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What are California Traffic Court Records?
California traffic court records are the official documentation of the proceedings of the Traffic Divisions of California Superior Courts. These records include traffic citations issued by law enforcement officers and documents generated before, during, and at the conclusion of cases in the state’s Traffic Courts.
Getting a Traffic Ticket in California
When issuing a citation to an offending motorist, a California law enforcement officer will ask the operator of the vehicle for his/her driver’s license, car’s registration, and proof of insurance. Depending on the offense and the prevailing conditions, the officer may also ask the motorist to step out of the vehicle before writing a ticket. The ticket or “Notice to Appear” is a form that lists the infractions and/or misdemeanors prompting the citation.
The officer then asks the ticketed motorists to sign the form. Signing this document is a step required by law and serves as a confirmation to appear in Traffic Court. It does not take away your right to contest the ticket and is not an admission of guilt. California law empowers the officer to arrest a ticketed motorist that refuses to sign his/her citation.
Publicly available records are accessible from some third-party websites. These websites offer the benefit of not being limited by geographical record availability and can often serve as a starting point when researching specific or multiple records. To find a record using the search engines on these sites, interested parties must provide:
- The name of someone involved providing it is a not a juvenile
- The assumed location of the record in question such as a city, county, or state name
Third party sites are not government sponsored websites, and record availability may differ from official channels.
Types of Traffic Tickets Issued in California
In California, law enforcement officers issue traffic tickets for these three types of citations:
- Parking violations
- Traffic infractions
- Traffic misdemeanors
In California, parking tickets are not filed with the court and individuals with parking tickets do not have to appear in Traffic Court unless they find the resolution of the ticket unacceptable. A California parking ticket shows the traffic fine, an amount payable to the parking agency where the violation occurred. This amount increases the longer you wait to pay the ticket. Failure to pay a parking ticket could result in the inability to renew your vehicle’s registration. To contest this ticket, contact the parking agency. If you are unsatisfied with the agency’s decision, you may then head to Traffic Court.
Traffic infractions include speeding, running a red light, driving with an expired license, and driving a vehicle with broken equipment. The citation issued for such offenses includes a notice to appear in court. You may pay the ticket to avoid going to court. Note that the owner of a vehicle can also get a traffic ticket in California even when someone else is operating their vehicle. Such “owner responsibility” tickets are for correctable violations such as broken turn signals. California also issues photo citations. These are photos taken by street cameras of traffic infractions committed at red lights and railroad crossings. Owner responsibility and photo citations are mailed to culpable individuals.
Traffic misdemeanor tickets cover more serious traffic crimes like reckless driving, driving without a license, and driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs (DUI). Some misdemeanors and felonies such as DUIs and vehicular manslaughter are grounds for arrests and may be tried in Criminal Court and punished by considerable jail time.
Can You Get Traffic Ticket Riding an Electric Scooter in California?
Yes. The increasing popularity of dockless electric scooters in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Santa Monica, and other California cities is prompting state legislators to review existing traffic laws with regards to motorized scooters. Law enforcement agencies also report sharp increases in the number of tickets issued to riders of motorized scooters.
While California legislators debate the finer points of a Motorized Scooter bill introduced in February 2018, these vehicles are currently legal in the state. Current laws provide certain scooter restrictions in California. To operate an electric scooter legally in the state, you:
- Must have a valid driver’s license or a learner’s permit
- Must wear a US Department of Transport (DOT)-compliant helmet
- Must not be a passenger on the scooter or take on a passenger
- Must not ride the scooter faster than 15 mph
- Must not ride the scooter on a road with a speed limit over 25 mph unless it has a bike lane to ride the scooter
- Must not ride the scooter at night unless it has appropriate lighting equipment including a headlight visible from the front and sides, and reflectors
- Must not ride or park the scooter on the sidewalk
Riding on sidewalks accounts for more than half of the tickets issued for electric scooter riders in California.
What to Do When You Get a Traffic Ticket in California
There are four ways to respond to a California traffic ticket. You can:
- Pay the fine
- Request an extension
- Opt for traffic school
- Contest the ticket in court
Paying a traffic ticket is an admission of guilt for the violation on the form. It also means you are waiving your right to challenge the ticket in court. Doing this may lead to the suspension of your driving license depending on your previous driving record. It may also increase your auto insurance rates. However, it helps you avoid going to court.
If you are currently unable to pay your traffic ticket, you may request an extension. An extension is only possible if requested before the traffic ticket due date. The court may also grant an extension on traffic ticket payment plan, court date, and traffic school completion date.
Attending a traffic school can help keep a traffic ticket off your DMV (Department of Motor Vehicles) record. However, this option is only available if you are eligible. To be eligible for traffic school in California, you must:
- Have a citation for a moving violation
- Not have a DUI violation
- Not have a violation that qualifies for more than one point with the DMV
- Not be driving a commercial vehicle or transporting hazardous materials
- Not have attended a traffic school for a prior violation within the last 18 months
- Not have exceeded 25 mph over the speed limit if you have a speeding citation
Note that attending a traffic school also means you are paying the ticket. The cost of the traffic school includes the amount on your ticket.
California provides two options for contesting a traffic ticket in court. You can request an arraignment and get a hearing date. Alternatively, you can request trial by written declaration. This allows you to challenge your citation in writing. You must pay a bail deposit to proceed with trial by written declaration.
If the Traffic Court does not find you guilty, the bail amount will be refunded. If the court finds you guilty, the total amount for the traffic ticket and other penalties and fees will be taken from the bail amount and the balance refunded. If the bail deposit does not cover this total, the court will give you a due date to pay the balance. To be eligible for trial by written declaration, you must:
- Have a traffic ticket for infraction violation
- Have a ticket that is not past its due date
- Not have a ticket for DUI or a violation that requires mandatory court appearance
How Do I Look Up My Traffic Tickets?
In California, the Traffic Division of the Superior Court handles traffic tickets. To look up a traffic ticket, visit the website of the Superior Court of California in the county where the ticket was issued. Use the Find Your Court page to find the contact information of all county Superior Courts in California. The webpage also provides direct links to the traffic sections of their websites.
Navigate to the traffic page of the county court website you need and use its search tools to look up traffic tickets. Note that it may take up to 30 days for citations to transfer between law enforcement agencies and courts. Most county court websites allow the public to search by citation/ticket number, driver’s license, and case number when accessing information about traffic tickets online.
How Do I Pay a Traffic Ticket in California?
The Traffic Divisions of California Superior Courts provide multiple ways to pay traffic tickets. The most common methods are:
- In person
- By phone
- By mail
To pay online, look for the link to the online payment portal on the same website where you looked up your traffic ticket. Some counties also allow installment payments online for those that qualify for payment plans. Credit/debit cards are accepted for online payments. Paying online usually attracts an additional processing/convenience fee.
When paying for a traffic ticket in person, visit any of the locations of the Traffic Division of the Superior Court in that county. Where payment by phone is available, you can find the number to call on the website of the county’s Traffic Court. Credit/debit cards are used for phone payments. Phone payment option is convenient and usually available at all times.
The webpage of the Traffic Court/Division on a California Superior Court website may also contain a mailing address where you can send your traffic ticket payment. This is usually the mailing address of payment processor or accounts department of the court. Most counties only accept checks and money orders for paying for tickets by mail while a few also accept credit card authorization forms.
How Do You Get a Traffic Ticket Extension?
California allows ticketed motorists to request to extend their:
- Court arraignment dates
- Traffic school completion dates
- Payment plans for ticket fines/bail forfeiture
Acceptable ways of applying for these extensions vary from county to county. Similarly, extension terms vary between counties. In most California counties, the court clerk can grant extensions for non-delinquent individuals charged with traffic infractions. Requests for extensions from non-qualifying individuals and violations must be presented to a Traffic Court judge.
To apply for a traffic ticket extension, visit or call the court clerk’s office. Some California counties also accept requests online and by phone. Check the Traffic Court section of a county’s Superior Court website to find contact details for the court clerk.
Contesting a California Traffic Ticket
Contest a ticket in Traffic Court only if you believe you have not committed a traffic violation and/or can prove you were wrongly issued a traffic ticket. While you do not have to hire an attorney for a Traffic Court case, having an attorney can help you understand the state’s traffic laws and save you time and money during the trial.
To fight a traffic ticket, first appear in Traffic Court and plead not guilty to the court clerk or reserve a date to see the judge. Some counties also allow motorists to write the court to plead not guilty. You may also elect for trial by written declaration by providing the court with a written statement rather than appearing in person. You need to submit a request form before electing for trial by written declaration. One benefit of this option is that you can seek a new trial (now, in person) if you lose a trial by written declaration.
All of these options require that you post the bail amount on your Courtesy Violation Information Notice (a document mailed to your address 2 – 3 weeks after getting a ticket).
What to Expect in Traffic Court in California?
Your first appearance in Traffic Court will be an arraignment. The law enforcement officer who issued the citation will not be present at this session. However, he/she will be subpoenaed to appear during the hearing. At the arraignment, the judge will read out the charges, tell you your rights, and ask for your plea. You can plead guilty, not guilty, or no contest. The judge will then set a date for the next hearing.
California does not hold jury trials for cases involving traffic infractions. You also have the right to request discovery before the commencement of the trial. Discovery will give you access to the notes of the law enforcement officers who issued the ticket and other documentations that may be helpful to your case.
During the trial, the officer will state the reasons for giving you the ticket. The prosecutor may also subpoena other witnesses to appear and testify. You, or your lawyer, can also do the same. Besides presenting witnesses, the court also expects you, or your lawyer, to present evidence, argue the law, and cross-examine the officer that issued the ticket as well as witnesses.
At the trial, you and your witnesses must step to the counsel table when the court calls your case. The officer will give his/her testimony first and then the court will allow you to question the officer. The prosecutor may call you to the stand, but you do not have to testify. California upholds the defendant’s right to remain silent and not testify in their own case.
How to Prepare for Traffic Court in California
First, understand the charges brought against you. It will be helpful to read the California Vehicle Code and know more about the violations listed on your ticket. Next, prepare your defense. To mount an effective defense, try to recollect what you told the officer and determine what you admitted to while getting the ticket.
While requesting discovery, ask for the officer’s notes. These will contain details about how he or she determined you committed a traffic violation. For example, for speeding violations, the officer’s notes will provide information about the equipment used to measure your vehicle’s speed. By studying the instruction manual for the equipment, you will learn the limitations of the technology in order to contest the accuracy of the officer’s speed readings.
Along with preparing a list of questions to ask the officer and witnesses presented by the prosecutor, you should also prepare evidence you want to bring before the court. These could be written documents and photos taken at the location of the alleged traffic violation.
You should also prepare your own witnesses. These are usually people in your vehicle and/or in the vicinity when you were pulled over or ticketed. You may ask for written affidavits from such witnesses or ask the court clerk to subpoena them.
Lastly, it helps to appear in court in a formal attire. Some courts regard casual attires as inappropriate and a judge may refuse to hear your case if he/she deemed that you are dressed inappropriately. You must also take note to address the judge as “Your Honor” and to maintain a professional demeanor while in court. Take note of other court rules and follow them closely. Arrive in court early and make sure you have everything you need before the hearing commences.
How to Postpone a Traffic Court Date in California
California allows ticketed motorists to postpone their arraignment dates in person and by phone. Some county Superior Court also accept requests for continuance and extension online or by mail. Find the contact information for the court clerk on the website of the county’s Superior Court. The clerk may only grant extensions if you submit the request some days before the actual court date.
To postpone a trial date, you must appear before the judge with this request before the trial date. You may make an appointment to see the judge online, in person, and by phone.
What Happens If You Miss a Traffic Court Date in California?
If you miss a court date, it is important to ascertain the status of your case. You may find the case information online on the Case Access portal used by the county’s Superior Court. Alternatively, visit or call the court for this information. Depending on the traffic violation, the court may have a warrant out for your arrest. You may also be charged with a court violation for failure to appear in court. This may carry an additional fine. If the court determines the case in your absence, you may forfeit your bail money for failing to be present in court.