of California Vehicle Code Section [Section Number], alleging my speed exceeded the legal limit. However, I am confident that my speed was within the limit, as I was closely monitoring my speedometer, especially since [provide any relevant circumstances, such as road conditions, traffic flow, or signage].

In the event that my request for dismissal is not granted, and should I be found eligible, I would like to request the option to enroll in a traffic school to prevent points from affecting my driving record.

I affirm under penalty of perjury that the above statement is accurate and truthful to the best of my knowledge.

Thank you for considering my request.

[Your Name]

What Happens in a Trial by Written Declaration?

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 present your case to the judge.

Trial By Written Declaration Success Rate

The court system does not track any metrics, such as the success rate of trial by written declaration. Any external data presented by ticket clinics is not factually accurate.

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.

How Do You Request a Trial by Written Declaration?

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. However, some courts in California no longer require you to pay your bail to request a trial by written declaration. Please follow the instructions stated on your court’s website.

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

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

8 Tips for Writing Your Declaration

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 for proving 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!

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