Q: I’m not a California resident, but while driving home to Oregon last week I received a speeding ticket in California, more than ten hours away from where I live. If I want to contest it, do I have to drive all the way back to the county where I received the ticket?
A: First of all, kudos for being proactive about an out-of-state traffic violation. Many people under the same circumstance will simply ignore the citations in hopes that they won’t "follow" them back to their respective resident states. In fact, there are a few different databases that monitor driving records and violations across participating states, and there’s a good chance your state of residence belongs to at least one of them. For more information, consult the National Driver Register (NDR), the Driver License Compact (DLC), and the Non-Resident Violator Compact (NRVC).
If you wish to contest a Vehicle Code or local ordinance traffic violation in a California county, you have two options: 1) you can request a court trial; or 2) you can request a trial by declaration. In a trial by declaration, the judge reviews written statements and evidence mailed by both parties (the defendant and the citing officer). To be eligible for a trial by declaration, your case must meet the following requirements:
• Your citation is for an infraction violation only (as opposed to a misdemeanor);
• The due date to take care of your ticket has not expired; and
• Your notice or ticket does not expressly require your presence in court.
More information on both types of trials can be found at http://www.courts.ca.gov/8450.htm, which includes links to fillable forms, instructions for submitting evidence, and a description of the trial process. The county in which you received the citation may have its own traffic forms to use in addition to or in place of the state-approved Judicial Council forms, so check the superior court’s website or ask the court clerk before mailing your request. Nolo Press, a publisher of popular self-help legal books, publishers a very helpful guide called “Fight Your Ticket and Win in California.” You can find the book at large commercial bookstores like Barnes and Noble, at the publisher’s website, or at your local public law library.
For information on similar issues, see Ask the County Law Librarian columns on red light citations, past-due traffic tickets, cell phone citations, and obtaining evidence from law enforcement agencies.
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