This article was updated: Feb. 6th, 2023
Millions of traffic tickets are issued every year in the U.S. You can pay a ticket or fight it, but if you forget or ignore it, you could pay a higher fine or even land in jail. You’ll need legal help if that happens in southern California. You’ll need to contact a Long Beach traffic ticket attorney.
Every day, an average of 125,000 people in the United States receive a traffic citation. In California, these tickets come with exceedingly high fines, so many drivers, especially if they’re pressed for cash, choose to ignore a traffic ticket and hope it will somehow go away. It won’t.
Since 2017, California’s DMV (Department of Motor Vehicles) no longer automatically suspends or revokes a driver’s license for unpaid traffic tickets alone, but ignoring a traffic ticket entirely can still trigger a driver’s license suspension or even a jail sentence for failure to appear.
WHAT CAN HAPPEN IF YOU FAIL TO APPEAR IN COURT?
If you do not pay a traffic ticket, and if you do not appear in court to challenge it, you could be charged with failure to appear. By violating your promise to the court (you promised to appear in court when you signed the ticket), you could face serious additional penalties. The court could:
- Impose a $300 civil assessment in addition to the original fine
- Find you guilty “in absentia” for failure to appear
- Send your case to a private debt collection agency
- Issue a bench warrant for your arrest (except for parking violations)
Failure to appear regarding a traffic ticket or traffic citation is charged as a criminal misdemeanor in California, even when the initial offense was only a non-criminal traffic infraction.
A conviction on a failure to appear charge can be penalized with:
- Up to six months in jail and/or a fine of up to $1,000
- A criminal record that may follow you for years to come
- The loss of your driver’s license for up to thirty days
HOW CAN A TRAFFIC TICKET ATTORNEY HELP?
Even if you eventually agree to pay the original fine in full, if you fail to make your first court appearance, you can still be charged with the failure to appear. As mentioned previously, the charge is a criminal misdemeanor, which means that you will have the right to a trial by jury.
In fact, you have the legal right to challenge any traffic ticket, arrest, or arrest warrant, but you’ll need help from a southern California traffic ticket attorney. A good traffic ticket attorney can negotiate to reduce the fines and fees you owe, create a payment plan, and avoid a jail sentence.
Our lives are busy. After a few days pass, a traffic ticket is something many of us could easily forget. If you fail to appear in court for a traffic matter, you will need a lawyer who can explain that you had a legitimate reason – or at least an understandable reason – for failing to appear.
YOU MAY NOT BE GUILTY OF ANYTHING
Even if you did not go to court, you may not be guilty of failure to appear. The cops, the courts, and the DMV can make mistakes like anyone else. There have always been mistaken identity cases, and in our own time, criminals can “steal” your identity to commit a variety of crimes.
If you are charged with any traffic violation in southern California, fight it. Paying the fine is an admission of guilt, and even if the charge is only an infraction, your automobile insurance will probably cost more, and one or more points will probably be added to your driving record.
As you may know, the California DMV point system assigns a point value to each traffic ticket and each traffic accident. These points are applied to your driving record, and if you compile too many points too quickly, you can lose your privilege to drive.
HAVING THE RIGHT ATTORNEY CAN MAKE THE DIFFERENCE
In some traffic cases in California, your lawyer can appear in court for you. Promptly scheduling a consultation with a good traffic ticket attorney after you receive a ticket is always in your best interests – whether you are guilty or in fact innocent of the charge.
Don’t try to act as your own criminal defense lawyer. Too much is at stake, California law is too complicated, and anything you say could be used against you. Even in a traffic case, to convict you, the state must prove your guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, and a good lawyer can cast doubt on the state’s case.
WHAT TO DO IF YOU RESIDE IN ANOTHER STATE
If you reside in a different state and you’re charged in southern California with any traffic violation, you must contact a Long Beach traffic ticket attorney to discuss your case and how it should be handled.
The Interstate Driver’s License Compact (IDLC) is an agreement among 45 states to share information about drivers and traffic violations. The goal of the IDLC is to keep traffic offenders from avoiding penalties imposed by one state simply because they live in another state.
If you reside outside of California, you should presume that your home state will enforce a penalty imposed by a California traffic court. You should also presume that the points applied to your driving record by the State of California will count against you in your home state.
SEEK GUIDANCE THROUGH EVERY STEP OF THE LEGAL PROCESS
Failure to appear is always a serious mistake. Instead, seek the help of a good defense attorney who will protect your rights, explain how the law in California applies to your own case, tell you if and when you must appear in court, and guide you through every step of the legal process.
As mentioned previously, paying a traffic fine in California is an admission of guilt – a conviction. That’s one reason why every driver in this state should fight every traffic ticket.
In traffic cases and failure to appear cases, the right California defense attorney can review the charge against you and develop an effective defense strategy. Your attorney will know what it takes to prevail on your behalf and what it takes to win the justice you need and deserve.