What to do – First Court Appearance for your Speeding Ticket in California!

By Ronald Cupp PHD

How to approach your traffic ticket courtroom defense in California.

Remember it is all the same laws, should all be the same type of steps in the courtroom, but it is not. This process is alive and dynamic, it is constantly moving and changing. Even though the court or the Commissioners or the Jurisdiction should all be following the same traffic infraction ticket processes, they do not. Not by Jurisdiction, not by different court’s within the same Jurisdiction, and not even by the same Commissioners within their own courtroom. What the heck is going on?

The only thing that I can see that follows any outline or substance is the legal steps. First you have your ‘Arraignment’, which is open traffic ticket court where you are read your charges and asked how you plea? This is not confrontational (other than the Commissioner when you ask for your, or stand up for your -RIGHTS), there is no Officer, there is no evidence. The only purpose is to read you your charges and ask how you plea.

From there you will either give in, pay your fine, and walk out; or you will plead not guilty (there are 6 types of pleas-we won’t get into that now), and be scheduled for a ‘contested traffic ticket court calendar’. That will be the time you confront your accuser (the citing Officer)  submit evidence, and argue your case.

I am over simplifying it, as there can be several steps in between each part, like filing motions, challenging several items (like evidence or jurisdiction, etc.), and documenting your position or challenging theirs. I will get into the second court appearance on another post.

You will hear a similar oratory from the Commissioner at the beginning of the Arraignment Calendar (as it is scripted by the Judges Bench Guide), I have included a copy of one of my traffic court appearances Commissioner’s opening statement to the courtroom for you to hear what you will probably be experiencing when you go.


Now the question is, if you are going to fight this traffic ticket, do you want to win? Will you listening to experience so you won’t have to learn from your losses, you can learn from other peoples mistakes. I have been helping students for a long time now, and hear their stories (of what worked and what did not work).

Everybody likes to think they will RISE TO THE OCCASION, but that never happens. As people, we fall to the level of our training, experience or practice. So, like the Commissioner, you must understand the processes and what you are up against, and then comes preparation. PREPARATION, PREPARATION, PREPARATION is the key. You must script what you think you can follow (remember the Traffic Ticket Court goes on everyday with hundreds of people, and you are only there once) so you are out of your league. You need to level the playing field. Study, study, study. Go over our blog, learn and understand you will continue to learn forever. If you think you know it all, you will lose. Don’t get your head handed to you.

I have written a script for you below, study it, learn it, question what it means, change it to soot your personality better. But the lesson is ‘to have a script or outline to follow’ when you (David vs Goliath) are up in front of the Commissioner. Since they do this everyday, they know how to trick you or trip you up. They are not all Bad, it is to see if you know what the heck you are doing or talking about. And most importantly, they want to keep you in line so you don’t cause more work or a group movement. If they can put you in your place, the rest of the ’sheep’ will follow to slaughter.

Can you fight the traffic ticket system?

Can you fight the traffic ticket system?

Also, take all of this as a learning step. Want to win, work hard at learning your rights and responsibilities, but don’t take it so personally that you lose sight of your life and what is important in it. I have had students that had veins popping out of their necks as they ‘fight to the death‘. If you lose (and yes, they can trample all over your rights if you don’t know what they are doing or how to defend your self-ever hear of a Kangroo Court?), we have a whole section on Appealing your decision (this also will be on another blog post).


Step 1

First Court Appearance Step by Step instructions

a. Preparation:

First of all, it is intimidating, so take a deep breath. Don’t drink a bunch of coffee and go to the restroom before you go into court. (nothing worse than having to go and waiting for your turn at bat).

Relax, breath, and all you have to do is follow the script. Talk loud enough so they can hear you clearly. Be respectful. Look at the Commissioners title on his desk. Address him/her as the title is.

Print out the script and your motions under the Resources Tab, go through them and then fill them out. Check them over again to make sure you did not forget anything and that you understand them.

The motions you want to print out are:

1.       Request for Verified Complaint

2.       Demur to the NTA

3.       Discovery

You want two copies of each, one for the court and the other for your files. They will stamp them ‘Filed’ and return one set to you. We want 3 copies of the discovery as you will need to serve the 3rd copy to the DA’s office.

b. Open Traffic Court Appearance-everyone.

You will have to check in, usually with clerks before you go to court. This is normally the long lines that you waste your life in waiting to be served by civil servants who don’t seem to care, about you or what you have been thru. They have heard it all and don’t want to hear it from you.

In court, just before court starts, they will do a ‘roll call’ to see who has shown up.

Then the Commissioner comes in and gives his pre-Arraignment talk (5-10 minutes) on how ‘his’ system works, what he does, what he expects from you, how many they call up at one time, how payment on account work or ‘working it off’ is done, how waiving time does not give up any of your rights (DON’T DO IT!!!), what types of plea’s you can enter, etc.

Then they will start calling up people to arraign (that means that you were read your charges and asked how you plea?), this is the actual Open Traffic  Arraignment  Court or Calendar. There is no court trials yet, there are no police witnesses against you yet, they just want to know how you plea, if you want to just pay your fine and have it go away, make payments, work it off, or ‘contest it’ which means you plea Not Guilty (or Nolo-Contendre-another version of not guilty) and ‘set you for trial.

c. Open Traffic Court Appearance-your turn at bat!

The Commissioner will call your name, ask you to step up to the ‘bar’ (it normally is a table or podium), then will read your charges like,

“Mr. So & So, on Date, you were cited for (what your ticket is for), ‘How do you Plea?’”

And your exact remarks will be: This is your script immediately below, print it out so you don’t miss it.

Commissioner I Object to the Notice to Appear.

I have 3 motions to file:

First a request for a verified complaint,

Second a Demur to the Notice to Appear,

and Third a Discovery request.

You will hold up your copies of your motions to the Bailiff (Sheriff) who will take them from you and give to the Commissioner.

During this time, the Commissioner will interrupt you stating things like, ‘this is an infraction – you do not get a verified complaint’ or ‘your notice to appear is your complaint’. Don’t worry about what he says, stay on point. They also rattle you, so keep this written script with you so you can proceed. It is your objective to get these filed and ‘on the record’ to beat them by them making mistakes.

If you were interrupted, be quiet, respectful and patient, then proceed with the script.  YOU MUST GET IT ALL IN!

The Commissioner usually will hand the motions to his clerks who will stamp them ‘Filed or Endorsed’ and have the Bailiff or Sheriff hand you back your copies.

At some point, the Commissioner will ask you again if you will enter a plea at this time (it’s their trick, they do it over and over) or if you will waive time. Your answer:

“Commissioner, I cannot plea at this time” or

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“Commissioner, I do not wish to waive time”

At this point, usually the Commissioner will reschedule you and give you a new appearance date. Keep it slow and simple, we only want to get the motions filed and your Objection on the record. Everything is about getting what we want on the record so we can reference it later and use it against them. Sometimes we get a new Commissioner (so don’t worry about this one) if he does not want to play ball!

If you want to dialog with the Commissioner, here are some good ones to use.  (be careful though, as they do this 8 hours a day and they are asking questions to trip you up for some legal reason)!

Always, Always, Always try and ask the Commissioner a question ‘for the record’, like:

“Can you please state, ‘for the record’, what Penal Code, Vehicle Code or Statute you are using to base your decision on?” I need it for any possible appeal. The more you can get them to commit their answers on the record the better we can get them to dismiss your case. Whoever is asking the questions is in charge, so don’t be afraid to keep asking Commissioner questions (be Colombo).

If Commissioner pushes you on ‘how you Plea?’ to your charge, just read this:

“I cannot plea at this time. I  specifically and  simply do not understand the nature and cause of the accusation with regards to the elements of personal jurisdiction, venue, and the nature of the action until the prosecution properly alleges them and therefore unable to enter a plea against the charge until I have an opportunity to raise a meaningful defense against these elements. I simply cannot rebut an unstated presumption.”

Frame as questions:

“Commissioner, can you quote the statutory intention of 40513 a&b for me?” (see our breakdown-best to save for 2nd court appearance, but if Commissioner pushes you-then shoot him between the eyes, print out and read this to him to get his answers on the record.).

“Exactly – if you don’t know how can you hold anyone to answer to it.”

“Can you prove and state for the record you have Subject Matter Jurisdiction?”

“Did you know, If you violate my rights, you lose Subject Matter Jurisdiction?”

Rev 1-2011

Ronald Cupp PhD




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