Not all violations go to traffic court. Traffic violations that are considered a misdemeanor or felony go to criminal court. When you receive a traffic ticket, and the “M” is circled, that means you have been charged with a misdemeanor or a felony. All criminal offenses, those cases where the disposition could end with jail time, are provided the right to a jury trial, and legal representation paid for by the state if they can’t afford according to our Constitution.
In CA, when you are accused of a traffic violation, paying the fine or contesting the allegation in front of a traffic court judge (bench trial) are your only choices. Some think accepting Traffic Violator’s School (TVS) is an option instead of pleading guilty. It is not; you must plead guilty before the court will allow you to attend. That’s why you should always discuss a traffic ticket with a traffic attorney before making that decision.
Reckless driving, speed contests, driving without a license or with a suspended license, a hit and run with property damage only, and others are misdemeanors, while a hit and run with injuries or death is a felony.
A wobbler is an offense that could be charged as an infraction or a misdemeanor (which some call a “wobblette”), or a misdemeanor or a felony.
Juvenile Court Versus Traffic Court
Juvenile offenders are tried in juvenile court. In CA, all juvenile violators must appear in juvenile court with their parent or guardian, even for a minor offense like speeding 1-15 mph over the limit. Unlike an adult offender, a juvenile or their parent cannot simply pay their fine and move on. In smaller counties, the juvenile court might be held in the same courthouse as the Superior Criminal or Traffic Court; yet, it is still juvenile court. These are just different divisions within the Justice System.
How NOTS Points Are Decided Does Not Depend on the Traffic Court
Many drivers believe the judge decides how many Negligent Operator Treatment System (NOTS) points they will get. Therefore, they might believe one judge or traffic court is easier than another. That is not true. Assessing NOTS points has been delegated to the DMV by the legislature with guidance.
CA Vehicle Code (CVC) 12810, Issuance and Renewal of Licenses gives the CA DMV authority to assess NOTS points. Speeding less than 100 mph, running a red light or stop sign, and others, are given one point, except commercial motor vehicle (CMV) drivers who are assessed 50 percent more. Likewise, those found at-fault, even partially, are assessed one or 1.5 points.
Convictions for a more severe violation, such as reckless driving, speeding 100+ mph, and others are assessed two and three points.
When you get four NOTS points in a year, six within two years, or eight within three years, you will receive an “Order of Suspension/Probation” from the DMV. You have ten days from when they send it out to request a DMV NOTS Hearing. Although it is not a requirement to have legal representation, traffic attorneys know which tickets can get removed from your motor vehicle driving record (MVR).
Traffic Court Differences
Despite the variance of a few dollars in court fees between counties, fundamentally, all traffic courts in CA are the same. The judge has to apply the laws written by the Assembly and Senate, and approved by the Governor. In CA, the burden of proof is always on the state to prove “beyond a reasonable doubt” , unlike some other states that use different standards of proof for traffic offenses other than criminal.
Likewise, you should always consult a traffic attorney when issued a citation or summons. Make the state do their job and prove their allegations against you. Otherwise, that fine is just another involuntary tax.
Speak with a Traffic Ticket Attorney Who Gets Results in Traffic Court
Call Bigger & Harman, APC, (661) 349-9300, when you have a traffic ticket or need assistance with a DMV NOTS Hearing. Se habla Español (661) 349-9755.
We spend significant hours defending drivers in traffic court and regularly handle DMV NOTS Hearings to assist drivers in keeping their DL without a suspension.
CVC 12810, Issuance and Renewal of Licenses
The DMV NOTS Portal
The 2020 CA Driver Handbook.pdf