Traffic citations are issued to almost every driver in Los Angeles. Broken tail light, speeding, driving without a license are all common mistakes. No one is spared from the traffic courts, including attorneys, judges, and sometimes law enforcement personnel. Thus, everyone should be angry about recent changes being implemented throughout Los Angeles County.
Penalty assessments use to be the only outrageous part of getting a ticket. For those unfamiliar with penalty assessments, let me explain. The California Legislature has voted multiple times to add additional assessments to every single citation in California, on top of the base fine. These assessments are now a reliable way to increase revenue for the state. What use to be a $100 fine, adds up to around $500 after state assessments. Recently, the LA Times and other media outlets have criticized the burdensome law, which affects low-income families the most.
Now the courts have taken egregious steps to make traffic citations even more onerous. To my knowledge, these changes have not yet been made available to the public. Let me go through some of the major changes:
DEFENDANTS CAN NO LONGER PURCHASE AN ABSTRACT AFTER A FAILURE TO APPEAR
A failure to appear is a separate charge that can be added to a ticket, if a defendant misses his or her court date. When a defendant misses a court date, the court will issue a warrant, and place a hold on the defendant’s driver’s license. A hold will then lead to a suspension of the driver’s license.
Upon notice of the suspension, defendants use to be able to go to the court clerk and purchase an abstract. An abstract removed the hold, and the defendant could then get his or her license reissued. No more.
Now, holds will not be removed until disposition of the case. Attorneys can and should request a speedy trial in light of these changes.
DEFENDANTS CAN NO LONGER NEGOTIATE DIFFERENT VIOLATIONS WITH THE OFFICERS AT TRIAL
Some defendants cannot take advantage of traffic school (completion of traffic school, available once every 18 months, keeps a negligent operator point off of the defendant’s driving record with the DMV).
A strategy that used to be utilized by attorneys, when traffic school was not available, was negotiation with the citing officers. When evidence was disputable, or when officers’ were in a good mood, the court would accept an amended violation and plea agreement. This means that the officer would change the vehicle code violation to a non-moving violation (carries no point), and the defendant would change his plea to guilty. The moving violation would then be dismissed. This is no longer an option.
Given that negotiations are off the table, attorneys will have no other choice but to put on a trial. This means that discovery requests may be made more often.
DEFENDANTS CAN BE FOUND GUILTY BY THE COURT IF THEY ARE NOT PRESENT AT TRIAL
Defendants miss their trial dates too. Before the new changes effective April 1, 2015, the court would have simply issued a warrant and placed a hold on the defendant’s driver license. Unfortunately, this is not the case now.
Bench officers may now hold a trial in absentia. In absentia is a Latin phrase meaning “in the absence” of the defendant. If there is sufficient evidence of guilt, the court can find the defendant guilty without the defendant having been given an opportunity to present a defense. Pretty crazy, right?
These new policies are frowned upon by the defense bar. One can expect appeals to the higher courts. Until then, a person cited for a traffic matter should be careful. It is a new world.