What Happens When You Get a Traffic Ticket?
The officer will ask for your driver’s license, your car’s registration, and your proof of insurance and may ask you to step outside your car. If the officer charges you with a violation, he or she will present a “Notice to Appear” listing the charges and ask you to sign the form. Signing the “ticket” is not an admission of guilt but is a promise to appear in the listed court no later than the listed date. If you refuse to sign the ticket the officer is required by law to take you into custody and present you before a judge for arraignment on the charges.
Types of Citations
When an officer gives you a ticket, it is for one of three possible kinds of citations:
1. Parking tickets
2. Infraction traffic tickets
3. Misdemeanor traffic tickets
Options After Getting a Traffic Ticket (for Infractions)
When you get a traffic ticket, you must act before the due date on your “Notice to Appear” runs out. As of May 1, 2017 all courts are required to mail a reminder notice to you that explains your options. You are still responsible for acting before the date listed in your “Notice to Appear.” Failure to appear at court or take action as instructed on your ticket or notices from the court may result in suspension of your license, and the court can charge you with a misdemeanor or infraction and issue a warrant for your arrest. Your failure to appear may also result in other fines or assessments.
Generally, when you get a traffic ticket, you can:
Plead guilty and pay the traffic fine. You may plead guilty and pay the fine, also referred to as “bail.” You may send your payment and a copy of the citation or the reminder notice to the courthouse. If your citation includes correctable violations, such as expired registration, be sure to include the proof of correction. If it has not been corrected, you must appear in court to determine the proper fine amount.
When the court receives your payment, your case will be closed.You may also contact the court to find out the amount of your fine. All courts have websites that include information about traffic tickets, including information about how to pay traffic fines. Some courts allow online payment.
Once you have paid your fine, the violation will show up as a conviction on your Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) record. You will get points on your driving record, and your car insurance company may ask you to pay more for insurance or they may cancel your policy and tell you to find insurance elsewhere. Points can stay on your record for three to seven years. If you are unable to pay the full amount for the ticket due to financial hardship, when you appear in court you may ask the court to consider your ability to pay and reduce the amount ordered for the conviction, or you may request community service or a payment plan.
Pay to go to traffic school (as long as you are eligible to go to traffic school). The court can tell you what you need to do to be able to go to traffic school. If this is your first ticket and the court lets you go to traffic school, you should not get any points on your record. If you are unable to pay the full amount for the ticket due to financial hardship, if you appear in court you may ask the court to consider your inability to pay and reduce the fee for traffic school for the eligible offenses.
Provide proof of correction if you got a traffic ticket for a “Correctable Violation,” which is something you can fix, like broken equipment. Read the Correctable Violations (“Fix-It” Tickets) section to learn more.
Appear at court. You can appear at court on the date that is on the ticket or contact the court prior to the appearance date on the traffic ticket and request any of the following:
you can request an arraignment to enter your plea where you may:
tell the court you want to plead guilty, be notified of the fine amount, and discuss how to pay your fine or ask that the court consider your ability to pay and consider a reduction, approve community service, or be placed on a payment plan, or
you can plead “no contest” or “not guilty” and ask for a trial date;
2. you can also ask the court to have your matter decided by trial by written declaration, which requires that you post the full bail amount. See the section below on Traffic Trials for more information. In some other circumstances, when you want to set a trial date without appearing first at arraignment you may have to post bail (Veh. Code, § 40519). If you elect a trial by declaration, you will also be required to post bail (Veh. Code, § 40902).
Ask for a trial if you believe you are not guilty.
On the date on your ticket or “Notice to Appear,” or other date provided in a reminder notice, you must appear and ask the court for a trial. You may also call the court in advance of these dates to make this request. You can ask for:
A court trial by a judicial officer; or
A trial by mail (also called a “trial by written declaration”).