San Diego Traffic Court – What To Expect

San Diego Traffic Court

If you have just been issued a traffic ticket, you’re probably experiencing a range of feelings. Although countless tickets are issued every day, you may understandably be upset and perhaps embarrassed at being pulled over and cited. This is especially true if you believe you did nothing wrong, and the ticket was unjustified. For many, there may be a tendency to want to put the incident in the rearview mirror, pay the fine and forget it. But before you go that route, you should consider the consequences, and decide whether it may be worth a visit to the San Diego Traffic Court to fight your ticket.

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Contesting Serious Traffic Violation Charges

The first consideration is to be realistic about the violation you have been charged with. If you were cited for something like reckless driving or DUI with potential jail time upon a conviction, you should almost certainly prepare to fight the charges, and it will probably be necessary to retain experienced legal counsel to represent you. Too much is at stake to at least not try for an acquittal or at least a plea to a lesser charge.

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Common Moving Violation Penalties

More typically, you are looking at something like a speeding ticket, running a red light or stop sign or illegal turn, and although jail is not in the picture, you should be aware of your potential exposure. If you plead guilty or respond by paying the fine indicated on the courtesy notice that is mailed to you, you will pay the maximum fine allowed by law for the particular offense you were charged, and a conviction will go on your DMV record in the form of points.

How The “Point System” Works In San Diego Traffic Court

A conviction for a moving violation, that is, a violation of the law committed by the driver of a motor vehicle while the vehicle is in motion, typically results in one point. However, some, such as driving on a suspended license for example, are assessed two points. Non-moving violations, like fix-it tickets and parking tickets, in contrast, carry no point assessment penalty.

Accumulating too many points can result in a suspension or revocation of your license according to the following schedule:

  • Four points in a 12-month period
  • Six points in a 24-month period
  • Eight points in a 36-month period

In addition, you will be assessed a monetary fine. The fine itself is not particularly steep, but the California legislature has added penalty assessments and fees to the base fine to fund specific state activities. For example, a base fine on a simple moving violation may be as low as $35, but you likely will end up paying at least $238 for the ticket.

Although not imposed by law, your insurance rates will almost certainly increase, and while every company is different, estimates that a first speeding ticket can raise the premium between 10 -15 percent based on how much over the speed limit you were going.

The Option of Traffic School

Generally speaking, you may go to traffic school if:

  • You have a valid driver’s license
  • You were cited for a moving violation
  • You have not gone to traffic school for a ticket you received with the last 18 months
  • You receive judicial approval

If you opt for traffic school and are approved, you nonetheless must pay the court the full fine plus an administrative fee plus a fee to the traffic school. However, successfully completing the program renders the point(s) on your record as confidential, and your insurance company will not learn of the violation. In San Diego County, you are able to take traffic school every 2 years in order to reduce points on your driving record.

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What to Expect if You Go to San Diego Traffic Court

Prepare to spend at least a half a day at the court, but it could take longer. When your case is called, you need to approach the front of the courtroom, have any witnesses you will have testify accompany you and sit at a designated table before the judge. Typically, the judge or the judge’s clerk will recite the bare facts of the case, identifying the Vehicle Code section you were cited for and your alleged conduct.

Prior to the prosecution proceeding with its case, you may bring any last minute motions you may deem relevant. For instance, if an important witness is not present, you may want to consider moving for a continuance.

Although both the prosecution and you as the defense are entitled to make an opening statement, San Diego traffic court judges often prefer a streamlined procedure and seek to limit them. If you do make an opening statement, you may do so at the beginning of the prosecution’s case or reserve your opening statement until the beginning of your defense.

The officer who cited you for the ticket will in most cases be the sole witness for the prosecution, and he or she will recite the facts of what occurred and will explain why those facts led to issuing the ticket. You will have an opportunity to cross-examine the officer in an effort to undermine the direct testimony and elicit information favorable to your version of the facts.

At the conclusion of the prosecution’s case, you will testify and have the option to call witnesses as well. Any evidence, such as photographs or diagrams may be entered into evidence during your presentation. The prosecutor will be offered the opportunity to cross-examine each individual who testified for you.

Your Chances for Success

To have any chance to prevail during your San Diego traffic court appearance, you are going to have to study the relevant law. The first step is to break the law down into is individual elements; to be convicted, each element must be proved. For example, if the violation involves driving in a “residential” district, but you can show that the area you were driving in was a commercial district, you may have a viable defense.

Additionally, you should consider other defenses that may present a challenge to the facts alleged by the police officer. Some viable defenses you may be able to argue include:

  • The officer could not have seen what was alleged due to some visual obstruction
  • The officer erroneously cited you when in fact another driver in a different car was responsible
  • The equipment the officer used was faulty or in disrepair

Your ability to prevail will depend on a thorough analysis of the law and the facts of your case, but no matter what the circumstances, there are some approaches that you should never take that are almost certainly sure to result in a negative outcome.

What to Avoid

It is not a valid legal argument to explain that you simply weren’t aware of the law; you have probably heard the saying, “Ignorance is no excuse,” and it’s not. Nor should you complain that there were other drivers doing the same as you, but the officer selectively picked you out. Maybe so, but again, that argument won’t fly. Similarly, it probably won’t be effective if you recount some personal problem in your life that distracted you. Judges have heard all the stories before. And it definitely won’t work if you claim the officer is lying; if it comes down to your word against the officer’s, you’re in trouble.

Should You Retain Counsel?

It really depends on the circumstances. As indicated previously, if the charges are serious, the answer is absolutely yes. And if you have a prior record where you may lose your license or risk losing your insurance, you should definitely consider doing so. At the very least, an experienced San Diego traffic court lawyer can assess your case and provide potential options you may have. Hiring an attorney can actually save you money as well, as the attorney may be able to appear in court on your behalf. By showing up to court yourself, you may have to take an unpaid day off of work, so the cost of an attorney is greatly offset. Ultimately, when it comes to traffic court, the choice on whether you want to pay for an attorney or not is up to you.

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