Keys to Fighting Your Ticket
The San Francisco Traffic Law Clinic led by former Police Officer and Public Defender David Uthman was an innovator in bringing criminal law defense practices to Traffic Court. Traffic Court is a hybrid of civil law and criminal law procedures. A defendant is not entitled to a public defender, yet the consequences of conviction for a traffic infraction can be devastating financially and have collateral consequences that impact a driver’s employment. Our San Francisco traffic ticket lawyers provide low-cost representation in defending traffic citations and has a highly efficient and knowledgeable staff with decades of expertise in Traffic Court. The Clinic sets a trial date and appears at arraignment and trial, making three appearances in court for fighting a traffic ticket that would be time consuming and costly for a busy driver. It achieves remarkable success in dismissing citations or reducing them to violations that do no carry a point on your driving record.Danger of Having a Fool for a Client
For drivers’ who are unable to retain a lawyer in San Francisco experienced in Traffic Law, self-representation may be the only option available instead of pleading guilty and paying a fine. A proverb summarizes the pitfalls of representing yourself in court, “A man who is his own lawyer has a fool for a client.” The problem with acting as your own lawyer in Traffic Court is that you may not know the law that applies to your citation. And you may not objectively see weaknesses in your defense. A stubborn refusal to see the other side of your case may result in an outcome that could have been avoided through an informed, calm and reasoned look at your case. With those caveats, here are some guidelines for representing yourself without an attorney when fighting a traffic ticket in Traffic Court. These are pointers and not intended as legal advice.Self-Representation Guidelines Preparation
- Research your infraction. Read the California Vehicle Code section that you were cited for violating. Understand what the law states and what the elements of the violation are.
- Write out your defense, proving you did not violate the Vehicle Code. Your answer should clearly state why, based upon the facts in your case, you did not violate the elements of the Vehicle Code Section and why you are not guilty of the citation. By writing out your defense you can read and consider and flaws or weaknesses to your argument. Taking the time to think and write rather than react will enable you to objectively analyze your case. You may then decide that you do not have a legitimate defense. Alternatively, you may strengthen your defense which will better prepare you for trial.
- Dress appropriately and in a manner that shows respect to the Court. In representing yourself before a Judge, dressing like you would for an interview shows respect to the Court and the judicial process.
- Be respectful to the Court, Court Clerks and staff.
- Control your emotions. Stay calm and composed. Do not interrupt the Court or the Police Officer when they are speaking, no matter how much you disagree or feel wronged.
- In Traffic Court, the Police Officer who issued the citation acts like the prosecutor and has the burden of proving you are guilty.
- The Police Officer will testify first. Listen carefully to determine whether he stated that you violated all of the elements of the Vehicle Code Section.
- If the Officer failed to state that you violated all of the elements of the Vehicle Code Section then there is no need for you to cross-examine the Officer. Make your closing argument to the Court. Clearly and briefly state what the elements of the violation are and that the Officer failed to present evidence that you violated a necessary element. Therefore, the citation should be dismissed.
- Only question the Police Officer if there is a relevant point you want to make to the Court. Do not ask questions without a purpose. Do not argue with the Officer.
- If the Officer ignored facts or information that would point to your innocence, present them in your direct testimony or through your evidence and/or witnesses.
- Do not waste the Court’s time with evidence that is not pertinent to the charges for which you were cited
- The San Francisco Superior Court website provides information on Traffic and Ticket Basics that has essential information for anyone representing themselves.
- Nolo‘s self-help manual, Fight Your Ticket & Win in California by David W. Brown is a very useful resource for those representing themselves in fighting a traffic ticket.