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 highwayrobbery.net, 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 highwayrobbery.net, 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.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.
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.
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!