Nobody likes getting a traffic ticket, and finding a way out of one isn’t easy.
Most drivers who fight their ticket will end up in a courtroom in front of a judge or commissioner. They plead their case and face the traffic officer who pulled them over. But in California, there is another way to go to trial and you never have to step into a courtroom.
It’s called Trial by Declaration.
“You don’t have to pay for parking, you’re not inconvenienced, you’re not waiting around in a long line with other people,” Geoff Mousseau, the founder of the website ca-ticket.com, said.
Mousseau and his nephew Matthew created the website to help make it easier to fight tickets through declaration.
For $89 the ca-ticket.com site walks you through the legal process. With citation in hand, you follow the drop-down menu, and the website emails you a written declaration that you sign and send by registered mail. Their website does not help people with DUI tickets, parking violations or tickets that involve an accident.
“There’s nothing complicated about it,” said Mousseau. “If you can write a letter to your grandmother, you can fold this information up, put it in an envelope and send it off to the court.”
California drivers have been allowed to fight their ticket through the mail for nearly 17 years. In San Diego County, of those people who challenge their tickets, 15 percent use the Trial by Declaration method.
“Simply by doing this you have a much greater chance of prevailing than if you went to trial on your own,” said Mousseau.
He said with traditional traffic court, the officer is paid to appear, but in Trial by Declaration it is simply more paperwork. If the officer does not respond to the ticket and complete the paperwork it is dismissed.
“We send you the paperwork and you have 25 days to file your statement of what happened,” said Superior Court Executive Officer Mike Roddy. “Once we get that, then the officer has 25 days.”
One of the major differences with Trial by Declaration is that your letter must include your bail and the amount on the ticket, which can range from $150 to $500. If you go to traditional traffic court, you don’t have to pay the ticket until a decision is made by the judge.
Mousseau said they do not track people who use their website or keep any identifying information. He said they have only heard from two people who have not been successful in challenging their tickets.
But what if you lose? The advantage of Trial by Declaration is that you can ask for a physical trial and an actual trial if you don’t like the results of the trial by mail method: meaning you get a second chance.