San Diego County traffic violators who choose to fight their tickets were given a legal financial break this week.
On June 8, the state’s Judicial Council ordered traffic courts statewide to stop collecting bail from citizens who decide to challenge a one-point moving violation — a speeding, red light, or stop-sign ticket. The amount of bail usually equals the amount of a fine.
In many counties, one had to pay a bail of between $250 and $500 before seeing a judge to schedule a court hearing. The violator’s money would only be refunded if the defendant was successful in pleading their case and found not guilty.
However, in San Diego County, nothing has really changed over the years, according to court’s executive officer Michael Roddy.
Although the court’s website and mailed courtesy notices state a violator has to pay the bail in order to contest their ticket, “When someone walks up to our counter, or sends us a written declaration and wants to see a judge, they’ve always been given that opportunity [without having to post bail],” Roddy said on June 10.
Roddy says the court’s legal wording was required by the vehicle code. It will be changed and clarified within a week or two. “We’re waiting on wording from Sacramento,” he said. If it doesn’t come by the Judicial Council’s September 15 deadline, then the San Diego County court will make the clarifications in their own wording.
State supreme court chief justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye, advocate of the rule change, stated in a conference call to the L.A. Times that the requirement to pay fines first amounts to a “pay to play” system.
Advocates of the poor said the old system was like being found guilty until proven innocent, having to pay first just to have one’s day in court.
Orange County courts did just that: collected the fine before one could schedule a court appearance. Others pointed out that by charging the bail up front, it discouraged violators from challenging their tickets; thus, less people in traffic courts in a budget-challenged system.
Bill Niles, president of the California Traffic School Association, said, “This was unconstitutional. Nobody should have to pay the fine before seeing a judge. People have had their cars taken away and their driver's licenses suspended just because they couldn’t pay the fines. It was like debtors' prison.”