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The Arraignment

The first part of the procedure you will need to take care of is the arraignment. This is when you appear to plead not guilty (or pay the ticket or ask for traffic school).

You must appear on or before the date specified on the ticket. If you do not appear on or before the date specified on the ticket, the court can find you guilty of failure to appear, and fine you even more than the ticket would cost.

At the arraignment, you enter a plea of not guilty (assuming you want to fight the ticket). You may be able to do this at the clerk's window, or you may have to go before the judge.

Depending on the court you will probably have to post bail (generally the amount of the ticket). If you do not have the money to post bail, go to the arraignment, anyway. Failure to apear will only cost you more money. The court can give you an extension of time to post bail.

Alternatively, you may request "O.R.", or own recognisance. This means that you are released, without bail, on the provision that you appear for your trial. Some courts grant this automatically, others have a policy prohibiting it all together. It doesn't hurt to ask. In any case, to get O.R. you will almost certainly have to see the judge.


In spite of what the judge, clerk or bailiff may tell you, you do not give up your right to go to traffic school if you go to trial (see SO, YOU WANT TO GO TO TRAFFIC SCHOOL). If you may want to go to traffic school, should you lose, you need to establish your right to traffic school before you plead not guilty.

If the courtesy notice states that you may attend traffic school, you have written proof that the court has offered you traffic school and you can proably handle the not guilty at the clerk's window (or even on line). Otherwise, you need to see the judge.

When the judge asks for your plea, ask if the court is offering you traffic school? Once the judge says yes, say, "Thank you your honor, I will reserve that right per rule of court 4.104(c)(3) and plead not guilty."

At this point you may want to present a written request for a trial by declaration (see PLEAD NOT GUILTY AND REQUEST TRIAL BY DECLARATION).

One final note on arraignment -- do not sign anything waiving your right to a fair and speedy trial. The court has 45 days from the date of your arraignment (i.e., the date you first appear) to give you a trial. More than one person has beaten their ticket on these grounds.

Per Section 40519 of the California Vehicle Code you may, "make a deposit and declare the intention to plead not guilty to the clerk of the court named in the notice to appear. The deposit shall be in the amount of bail.." While this "appearance" by mail will save you the time and trouble of going to the courthouse if you have the money to post bail, beware that by pleading not guilty by mail you waive your right to a speedy trial.

The next step in our tutorial is Discovery.


40519. Any person who has received a written notice to appear may, prior to the time at which the person is required to appear, plead not guilty in writing in lieu of appearing in person. The written plea shall be directed to the court named in the notice to appear and, if mailed, shall be sent by certified or registered mail postmarked not later than five days prior to the day upon which appearance is required. The written plea and request to the court or city agency shall be accompanied by a deposit consisting of the amount of bail established pursuant to Section 1269b of the Penal Code, together with any assessment required by Section 42006 of this code or Section 1464 of the Penal Code, for that offense, which amount shall be used for the purpose of guaranteeing the appearance of the defendant at the time and place set by the court for trial and to apply toward the payment of any fine or assessment prescribed by the court in the event of conviction. Upon receipt of the plea and deposit, the case shall be set for arraignment and trial on the same date, unless the defendant requests separate arraignment.
Thereafter, the case shall be conducted in the same manner as if the defendant had appeared in person, had made his or her plea in open court, and had deposited that sum as bail. The court or the clerk of the court shall notify the accused of the time and place of trial by first-class mail postmarked at least 10 days prior to the time set for the trial. Any person using this procedure shall be deemed to have waived the right to be tried within the statutory period.

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