Contesting a traffic ticket? California poised to ban pay-first policy

Sunday, June 7, 2015

The Sacramento Bee – By Christopher Cadelago

California court officials plan to let those with traffic tickets across the state appear in court without paying up front.

The new rule, expected to win approval from the state Judicial Council at a special telephone meeting Monday, is viewed by policymakers as a preliminary move in a broader effort to expand access to the court system.

It was spearheaded by Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye, who pushed for the change on an urgency basis in response to concerns about disparities in how courts notify defendants and handle bail when someone challenges a citation in court.

While many counties, including Sacramento, San Francisco and Los Angeles, generally do not require payment to contest a ticket, some do. Marin County, for example, tells motorists they must post the full bail, considered a guarantee of appearance, before a trial date will be set. El Dorado County requires motorists to first post bail, according to its website. If found not guilty, motorists are refunded the amount in four to six weeks.

Presiding Judge Marsha Slough of San Bernardino Superior Court described the traffic rules for fines, fees and trials as “complex and convoluted.” The new rule, developed in weeks rather than the usual months, would establish a standardized policy and take effect immediately. It provides for certain exceptions and requires courts to give traffic defendants notice of their options in written instructions or other materials.

“Our goal is to let people have their day in court,” Slough said.

Neither Slough nor a spokeswoman for the council could provide information on how many counties would be affected.

Robert Sherman, the assistant court executive officer in Ventura, said the rule would have virtually no effect on operations there, save for some possible adjustments to the notices it sends.

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