Last year, I received a ticket for not stopping at the limit line.
I was quite annoyed because the officer had parked in a hidden location that meant if you stopped short of the limit line, you couldn't see him. Indeed, that intersection often had police sitting in a non hidden location looking to book anyone for the slightest hint of an error, so I was and always am very cautious to make sure I don't go over the limit line and I always look out for a police vehicle.
After stopping and checking for the police vehicle in the usual location, I accelerated through the crosswalk. At which point I saw the police car in the hidden location and decided to stop again, this time in the crosswalk. Predictably, he got me to stop and ticketed me for stopping in the crosswalk. Indeed, he said that I only stopped because I saw him. The stop took almost an hour and I declined to watch the video with him and said I'd get it later. He pretended (lied) that it wouldn't be possible to watch the video later. He clearly wanted me to watch it with him hoping that I would incriminate myself.
When the notice to appear came through, there were several options:
- Pay $237 and receive points on license
- Pay $299 for the option to attend traffic school and avoid points. Traffic school costs extra
- Contest the case in court or by written declaration
After doing some research and calculations, I figured that the increase in insurance if I took the points would be similar to the cost of the traffic school option. Since the maximum fine was $237, I thought I had nothing to lose if I contested it.
I requested discovery from the police department who refused to give me a copy of the video. I then went to view the video and was not allowed to make my own recording of it.
Since the video showed that the officer could not see my vehicle behind the hedges that obscured my view of him, my defense was that I had stopped and that the officer ticketed me for my second stop which I made when I saw him. Without the official video, I went and made my own to prove this. I also had somebody in the car with me who provided a witness statement to corroborate my account.
Additionally, I used the fact that the police were not willing to give me a copy of the video as a violation of my right to receive a fair trial.
In late January, I went to the court to hand in my written declaration. More trickery ensued. The clerk falsely told me that even if I submitted a trial by written declaration, I would still have to appear in court. She also said that I would lose my right to traffic school. In short, the entire system is for the purposes of raising revenue and they design everything to persuade you to pay up. The notice to appear has virtually no information about the trial by written declaration process while it is very clear on how to pay up. The fine is just low enough to make you think it's not worth using a lawyer or your own time. There is a $300 fine for not responding to the notice and it is not mandatory for the court to send you the notice. And there is a $300 fine for not paying the fine in time if you're found guilty. All designed to get you to err on the side of caution and pay the fine quickly.
The clerk did tell me it would be a month to receive the decision. Lo and behold, 1 month and 2 weeks after I submitted the declaration, I received the decision. A Dismissal! And it was ruled on exactly 1 month after I submitted my declaration.
I am no expert but in my case, the dismissal was probably for one of two reasons. Either because the officer did not respond or the judge found that my right to a fair trial had been violated because I didn't receive the video.
While it took a little effort to resolve this, it saved over $300 and I learnt a lot about the whole topic of traffic tickets both how the police and the courts seem to be using the law for revenue raising purposes and just how to go about beating charges. I was especially surprised to find that speeding tickets are actually the easiest tickets to get out of, even if you were "speeding". It totally explains why there are so many lawyers and services in California that offer no win no fee services for less than $100, especially for speeding tickets.
Oh, and I also have the small satisfaction of winning vs a cop who had nothing better to do than hide at an intersection to trap somebody who was driving safely.