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Frequently Asked Questions - Traffic


1. Where is the San Mateo Court Located?

When open, all traffic arraignments are heard in the Northern Branch in South San Francisco, 1050 Mission Road, South San Francisco, CA 94080, regardless of where in San Mateo County you received your citation/ticket.

2. What does my citation tell me?

It is important to read the information on the front and back of your citation. The front side of the citation issued to you provides you with the following information:

  • Citation number
  • Issuing agency
  • Date and time of the citation
  • Violations for which you were cited
  • Location of violation
  • Issuing officer
  • Place and time by which you promised to appear
3. What is a Courtesy Notice?

A courtesy notice is usually mailed to you at the address listed on the citation within 30 days of the date the citation was issued. The notice contains general information about requirements and options available for resolving the citation, which may include:

  • Amount of bail, based on the violations and your prior driving history
  • Proof of correction requirements for mechanical violations
  • Mandatory court appearance requirements
  • Traffic school eligibility requirements

If you do not receive a courtesy notice prior to the due date on your citation, contact the court because failure to receive a courtesy notice is not a legal excuse for failing to take care of the citation. It is your responsibility to resolve the citation on or before the due date. When submitting payments and/or documents by mail, please allow 10 days for delivery and processing.

Reminder: Failure to appear or resolve a citation on or before the due date may result in additional charges, penalties, assessments, fees and actions, including a civil assessment of $100, a hold or suspension placed on your driver's license by the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV).  A DMV hold will restrict your driving privileges and/or ability to register a vehicle. The citation may also be referred to a collection agency for the collection of payment due.

4. How do I get help with my citation?

The Court's mission is to provide accurate information to its customers. Clerks are authorized to provide information regarding the procedures used by the Court to process a case. However, all clerks are prohibited by law (Government Code Section 24004) from giving legal advice to litigants or to assist them in filling out any forms, including forms provided by the Court, for the following reasons:

The clerk is not an attorney at law. The clerical staff is trained to accept papers for filing and has no expertise in the legal consequences of information included on any of the forms. The Court must be neutral in any proceeding. By assisting one side or the other, a clerk can cause the Court to be perceived as taking sides or being biased, which circumvents justice as a whole. All persons seeking legal assistance from the Clerk's Office are to be redirected to an attorney licensed to practice law in the State of California without naming any specific person or firm.

For help finding an attorney:

5. How do I pay my citation?

There are three options for paying a citation:

  • On the Internet
  • By mail
  • In person at the Traffic Clerk's office in South San Francisco or at the Criminal Clerk's Office on the 4th Floor, 400 County Center, Hall of Justice in Redwood City (Dropbox only).

    The bail on a citation is the amount of money required to guarantee your appearance in Court. If you choose to pay the bail on the citation without contesting or going to trial, it is called a Bail Forfeiture. The citation is deemed paid and your case will be closed. It will appear as a conviction on your driving record for any reportable violations and any applicable point counts will apply. Your automobile insurance may be adversely affected. Some violations, however, require a mandatory court appearance and cannot simply be paid without going to court first.

    If there are any mechanical or insurance violations included in the citation, proof of correction will be required before you can pay the citation. Proof may be submitted either by mail or in person. For additional information regarding proof of correction, please refer to the section entitled "How do I obtain proof of correction."

    Please note: No additional services are available for traffic cases at the Redwood City location.

Note: If paying by check, please make the check payable to "Superior Court" and please include your docket number (court case number) and/or your citation number on your check.

Failure to appear or resolve a citation on or before the due date may result in additional charges, penalties, assessments, fees and actions, including a civil assessment of up to $100, and a hold or suspension placed on your driver's license by the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). A DMV hold may restrict your driving privileges and/or ability to register a vehicle. The citation may also be referred to a collection agency for the collection of balance due.

If you have been ordered to pay a fine, and if you have a financial hardship and can show that you are unable to pay the full amount for the offenses on your traffic ticket, you may request the court to consider your ability to pay.

6. What if I have a financial hardship and cannot afford to pay for my citation?

See how do I pay my citation.

7. What is an extension?

An extension is a postponement of the original due date on a citation.

An extension is not applicable for a court trial or trial by written declaration.

Extensions of original due date to appear or pay bail

The Clerk's Office may give one 30-day extension to appear or pay bail on eligible citations. No further extensions at the end of the 30-day period will be given.

There are four options to request an extension to appear or pay bail:

8. How do I obtain proof of correction?

Mechanical Violations

Corrections for most mechanical violations can be inspected by the Sheriff, California Highway Patrol or other approved law enforcement agencies.

Proof of correction by an authorized law enforcement agency is to include:

  • Inspecting officer's signature and printed name
  • Badge number
  • Vehicle Code number

After obtaining a proof of correction, you must submit the proof of correction to the court along with a $25.00 fee per correctable violation.

Registration And License Violations

If you were cited with a registration violation and have proof of valid registration from the Department of Motor Vehicles, you may submit a copy of your registration with the appropriate bail to the Court. If you cannot provide proof for the vehicle cited, you will be required to pay the bail associated with that violation.

Some violations including sections 12500, 14601 and 23109 of the Vehicle Code may require a mandatory court appearance. Contact the Court for further information.

Insurance Violations

If you did not have proof of financial responsibility (e.g., insurance) at the time the ticket was issued, you may pay the full bail amount for this violation or schedule a court date for arraignment.

If you were insured at the time the citation was issued, but were unable to provide proof of financial responsibility (insurance) to the officer who cited you, you may either (1) submit proof, as described below, with a payment of $25.00 per correctable violation, or (2) bring your proof of financial responsibility to the court and present to the clerk. The Court will dismiss the violation when it receives proof of financial responsibility and payment of the fee.

Certain insurance violations are not correctable or dismissible by the clerk of the court and require payment of full bail or court appearance.

Acceptable proof of financial responsibility must include the following information:

  • Name of the insurance carrier
  • Policy number
  • Effective dates of coverage with an effective date prior to the date the citation was issued
  • Name of person who received the citation and/or the vehicle listed on the citation

If the proof does not show all of the information, the total bail amount must be paid; if not, a court appearance is required.

9. Am I eligible to attend Traffic School?

Pursuant to Vehicle Code section 42005 and California Rules of Court rule 4.104, court clerks are only authorized to grant traffic school requests if the following criteria is met:

  • You must currently possess a valid California driver's license.
  • The violation(s) on your citation/ticket must be an eligible Vehicle Code infraction. Any violation that carries a negligent operator point count of more than one point under VC 12810 or one and one-half points or more under VC 12810.5(b)(2) is not eligible. Seat belt, mechanical or equipment violations, failure to have insurance and other certain specified violations are not eligible for traffic school.
  • You may not have attended Traffic School for a previous violation committed within the last 18-months. The 18-month eligibility period is determined from violation date to violation date and not from when you attended traffic school.
  • If cited for speeding, the alleged speed cannot be more than 25 mph over the speed limit.
  • Your citation/ticket must not have defaulted to a failure to appear unless the failure to appear charge has been adjudicated and any fine or civil assessment imposed has been paid.
  • Your citation/ticket must not be for a violation of Vehicle Code section 22406.5 (tank vehicles)
  • Your citation/ticket must not be related to alcohol use or possession
  • Your citation/ticket must not be related to drug use or possession
  • If you were cited while driving with a Class A, B or Commercial Class C driver's license, on or after January 1, 2013, but you were not driving a commercial vehicle at the time of the violation, you may attend traffic school, if eligible. Although the DMV will not assess the point count on your driving record, they will not hold the conviction as confidential and therefore your insurance may be adversely affected.

To attend traffic school, you must pay the total bail amount due on your citation/ticket plus an additional non-refundable $82.00 administrative fee. The traffic school will charge you a separate registration fee when you enroll.

Please note: If you have a commercial license, you will need to call the DMV's Drivers Safety Unit at 916-657-6552 after completing traffic school to get the point removed from your record.

There are three options for requesting traffic school and paying traffic school fees:

You will be given 60 days to complete a traffic school program. If you submit satisfactory proof of completion by your traffic school due date, the citation/ticket will be dismissed by the court and reported to the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) as a Traffic School Dismissal. For violations committed on or after July 1, 2011, courts are required to report attendance/completion of traffic school to the DMV as a confidential conviction instead of a dismissal of the charges. NOTICE: If you are eligible and decide not to attend traffic school, your automobile insurance may be adversely affected. One conviction in any 18-month period will be held confidential and not show on your driving record if you complete a traffic violator school program.

If you sign up for traffic school and fail to submit the certificate of completion by the due date, the traffic school fee you paid will be deemed as bail and forfeited; DMV will be notified of the conviction.

10. How do I get an extension to complete Traffic School?

The Clerk's Office may give one 30-day extension to complete traffic school if requested prior to the original traffic school due date.   No further extensions at the end of the 30-day period will be given.

There are three options to request an extension to complete Traffic School:

  • By telephone
  • By mail - sent to the traffic clerk's office at 1050 Mission Road, South San Francisco, CA 94080
11. Submission of certificate of traffic school completion?

Effective September 1, 2012, all DMV approved traffic violator schools are required to submit certificates of traffic school completion electronically to the Court. Therefore, hard copy completion certificates are no longer accepted.

12. What is an arraignment?

In person appearances for your traffic infraction may include an arraignment and, if requested, a court trial. At an arraignment in court, the judicial officer will explain what the charges are, inform you of your rights and ask you if you want to plead guilty, not guilty or no contest (also called "nolo contendere"). You are not required to deposit bail to appear for arraignment.

  • If you enter a plea of not guilty, the judicial officer will set a court trial date.
  • If you enter a plea of guilty or no contest, the judicial officer will sentence you, which may include payment of a fine. You may be ordered to pay the fine that day, unless you are granted time to pay or placed on a payment plan.

An arraignment is not a trial where arguments for a case are heard. If you were cited for mechanical, registration, driver's license or insurance violations, bring all proof of correction that you have with you to the arraignment.

Please note that there are many options available for addressing your citation without requiring you to appear in court. You may also be able to pay your citation, request traffic school or request an extension online by visiting our Portal website.

13. What is a court trial?

A court trial is a hearing where you appear in person to contest your citation and testify about the facts in the case. In traffic infraction cases, a judicial officer will hear your case instead of a jury. The officer who issued the citation will also be required to appear. You have the right to subpoena witnesses and to hire an attorney to appear and represent you at your own expense.

You will not need to deposit the bail amount for a traffic court trial unless:

  • You elect a statutory procedure that requires the deposit of bail;
  • You refuse to sign a promise to appear, if required by the court; or
  • The court finds and states the reasons for the findings at arraignment that, based on your particular case, you are unlikely to appear for trial without a deposit of bail

You may request a court trial during your arraignment hearing. You may also request a court trial, without appearing for an arraignment first, with a court clerk in person or by mail. This option is a convenience to you that requires deposit of bail at the time of your request (Vehicle Code sections 40519(a) and 40519(b)).

Informal Court Trial
An informal trial is a procedure where you appear in person, but the officer who issued the citation is not present. You must waive [give up] your right to subpoena witnesses and to have an attorney present. The court will review the citation and then ask you questions about the issuance of the citation. The court will treat the citation as the officer's testimony. In an informal trial, if the court finds you guilty, you do not have the right to request a court trial.

14. How long will a Court Trial take?

Most trials take a very short amount of time, but you should plan to be at court for at least 2 hours on that day.

15. Should my witnesses appear at the Court Trial?

If you have witnesses that are necessary to your defense, you should have them subpoenaed to appear in court. You can obtain the subpoena form from the Clerk's Office. Do this well in advance of your trial date. Complete the subpoena form, have the subpoena served, and file the subpoena with the proof of service with the Court on or before your trial date.
NOTE: A defendant cannot serve the subpoena. The person served (witnesses) must be given reasonable advance notice of the date and time to appear for trial

16. Should I bring evidence to the Court Trial?


17. What happens at the Court Trial?

At the court trial, the police officer will state why he or she gave you the citation. You or your attorney can:

  • Question the officer who gave you the citation,
  • Bring witnesses,
  • Present evidence, and
  • Argue the law.

At the beginning of the proceeding, the bailiff or clerk will give some preliminary instructions and then check in those people appearing in court. A judicial officer, who, pursuant to Government Code Section 72190, has been empowered to rule on infraction matters, will then call the cases. The Court will listen to the statement of the sworn officer. You may then present your case to the Court, and the Court will rule on the matter.

18. What if I am found guilty?

If you are found guilty and you paid bail before your trial, the court will apply the bail deposit to the fine. If the total fine is less than the amount you paid, the court will mail a refund for any remaining balance. This may take 60-90 days to process. If the total fine is more than the bail deposit, you will be responsible for paying the balance due. However, in most cases, the fine imposed will not exceed the amount of bail you have deposited. If you are unable to pay, you may ask for community service (Penal Code section 1209.5), a payment plan or a reduction based on your inability to pay (Vehicle Code section 42003).

19. What if I am found not guilty?

If you are found not guilty and you paid bail before your trial, the court will mail a refund for the amount you paid. This may take 60-90 days to process. Immediately after the trial, check with the clerk or bailiff to verify your current address.

10. What if I do not appear at the trial time?

Your bail will be forfeited, and your driving record will show a conviction.

21. What if I need to change my trial date?

If it becomes necessary to change your court trial date, you may do so only once. You can send your request to change your trial date by mail or request in person at the traffic clerk's office Monday - Friday between the hours of 8:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m. Your request must be received at least 10 court days prior to your trial date to secure a new date. There will be no exceptions to the minimum 10-day requirement.

22. What is a Trial by Written Declaration?

Vehicle Code section 40902 allows an individual to challenge traffic infraction citations in writing without having to appear in person at court. This procedure is called a trial by written declaration. Trials by written declaration are available in cases involving infraction violations of the Vehicle Code or local ordinances adopted under the Vehicle Code.

For more information on trial by written declaration, read the instructions.

23. What happens in a Trial by Written Declaration?

Choosing to have your trial by written declaration means that instead of going to court to contest your case, you and the officer file statements and any evidence in writing.

Evidence may include:

  • The "Notice to Appear" citation;
  • A business record or receipt;
  • A sworn declaration of the citing officer;
  • A written statement or letter signed by the defendant; and/or
  • Any written statements or letters signed by witnesses.

IMPORTANT: By filing a declaration in a trial by written declaration, you are waiving and giving up the rights to remain silent and not incriminate yourself, and the right to a public and speedy trial. You are also waiving the right to appear in person before a judicial officer.

A judicial officer will review the papers filed by you and the officer and make a decision on your case. You will get the court's decision by mail telling you whether you were found guilty or not guilty.

If you are found guilty, the court notice will state the amount of the fine, penalties and fees and will order that it be paid from your bail deposit if you posted bail. If the amount you owe is more than the bail you paid, the court will give you a deadline to pay the balance. If the amount you owe is less than the bail you paid, the balance will be refunded by mail to the address listed on the case. This may take 8-12 weeks to process.

24. Why is My Bail or Fine So Much?

See: Traffic Local Form TR-07

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