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What Changes Are Coming to California's Traffic Laws?

Although no one enjoys the feeling of seeing red and blue flashers suddenly appear in their rear-view mirror, if you live, work, or frequently travel in California, you may be especially leery of traffic stops. With hefty civil fines and traffic laws that can require payment of these fines before any appeal of the underlying charges, California has long had a reputation as a state unfriendly to traffic defendants.

However, this tide may be turning, as recent changes in the law are designed to help traffic defendants exercise their rights while avoiding seizure or suspension of their driver's licenses. Read on to learn more about the recent changes to the way California traffic tickets are handled, as well as what this could mean for your next citation.

What changes in the ticketing process are being made? 

In most states, when you're issued a traffic citation, you have a few options. You may choose to plead guilty or no contest and pay the fine assessed for your specific violation. This can often be done by mail, without requiring a trip to court.

If you have a good driving record, you could seek a deferral or diversion which requires you to pay a fee to the prosecutor's office in exchange for having your traffic charge dismissed after a certain period of "good behavior."

A final option may be to dispute the ticket by requesting a hearing in court. If you're found guilty, you'll be required to pay the fine within a certain period of time; if you're found not guilty, the ticket will be dismissed.  

However, many California courts have adopted a "pay to play" scheme requiring defendants to pay their fines before scheduling a court date to dispute their traffic charge. Those who fail to pay this fine could find themselves facing a range of possible penalties, including suspension of their driver's licenses, late fees, and even wage garnishment.

Although some defendants may qualify for a fee or costs waiver due to low income, often this waiver can't be secured before payment of the fine is due. As a result, more than 5 million California residents have faced driver's license suspensions for relatively minor traffic infractions when ticket fees or court costs were not paid during the time frame determined by the court.

This practice was formally overruled by the California Judicial Council in early June 2015, and California residents (as well as out-of-state visitors who are issued traffic citations) are now able to request a court hearing to contest a traffic ticket before being required to pay the fine. However, California courts have been given until mid-September 2015 to update forms and websites, and the implementation of this new rule has been spotty during the early days, with some defendants still being asked to pay their fine before a hearing can be scheduled.

What should you do if you receive a traffic ticket in California?

This change in the law is not retroactive, so if you received a traffic ticket in California and were required to pay your fine before requesting a hearing, this new law is unlikely to have any effect on your case. However, you may still be able to argue against a suspension of your driver's license or other penalties on equitable grounds by showing that the Judicial Council intended to eliminate the courts' ability to suspend driver's licenses for failure to pay fines prior to hearing. 

If you wish to contest a traffic citation received after this change in the law, you should be able to do so even if you're unable or unwilling to pay your fine until judgment is issued. Although some courts may still be reluctant to set a hearing date without payment, you should be able to point them toward the Judicial Council's recent ruling or even contact the Judicial Council yourself in order to receive your day in court. 

For more help on your side of the issue, visit resources like to get in contact with traffic violation lawyers.