The California state Judiciary and Court in a way to promote judicial economy and to provide a convenience for people who live and work far away from where they were cited, wrote Vehicle Code section 40902 which is used in conjunction with California Rules of Court 4.210 allow people charged with an infraction to have a Trial by Written Declaration.
Trials by Written Declaration commonly referred to as Trials by Dec, are infraction trials done through written correspondence between the defendant, the Officer and the Court. So, someone who receives a traffic ticket can, if submitted with the right forms and the exact bail amount, request to have a Trial by Written Declaration and if that request is made before the due date of the ticket. If the Court approves the Trial by Written Declaration, the officer who wrote the ticket will reply with his statement and then the Court will determine both statements to decide if you are guilty or not guilty. Once a decision is made the defendant is sent a letter of the outcome in the mail and the DMV is electronically notified. If the defendant is unhappy with the Court’s decision, they may then request to have a new in person trial or trial de novo with the Court but this request must be made within 20 days of the Court’s decision.
The intended benefits for a trial by declaration were to allow people who could not appear in Court an opportunity to be heard through written correspondence between themselves and the Court. These trials also allow for a new trial (trial de novo) if a person is dissatisfied with the Court’s decision. So, if someone were to be found guilty based on their trial by declaration, they have the right to a second Court trial in person to relitigate the matter. This new trial gives a person another chance to have their case dismissed or as some say, “a second bite at the apple”. The right to a trial de novo can therefore be used as a trial strategy to increase one’s odds of having a traffic case dismissed.
Even though trials by written declaration do have the advantages of convenience and a chance to have a second trial in person if you are found guilty, this form of trial does have several key drawbacks.
Downsides of Trials by Written Declaration
- The full bail amount must be posted before the ticket's due date. So, there is no way to choose this option if you want to pay the citation using one of the Court’s payment plans or through community service.
- Choosing a trial by written declaration waives certain Constitutional rights. Like the right to confront and cross examine witnesses. When a trial is done by mail the defendant does not have the opportunity to confront the officer or ask questions of the officer that may be beneficial to one’s case. Trials by written declaration are read privately by the Court and decisions are made by comparing two statements, neither side gets the opportunity to read each other’s statements or ask questions based on those statements.
- A guilty ruling in the trial is immediately sent to the DMV and points are added to one's driving record. Even though there is still a chance for a new trial and changing the outcome, the process can take months. During this time the Court shows the citation as a conviction and points are reflected on the DMV driving record which may increase one’s insurance or affect one’s work if a company considers one’s driving record for employment. Even if the outcome of the ticket is changed at the new trial it can still be an ordeal for a person to have the DMV to properly remove those points from that person’s record.
What Should I Do With a Trial by Written Declaration?
When considering the use of trial by declaration either for convenience or as a trial strategy one needs to consider if they want to have a conviction and point on their record even if it may only be for a few months. If you're faced with a situation like this, the legal process can be extremely complicated and complex. It's best to work with an attorney who is dedicated to these types of cases and other related legal battles. Schedule your consultation with Attorney Ryan Mac Eachern today!