California Traffic Ticket Information

California is known for its surfers, shores, and sunshine. At least, as far as tourists are concerned. For the locals, it's also known for its traffic tickets. Every year, California writes more speeding tickets than any other state in the country. Those tickets have real and severe consequences for anybody who can't get them dismissed.

A common misconception is that most traffic tickets are speeding tickets. While it's true that California writes hundreds of thousands of speeding tickets, they only make up around 19% of all traffic tickets in the state.

Count the other ones and California writes more than four million traffic tickets each year. And let's not forget the millions of parking tickets that local jurisdictions just love to issue.

In other words, you have a one in ten chance of getting a traffic ticket every year. On top of that, roughly 70% of those tickets are considered criminal offenses. California issues 2.8 million criminal traffic tickets each year.

Look at it another way and there's a 70% chance that any ticket you get might land you in prison. But that's only if the court hands you a conviction. Given these odds, it's best to have as much information on California traffic tickets as possible.

That's where WinIt comes in.

Table of Contents

Civil Court

Civil court is where judges handle any kind of case other than criminal cases. Whenever anybody has a complaint for damages amounting to over $20, the Seventh Amendment lets them have a full-blown jury trial. But that doesn't apply to tickets.

While traffic, parking, and camera tickets are technically civil cases, they don't violate any federal mandates. Since they're almost exclusively handled at the local level, you don't get a jury trial for these civil cases. Such tickets are called traffic infractions. They're non-criminal violations of the California Vehicle Code (CVC).

Instead, you'll likely have only a few minutes to argue your case against an expert police officer who has been doing this for their entire career. On the bright side, no civil charges can send you to prison.

Criminal Court

Criminal court is where you'll go when a police officer accuses you of a misdemeanor or felony violation. Any time a charge might send you to prison, that becomes a criminal case. Like we said earlier, 70% of traffic tickets in California are criminal cases. That's because the government classifies so many traffic violations as misdemeanors.

Misdemeanors are the middle range of wrongdoing. Traffic infractions are pretty bad, misdemeanors are worse, and felonies are absolutely terrible. In California, there is no such thing as a felony traffic ticket. That said, you might still be liable for civil penalties.

California Parking Tickets

California parking tickets are just your run-of-the-mill tickets. They're the same in California as they are in most of the rest of the country, except for a few differences. California's parking violations vary from city to city, but mostly cover parking, standing, and idling.

Parking tickets are non-moving violations. That means that they occur when the vehicle is not in motion. That makes them different from moving violations for obvious reasons. Moving violations also tend to have far more severe consequences.

For example, speeding to run away from the police is a moving violation. As you might expect, this has worse consequences than parking by a fire hydrant.

If you can't afford to pay your parking ticket, certain jurisdictions can help you out. LA, for one, uses a Community Assistance Parking Program (CAPP) to help people pay their parking fines. Of course, the best way to avoid fines is by getting your ticket dismissed through the WinIt app.

California Traffic Tickets

Since there are no felony tickets in California, all that's left are misdemeanors and infractions. Still, misdemeanors and infractions can have steep penalties, add points to your license, and worse.

The government handles traffic infractions in the traffic division of local and/or county courthouses. That's where you'll go when you want to fight your ticket, pay in person, etc. There, you can meet with your attorney, obtain evidence about your case, and otherwise manage your ticket.

The government handles misdemeanors in criminal court. That said, these misdemeanor tickets do sometimes run through the traffic division. It depends on the setup of the specific court in that jurisdiction.

All California traffic tickets go through the California court system in one way or another. Whether misdemeanor or infraction, the ticket is going to the court. If you pay your ticket, the court will oversee its collection. If you fight your ticket, the court will oversee the dispute. Even tickets that never go to court will still involve the judges or attorneys at that courthouse.

At the end of the day, California traffic tickets come down to two simple questions:

  1. Where did the violation take place?
  2. What violation was it?

NOTE: California law also allows for federal officers to write "fed tickets" for violations occurring on federal property. Read more here.

How Much a Traffic Ticket Costs in California

Here it comes, the answer to the dreaded question of how much does a traffic ticket cost. Some tickets can cost you thousands of dollars and several years, others won't cost you anything at all. Of course, most tickets will still cost you a pretty penny. Unless you have a spare couple hundred dollars laying around, you should consider fighting those tickets. More on that later.

On the bright side, a few traffic tickets in California are what we call "fix-it" tickets. Fix-it tickets only cost $25 plus the price you pay to fix the relevant equipment. For example, you might get a traffic ticket for having broken tail lights. After you pay a mechanic/inspector to fix them, you can mail proof of correction and $25 to the court and they will dismiss your ticket.

For most tickets, however, the government wants its money. California is heavily reliant on traffic ticket fines to meet its budget. For example 99.1% of the revenue for the state's Local Public Prosecutors and Public Defenders Training Fund in fiscal year 2017 came from traffic tickets.

Bail

Unlike other states, California traffic tickets call their base cost "bail" rather than a fine. Semantics aside, you can call these fines/bails whatever term you like. We prefer to call them "awful."

The bail's base amount is spelled out in the CVC. However, courts also take into account your personal situation when determining your bail. If you're a repeat offender, for example, your punishment is going to be more severe.

Certain jurisdictions have set up ways to help low-income households pay off these fines. If you got your ticket in Sacramento County, the court might agree to community service rather than bail. The Sacramento County Sheriff's Department handles these placements through its Alternative Sentencing Program.

Surcharges

The state of California applies a 20% criminal surcharge to all applicable criminal traffic tickets. If you are convicted of an applicable misdemeanor traffic violation, you might have to pay the base bail amount plus an additional 20%.

Fees

There is a long list of fees for California traffic tickets. Fortunately, these fees don't always apply at the same time. Unfortunately, you're almost always going to get at least one. If you get a $197 traffic ticket conviction on a misdemeanor offense, you could end up paying $236.40 before any additional fees.

The chart below shows the most common fees in California's traffic court system:

TitleCostDescription
Penalty AssessmentVaries*Applies to almost every ticket.
Night Court Assessment Fee$1.00Applies in any jurisdiction that operates a night court. Not applicable to parking tickets.
DMV History FeeUp tp $10Applicable whenever the court so chooses.
Court Security Fee$40Applicable for most traffic tickets.
Criminal Conviction Assessment$30 (misdemeanor)$35 (infraction)Applicable any time you are convicted of a traffic ticket.
Citation Processing Fee$10Applicable any time you receive a ticket.
Emergency Air Medical Transportation Act Fee$4.00Applicable when in a county that has adopted regulations pursuant to GC §76000.10.
Parking Violation Court Processing Fee$3.00Applicable to most parking tickets.
DMV Traffic Violator School Completion Certificate Fee$3.00Applicable upon completion of traffic violator school.

*See: PC §1464, GC §76100, GC §76101, GC §76102, GC 76104, GC §70372.(a), GC §76104.6, GC §76104.7, and GC §70372(a).

Penalties

In addition to bail, surcharges, and fees, a traffic ticket might also include other non-monetary penalties. Sometimes, the court can give you these penalties without any of the previous costs, but only in rare cases.

  • License Suspension

When your license is suspended, it no longer counts as a valid license. If a police officer catches you driving on a suspended license, they may write you a ticket costing nearly $1,000. You can also go to prison for that violation.

There are two kinds of license suspensions in California: definite and indefinite. They work pretty much how you might expect them to. Definite suspensions last for a definite period of time. Indefinite suspensions last for an indefinite period of time. The only way to lift a suspension is to satisfy the requirements of the court.

For definite suspensions, that means waiting until the time period has finished. For indefinite suspensions, that could mean any number of things. For example, your license may be suspended upon failure to appear in court. The only way to get it back would be to appear in court.

  • License Revocation

License revocations are almost identical to license suspensions, except you don't get back your license at the end of the revocation period. In fact, you can almost never get back a revoked license. After a court has revoked your license, the only way to get back your driving privilege is to get an entirely new driver license.

Examples of crimes that can lead to the revocation of your license are as follows: having a mental illness, committing acts of road rage, and being diagnosed with a drug or alcohol addiction.

  • Jail Time

Any criminal traffic violation has the potential to send you to prison. Granted, not many cases go that way. For the most part, judges decide to stick with monetary punishments in all but the most severe cases. That's to reduce the strain on the state's penitentiary system and also to keep the money coming into the budget office's coffers.

If the state were to dole out jail time to everybody convicted of a criminal traffic violation for a single year, the state's prison population would increase 10-fold. Nearly a million new inmates would find their way into the system.

  • Points

Traffic ticket points are one of the main worries with traffic tickets in any state. Not only can they get your license suspended or revoked, they can also increase your insurance premiums. Whereas a traffic ticket might cost all-in-all around $400, the increased insurance premiums could cost several thousand dollars over the next few years.

California's Traffic Ticket Point System

Like many other states, California uses its own point system. For the most serious violations, the state gives out up to two points. For simple infractions, it usually gives out no points. The consequences of these points depend on how many you get in a short period of time. The California DMV uses a point-based punishment system with four levels.

  1. Level One: Warning Letter

You will get a warning letter every time a court adds a major conviction to your driving record. You will also get one if you get two points in a 12-month period, four points in a 24-month period, or six points in a 26-month period.

  1. Level Two: Notice of Intent to Suspend

You will get a notice of intent to suspend if you earned three points in a 12-month period, five points in a 24-month period, or seven points in a 36-month period. This is when you really have to start worrying.

The court will send you this letter so that you have time to prepare a defense. If you choose to do nothing, the court will suspend your license. If you choose to dispute the suspension, you must contact the local Driver Safety Office.

  1. Level Three: Probation and/or Suspension

You reach level three when you get four points in a 12-month period, six points in a 24-month period, or eight points in a 36-month period. If you reach level three, you can have your license suspended for up to six months. You can also be sentenced to probation for up to a year.

  1. Level Four: Violation of Negligent Operator Treatment System Probation

If you gain any points or are convicted of any kind of traffic violation at all after level three, you will reach level four. You can also reach level four by failing to appear in court or to pay a ticket during probation. Your license will once again be suspended and you will most likely be arrested for violation of probation.

California Traffic School

Traffic tickets in California are some of the worst in the country. Fortunately, you don't always have to pay them. If you have a good enough lawyer or are yourself a legal expert, you might be able to get off with a traffic school certificate.

Let's say you're convicted of a lesser traffic infraction and this is your first traffic ticket on record. You may be able to convince the judge to defer judgement until after you've completed traffic school. At which time, the judge will dismiss the charges against you. Instead of paying a fine, you will only have to pay the price of the traffic school tuition and certificate fee.

Unfortunately, not everybody qualifies for traffic school. In order to qualify for the state of California's Traffic School program, you will need to satisfy the following requirements:

  1. Have a valid driver license.
  2. Not have been driving a commercial vehicle when you got the ticket.
  3. The ticket must be an infraction, not a criminal ticket.

You cannot, however, go to traffic school for any of the following offenses:

  1. Equipment violations.
  2. Non-moving violations (e.g., parking tickets).
  3. Criminal violations (e.g. misdemeanors).
  4. Violations with mandatory court appearances.
  5. Alcohol- or drug-related violations.
  6. Violations committed in a commercial vehicle.

Traffic school can prevent the ticket from ever going on your record. That makes it one of the best possible outcomes of traffic court.

California Traffic Court Information

Once again, it's important to remember the distinction between civil and criminal court. Civil court is where your traffic infractions, parking tickets, and camera tickets will go. Those tickets almost always go through the traffic division of whichever court has jurisdiction.

Criminal court is where criminal traffic tickets go. That includes misdemeanors and felonies.

Contact Information and Locations

There are more than 450 individual courthouses scattered all across the state. Each county, city, town, and village can have its own courtroom practices and procedures. That includes having individual contact information.

In order to know where to find the court that's handling your traffic ticket, check on the ticket itself. At the bottom of the slip, you should see a line marked "appearance date" and an address. The appearance date is the date of your hearing and the address is the location.

Once you have the address, you can look up the court online. That usually helps you find the phone number of the clerk or court administrator's office. Your attorney should know all of this information and might even have networking relationships that would speed the whole process along.

Additional Resources

There are countless resources available to help you through the California traffic ticket process. One of the best resources is the WinIt app, which does just about everything to fight your ticket. All you need to do is sit back and wait for your lawyer to talk to you about what needs to be done. Here are a few other helpful online resources:

  1. California's Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV).
  2. California's DMV's educational materials.
  3. These DMV publications.
  4. California's Highway Patrol.
  5. California's Office of Traffic Safety.
  6. This list of official traffic schools in California.
  7. This State Bar of California pamphlet.
  8. The California Vehicle Code (CVC)

California Traffic Ticket Process

California traffic courts run much like the rest of the country. But there are a few differences. Always be sure to talk to your attorney about court practices and procedures before making any decisions. Also keep in mind that misdemeanors are criminal cases and therefore work differently from traffic infractions.

Misdemeanors and infractions start out the same: An officer writes you a ticket. Knowing how to read a california traffic ticket puts you in a much better spot. Then you decide how to plead. You'll have three options: Guilty, no contest, and not guilty. In misdemeanor cases, you also have the option to negotiate a plea bargain. We'll talk more about that later.

The next step in the process depends on what your ticket is for. This is why it helps to know how to read the ticket. If it's a fix-it ticket, you can send proof of correction to the court and have it dismissed. If you're eligible for traffic school instead of bail, choosing traffic school could be a great way to end the ticket process. If not, you'll still have to go to your hearing.

Speaking of which, your hearing is up next. You only have to go to your hearing if you plead not guilty and/or if the traffic ticket is a mandatory appearance ticket. If there is no fine listed on the ticket or it says, "Mandatory Appearance," you know it's a mandatory appearance ticket.

In criminal cases, you can then request a trial by jury. If that's the case, you will most likely lose your case without expert legal assistance.

You can find traffic ticket lawyers in the WinIt app.

How to Read a California Traffic Ticket

California's traffic tickets are pretty straight forward. There are a yellow sheet and a white sheet. The court keeps the white sheet and you get the yellow sheet. Aside from record-keeping, the color doesn't really matter. What's important is the information on the sheet and knowing how to read it. Look at the ticket below.

California traffic ticket

Note how it says, "Notice to appear," at the top. That's legal jargon for "traffic ticket." You might hear officers of the court call it a "notice to appear," "traffic ticket," "citation," etc. All of these words mean the same thing. Next to that are three check boxes. The officer will check one of those boxes to let you know which kind of ticket (criminal or non-criminal) you got.

The rest of the top third of the page is your and your vehicle's information.

The middle third is the ticket's information. It includes the CVC number, whether it's a fix-it ticket, if you have to go to jail, etc.

The bottom third is the court's information.

Plea Options for California Traffic Tickets

California allows three traffic ticket plea options: Guilty, no contest, and not guilty. Each of the plea options has its own costs and benefits. That said, guilty pleas have pretty much no benefits and a ton of costs. Knowing how to plead can help prevent you from falling face-first into debt—or worse. Note that "enter a plea" is legalese for "make a plea."

  • Guilty

The guilty plea is what most courts prefer you enter. That also means it's what most drivers would prefer not to enter. A guilty plea is an admission of guilt, meaning you'll have to face all of the costs of the ticket.

Some people plead guilty thinking that they have a good reason and that the judge will let them off for it. A common example is speeding to get a person to the hospital when they're giving birth. But, if you plead guilty, you will not have a chance to explain yourself. You'll be accepting all of the consequences in full.

Even if you know that you broke the law with a good reason, you should plead not guilty. That way, you can explain yourself to the judge at your hearing.

  • No Contest (Nolo Contendere)

This is the same as a guilty plea, but with one small difference. If you enter a plea of guilty for your traffic ticket, attorneys can use that evidence against you if somebody decides to sue you later on. That's not the case for a plea of no contest.

With a plea of no contest, the civil suit would have to start from scratch. The attorneys would not be able to use the traffic conviction against you in the civil suit.

  • Not Guilty

If you want to fight a traffic ticket in California, you have to plead not guilty. Pleading not guilty is your way of telling the court you didn't do what they say you did. This begins the dispute process, which makes it possible to have the ticket dismissed.

  • Plea Bargaining

Plea bargaining is the process of negotiating a plea deal with the prosecutor or court agent. This is only an option in criminal cases. This can help you turn a criminal ticket into a less severe one. It can potentially save you thousands of dollars and months in jail.

Plea bargaining is not an option in infraction cases because there is no prosecutor with whom to bargain. Since the judge doesn't have the power to amend the ticket, you can't bargain.

How to Fight California Traffic Tickets

First off, plead not guilty. Enter your plea, file it with the court, and prepare for your hearing. Brush up on the law and double-check all of the information on the ticket. Next, hire a lawyer. Hiring a lawyer significantly increases the chances of beating your ticket.

  • Traffic Infraction

In place of going to court, California allows you to file a trial by written declaration (TBD). This lets you contest your ticket in writing without having to appear in court. This is usually more affordable and convenient than traveling to a hearing. But it's still a complicated process best left to your attorney. Also, it's only an option for traffic infractions, not criminal tickets.

  • Misdemeanor

In a misdemeanor case, you have the right to request a jury trial to help you beat the ticket. Criminal lawyers and some traffic lawyers are best suited to handle discovery, voir dire , and the rest of the trial procedures.

How to Pay California Traffic Tickets

Many of California's cities and counties have online portals to help you pay your traffic tickets. Sometimes, they can be difficult to navigate, you could be missing information, or you just don't have the time. WinIt's internal payment system can be a more convenient way to pay your ticket.

Simply go into the app, enter your payment information, and let the robots do their work.

Frequently Asked Questions

We at WinIt do our best to provide you with as much traffic ticket information as possible. But with more than 40,000 sections in the California Vehicle and Traffic code, there are always more questions to be answered.

If you're looking for more information, either contact your attorney through the WinIt app or leave a comment below. Our expert attorneys will respond as soon as possible. In the meantime, here are a few of the most frequently asked questions about traffic tickets in California.

  1. Is there a way to look up California traffic tickets?

Yes. There are a number of traffic ticket lookup tools out there. They can help you find lost or missing traffic tickets. Some of them can even show you traffic tickets that you didn't know you had.

  1. Where can I get a copy of my traffic ticket?

There are two good ways to get a copy of your traffic ticket. First, check the court's website. If there's no lookup tool, contact the court to request a copy of your ticket. Second, request a copy of your driver record from the DMV. That should contain your citation number and information.

  1. How long do DMV points stay on my record?

Three to 13 years. How long points stay on your record depends on a number of factors. Some jurisdictions have regulations preventing insurance investigators from accessing certain information.

  1. How can I get Points off my license in California?

There are at least two ways to remove points from your California driver license. The first is to have the ticket dismissed. The second is to attend traffic school.

  1. How do you ask a judge to reduce a ticket?

This is called plea bargaining. It is only an option for misdemeanor traffic tickets. In criminal traffic ticket cases, you can have your lawyer negotiate with the prosecutor to reduce the penalties of your ticket.

  1. When do California license points expire?

Three to 13 years after the date of the violation. The date of the violation is the date listed on the ticket, not the court or appearance date. How long it takes California license points to expire depends on the severity of the violation for which you were convicted.

  1. Is jaywalking a crime in California?

No. Jaywalking is not a crime, which means you cannot go to jail for it. However, it is still a violation and you can still get a ticket for it. Section 21955 of the California Vehicle Code prohibits crossing certain intersections other than at a crosswalk.

  1. How much are speeding tickets in California?

Speeding ticket fines can cost between $214 and $900 for a first offense. If you get a second ticket or have prior traffic convictions on your record, the total cost can be even higher. Speeding tickets also increase insurance premiums by 34% on average.

  1. What happens if you don't pay a traffic ticket?

Failure to pay a traffic ticket can result in serious consequences. You can face late fees. Your credit score may decrease due to collections. The court might suspend your license. If you can't afford to pay a traffic ticket, that's a different story. In that case, the court might order community service or a payment plan upon proof of hardship.

  1. Can you pay off a fix-it ticket?

Yes, but that will cost hundreds of dollars more than the proof of correction. You also risk getting the ticket again in the future. It may be a better idea to correct the violation rather than paying the ticket. Be sure to talk to your lawyer before making any decisions.

  1. Will my insurance go up if I go to traffic school?

No. Successfully completing traffic school means preventing the ticket from appearing on your record. Since it's not on your record, insurers won't know about it. All they will know is that you successfully completed traffic school. Most insurers will then lower your insurance premiums. That's why traffic school can be a great option for many people.

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