Wednesday, September 28, 2011

how to file a stay of judgment when you've been found guilty of a traffic violation

Update: After a year and a half battle, I won my case on appeal in Superior Court, as detailed in this latest blog entry: Fight your red light ticket, and win!

Let's say you got a traffic ticket, a red light camera photo ticket, and you decide to fight it. You do your due diligence, poring over the resources available at Fight Your Ticket & Win in California and, and the first two times you appear for arraignment, in front of the same judge, you request that a motion hearing be scheduled so you can compel the city of Emeryville to provide discovery, in the form of the high resolution photos and video captured by the Redflex cameras. Both times, the judge either ignores or refuses your request, and continues the matter, i.e., gives you an additional 30 to 60 days before you have to reappear during arraignment in order to enter a plea. The third time, the judge is exasperated that you persist in your request for a motion hearing, and he demands that you enter a plea. You plead Not Guilty, and the judge, perhaps cognizant that you won't skip town, since you showed up all 3 times like you were supposed to, does not order you to put up bail (i.e., the fine of $446 in order to clear the citation), but instead, does you the favor of releasing you on 'O' 'R', i.e., on your own recognizance (most people try to ask the judge for no bail, and are usually denied, although the judge may grant you extra time to put up the bail). You have a trial, where you are found guilty, and the judge orders you to pay the fine, and gives you one month to do so. You may now want to appeal the trial court ruling, because you believe the trial court judge made one or more errors when deciding to rule against you. If you plan to appeal the ruling, you may want to avoid paying the fine until the appeals process is over, hopefully with the appeals court judge ruling in your favor.

The government alleges that, last year, on June 1, 2010, I didn't stop before turning right at the intersection of 40th Street and Horton Street in Emeryville. 17 days later, on June 18, I received a citation in the mail, a notice of traffic violation of California Vehicle Code 21453a, "Failure to Stop at Red Light". Since this case is still on appeal, I have to be wary of what I say, for fear of hurting my case (the government can read, just as well as you or I can). I pled Not Guilty, and appeared in court a total of 8 times, 6 out of 8 in front of the same judge, Commissioner Taylor Culver, to argue my case and lose, then ask for a stay of judgment, and then for a hearing on settlement of the statement on appeal. I spent quite a bit of time reading and writing to get a sense of what my legal foundation is and what obstacles I might face, as I carefully prepared my case. Often, you'll find that when you're arguing a case in traffic court, the system is set up against you, and you will need all the help you can to navigate a process that seems prejudiced in favor of the police, the municipality where the alleged violation took place, and the corporations, such as Redflex, that the cities and the municipalities are in contract with. Eventually, despite all your preparation and strong arguments, the judge may be unresponsive to what you have to say, and very well rule against you (the logic may be, perhaps, that if the trial court were to actually listen to your arguments, then that may only encourage people to fight their tickets, instead of swallowing your pride and forcing yourself to submit to what I believe is an aggressive government tactic to squeeze money out of motorists). Well, during trial, despite my preparation and what I thought to be strong arguments for why my case should be dismissed, or at the very least why I should be found not guilty, the judge ruled against me, and I was ordered to pay $466 in one month.

You can now do one of two things: pay the fine, and when you win, petition to get your money back, or avoid paying the fine by filing a stay of judgment, asking the court to postpone the sentence while you appeal the trial court's ruling. I opted for the latter, as paying such a large amount for me would be a hardship. At first I asked the trial court to stay the judgment, and not surprisingly, the same trial court judge denied my motion. I then submitted a motion to the appeals court to stay the judgment, the template of which was provided to me by the editor of, but the court sent me a letter saying the motion was denied, without prejudice ('without prejudice' means you are allowed to resubmit the motion to the court). The appeals court's given reason for why my motion was denied had to do with my not following the procedure spelled out by the California Rules of Court, which lays out the rules you must abide by, i.e., the technicalities you must follow, when you want the higher court to consider your motion. In this case, this is the denial letter that I got, copied verbatim:
Petitioner Chen's "Application for Stay of Sentence Pending Resolution Of Appeal To the Appellate Department" is denied, without prejudice. CRC 8.930 et seq. governs proceedings in the appellate division for writs of mandate, certiorari, or prohibition.
I was left scratching my head, wondering what I did wrong. I went to my local law library, where I was able to obtain a copy of the specific passage pointed at by the reference California Rules of Court 8.930. Reading further into the rule, in 8.931, I found the following:
A person who is not represented by an attorney and who petitions the appellate division for a writ under this chapter must file the petition on Petition for Writ (Misdemeanor, Infraction, or Limited Civil Case) (form APP-151). For good cause the court may permit an unrepresented party to file a petition that is not on form APP-151.
Reading it over, I finally figured out I had to file what is known as a writ of mandate. After some googling, particularly for california appeals, writ of mandate, I was led to the proper form, APP-151:

I went ahead and filled out the form, resubmitted my motion, crossed my fingers, and hoped for the best. Four weeks later, I got the following letter in the mail, copied verbatim:
Petitioner Chen's Petition for Writ is granted.
IT IS ORDERED that the judgment and payment of the $466.00 fine be stayed pending resolution of Petitioner Chen's appeal to the appellate division.
The best thing about filing for a stay of judgment, and appealing a traffic court ruling, is that a traffic infraction technically falls under the aegis of the criminal justice system, where you are entitled to a free defense. Therefore, all the paperwork described herein, such as the appeal or the writ of mandate, is free to file. Unlike the paperwork you file in civil court, where you do have to pay, sometimes hundreds of dollars per filing, filing the aforementioned paperwork with the appeals court regarding a traffic violation incurs no fees.

Update: After a year and a half battle, I won my case on appeal in Superior Court, as detailed in this latest blog entry: Fight your red light ticket, and win!


  1. do you have to serve your application for stay on the district attorney?

  2. Hi Pali, you may not have to, but I did anyway, in person; I served the papers to the District Attorney's office secretary, and not the DA herself.

  3. Hi Thuon...I got the same type ticket for allegedly making a right turn from a right turn only lane onto the freeway entrance at 27th and Northgate near downtown Oakland. I must respond by Jan 8,2013. Love to meet with you for help with this as well as get your opinion about dealing with this by mail which some sites recommend. 510 548 7655 Bob Waks retired disabled RN

    1. Oh yeah related to the above comment my email is or bob waks thanks

  4. Hey Thuon-

    I have almost the identical circumstances with a red light camera ticket in SF. My trial is Tues, 12/18 and recently got discouraged about fighting the thing because the camera company in SF sends a custodian of records. I've heard that judges usually permit their testimony even though they may have no personal knowledge of the photo evidence. All the appellate decisions have been related to evidence given by police officers and not custodian of records, so I thought my chances of winning were pretty slim and never thought an appeal would happen. I have a perfect driving record, but can't afford the possibility of increased insurance premiums. Anyway, after hearing what you have said here, I'm more encouraged. Is there a possibility of you being more detailed about the kind of questions you asked the Redflex? I was going to ask questions that would lead to their obvious admission that the custodian of records did not personally view my photo and that person, along with the person that checks the cameras in court is not here to testify. Therefore, this testimony is hearsay.

    Actually, if you'd be open to it, I'd like to talk personally to you. I know you've been asked before and I hate to impose on you, but if you're willing, I'd be tremendously grateful.

    Either way, your information has been helpful and I want to thank you for posting it.


  5. hi Bob, hi Rich, many people have asked to meet me in-person. Please remember that we have all been where you are right now, and you will do fine. Please let us know how your case goes. All you need to keep in mind is to set aside time to do your homework, be polite, but firm, and you will prevail. Remember, you have the law on your side.

    Bob, that 27th Street and Northgate Avenue traffic system is reportedly the biggest red light camera revenue generator in the state of California.

    Rich, in regard to the questions I asked the police service technician and the Redflex representative, I have updated the following blog post with the information you requested:

  6. I filed a writ of mandate with the appellate court and it was denied! I used the judicial council form and everything. Can you send me a copy of your writ of mandate so I can compare to figure out what I did wrong? my email is thanks.

  7. Hi Tuon,
    I'm in the same predicament as mentioned above rolling red light cam ticket in the same intersection in Oakland as the others. Went to court today, the judge did not want to hear my defense & found me guilty. I would like to file an appeal & pls. ask for your help by email me a copy of your writ of mandate. My email is . Thanks so much in advance for your help & your helpful blogs.
    Submitted Respectfully . Kay H.

  8. From the dates you list in your post, did you realize you could also 'Demur'?

    The City of ____ has 15 days to mail you the ticket - if your address in the DMV is accurate. If it took longer than that, you can tell the judge you want to demur and tell him the error. It might not be that simple but it is another defense you had

  9. Hi do you have a sample of the writ truon? I went to the clerks office and I was told they cannot accept App151 and I looked everywhere online and could not find anyone who talks about the app151 and a sample fill out. Not even NOLO!!!

  10. @thuon chen I mean do you have a sample of what you filled out you can blank your name and details. I just want to make sure im filling everything out correctly.

  11. hi Kim, my apologies for the late response. I finally had a chance to sit down and review your responses to the content I wrote. I needed to make time to review your comments and what I wrote because, please keep in mind that I first published my blog post over 4 years ago, back in September 2011. I've found out that the rules for the court have changed and been updated, but for the most part the relevant parts have remained unchanged. In a previous comment, you stated that the court would not accept your APP-151. I am not a lawyer, but if I were you, I would review form APP-150-INFO, the latest version, to make sure I followed every required step, and I would also scan the court's written response to you for any clues on how to proceed. If you would like a sample of what I filled out, I'd be happy to share that, but please remember that the forms have changed and been updated, so some of the sections and fields may no longer be applicable.