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California Traffic Court

If you've been caught violating California's traffic laws, you probably need more information about California traffic courts. Having to deal with legal bureaucracy is almost always a hassle-it's complex, confusing and even a little scary. However, the more information you have about the way the court system works, the easier it will be for you to navigate California traffic court successfully.

If you've received a California traffic ticket, it will be dealt with by the Superior Court of the county you were stopped in. Make sure to read the back of the ticket carefully-there is almost always more than one courthouse in each county, and of course it's vital to make sure that you get to the right place for your court date!  

All California traffic tickets are handled at the county level first, but if you feel that the Superior Court has made an error in judgment, you do have the option of appealing your case to the next level up.  The California Courts of Appeals hear cases in which one party in a case disagrees with a Superior court’s decision.  There are 6 appellate districts, each with its own Court of Appeal.

Duties of the court

The most important duty of a California traffic court is to decide the outcome of cases involving violations of traffic law. When you get a traffic ticket, there will be a court date on the back. You have the option of paying your fine before the due date, or you can actually go to court in person. When you appear in court, the court will ask you to enter a plea. If you plead guilty, the court's duty is to accept you plea and advise you of the fines and penalties you are required to pay. If you plead not guilty, the court's duty is to listen to both sides of the story: yours and that of the officer who cited you. Then, the court will decide who has the strongest evidence and render a judgment accordingly.

California traffic courts are also responsible for evaluating a defendant's request to attend traffic school to have a traffic ticket dismissed. Generally, the court will grant your request to attend traffic school as long as your case meets the following requirements:

  • You have not had any prior traffic violations dismissed in the past 18 months.
  • Your ticket is for a minor traffic violation worth only one negligent operator point.
  • You do not hold a commercial driver's license.
  • You were not going more than 25 miles per hour above the posted speed limit.

Other duties of the court include collecting fines for all judgments that the court imposes, making arrangements with defendants who are not financially able to pay, and returning fines collected to a defendant if the defendant has been found "not guilty." Finally, the court is responsible for reporting all moving violation convictions to the state DMV for inclusion in the defendant's official California driving record.


Services provided by California traffic courts

California traffic courts offer a variety of services to help make life a little bit more convenient for you if you've received a traffic citation. For example, many Superior courts have websites where you can pay your traffic citation online, so you don't have to go to the courthouse or go through the hassle of mailing a payment. To see a list of all the Superior Courts in California and to view their websites, click here. Also, if you decide to take traffic school to get your ticket dismissed, the court can give you a list of traffic schools you can attend. 

Check the list and see if Driving University is an approved traffic school for the court you are dealing with-we provide an easy, informative and fun online course that you can take from your home computer! In California, each traffic court is allowed to decide on its own whether or not it will accept online defensive driving courses such as Driving University's, so check with your court to find out if we can assist you with your ticket, or click here and go to our website to learn more.

One other service that California traffic courts offer is the option to have a "trial by declaration" for defendants who are not able to be physically present in the courtroom. A trial by declaration is basically a "trial by mail."  You must request a trial by declaration by the date you were originally scheduled to attend court for your traffic ticket. The court will then send you the appropriate forms and instructions, and give you an additional 25 days beyond your original court date to return them with the amount of your fine. Then, you'll send your side of the story to the court in writing, and the officer that ticketed you will send his. The court will make a decision and send you a form called a Decision and Notice of Decision within 90 days from the due date. If you are found not guilty, the fine you paid will be returned to you. If you are unhappy with the court's decision in the trial by declaration, you may request a new trial, called a trial de novo. A trial by declaration can be a convenient way of contesting your traffic ticket, but it's usually better to do a physical trial if possible. It's easier to make your case believably in person. Besides, the judge is more likely to find in your favor if he or she can see you as a human being instead of just a name on sheet of paper.


Understandably, most people prefer to deal with California traffic courts as little as possible. However, everyone makes mistakes and every now and then you get caught making them. If you have to go to court for a ticket, the process will be much easier now that you know and understand what your options are for handling the ticket.

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