How to Appeal A Traffic Court Case

Did you lose your traffic court case and feel that the judge made an error in ruling against you?  Well, there is a way to try again.  If you lose a trial after pleading “not guilty” on a traffic citation, or if the court makes an order that substantially affects the case, you have the right to an Appeal decided by different judges.

Here is a step by step guide to Appealing a Traffic Court Trial in California.

Step 1 Is Losing a Trial or Your Rights.

It may sound like a no brainer that you have to lose a trial to appeal one, but the devil is in the details.

A defendant who pleads guilty or no contest does not have the right to an appeal.

Many people who plead guilty are unhappy with the outcome and feel like they should be allowed to appeal to get their fines or violations reduced.  But if you admit you are guilty – game over – no appeal. When you plead GUILTY, you are saying “I am guilty!”. There is no back tracking from a confession in court like that – no matter how much you hate it. Pleading “No Contest” is the same as GUILTY.

To be eligible for an appeal, you must first plead “Not Guilty” at the arraignment (or by mail on some citations) and request a Court Trial. Then, you must show up and lose a trial.

It is also possible to Appeal a Specific Order of the Court, if it has the effect of substantially affecting your rights.  It would apply in the case where the court denies your rights by: 1) refusing you the right to challenge a civil assessment (see penal code 1214.1(d)), or 2) if the court refuses to allow you to have an attorney represent you at trial.

You can only appear errors of law. You cannot appeal factual decisions made by the trial judge. This means if the judge decides to believe the cop instead of you, there is nothing to appeal. Deciding who to believe is a factual finding that you cannot appeal.

But if the judge makes a legal error, such as refusing to allow you to cross examine the police officer, you can appeal that error.

An appeal basically works like this: 1) you file a notice to the trial court and the court of appeal that you wish to appeal. Then, sometime later, 2) you have to file a Brief, stating in writing what the error was, and why it should be reversed.

After a trial, this means you have to collect the transcript of the trial, and use it to point out exactly where the error was made.

To appeal an order of a judge when there has been no trial, you must get proof of the order that you want to challenge.  If it was a denial of a Petition to Vacate a Civil Assessment, you need a copy of the Denial letter (or clear Minute Order from the courtroom clerk).

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The “Notice of Appeal” is how you tell the court you want an appeal.  The actual Notice of Appeal is a 1 page Judicial Council Form that you can get online and mail to the court or file in person.  It’s very simple and essentially tells the trial court and appeal court what case you want to appeal. It comes with detailed instructions.

You should file the Notice of Appeal immediately, without delay, in person. Take a copy with you when you go to the trial just in case you want to appeal and get the Notice part done while you are there in court.

There is a deadline for filing a Notice of Appeal, and as of the time of this writing, it is, in CA, 30 days from the date the final decision was made. It does not matter when you received a final notice or when it was mailed.  The deadline is from the date of the decision, which is usually the trial date.

File a Notice to Appeal early by getting it to the court clerk’s office a week or more ahead of the deadline. There is no cost or filing fee to file a Notice of Appeal in CA traffic court.

On the form for the Notice of Appeal there is a check box so that you can request a copy of the tape or transcript of the trial. Get it, you need it.

The clerk at the court where the trial happened will receive the notice and prepare the record.  The clerk then sends the record to the appeal court or the Appellate Division of the Superior Court.  The record should include all the evidence used at trial, including exhibits (photos?).  If the Judge returned exhibits to you – then you must deliver the exhibits yourself to the Appeals Court and get them filed in the case.

There is no fee for filing a Notice of Appeal. There may be a fee for copying and sending the record.  If you cannot afford it, you can apply for a waiver of the fee with the court clerk called an “Indigent Fee Waiver”

Once the Appeals Court gets a complete copy of the record, they set a deadline for the “Appellant” to write a statement about why the appeal should be granted.  This statement is called an “Appellant’s Opening Brief” and it where you make your arguments.

After the Notice of Appeal is filed with the court, you have to write an “Appellant’s Opening Brief”, and get it filed with the APPEAL COURT prior to the deadline they make up. The Appeal Court may be in a different location, so dont get the appeal court confused with the trial court.

Once an Appellant’s Opening Brief is filed, the government gets to respond to your claims (usually the city attorney’s office). But the government can just ignore you and let the court decide the appeal without a response.

The appeal court will not review the entire trial. They will only look at errors of law that you challenge. You must point them out, and state why they are errors of law that affected the case.

The appeal decision will be based on the arguments of the defendant and the government in documents called “Briefs”.  It sounds more complicated than it is.  Basically, a Brief is just a statement of why the appeal court should overturn the ruling of the trial court.

California Rule of Court 8.928 gives instructions on how to format and what kind of cover to use for your Appellant’s Opening Brief. You can do it at Kinko’s. Or at least you could before they disappeared.

You will need about 5 copies made.

Once written, the brief must be filed with the Appeals Court.  You will be told where it should go.  You can mail or file it in person. I say file it in person.

Then you must get some one to deliver or send a copy to the government representative handling their side of the appeal.  Usually this is the District Attorneys office, but the court will let you know exactly once the Notice of Appeal is received. The defendant cannot serve the opening brief himself, it must be a person who is not connected to the case at all.

California Rule of Court 8.927 gives instructions on how to file and serve the “Appellant’s Opening Brief”.

Once you get some one to deliver or send a copy of the Opening Brief to the government, that person must sign a “Proof of Service Form” that then gets filed with the Appellate Court. There is a Proof of Service by Mail Form and a Proof of Service in Person Form. If the copy was dropped off at the DA’s office, use the Proof of Service in Person Form.

The proof of service can be filed with the appeal court by mail or in person – but in person filing is best so that you get a receipt or proof of filing.

After the Appellant and the Government file briefs, the Appeals Court will review the Briefs and the Record, and make a decision.  Usually the Appeal Court is actually the Appellate Division of the Superior Court, which is a three judge panel that rotates membership.

For the court’s instructions on how to fill out the Traffic Court Appeal Forms, see the Judicial Council Form Instructions for Traffic Court Appeals

So now that you know how to do it, how do you win a Traffic Court Appeal?  Well, that is a topic for another article.

What is the difference between an Appeal and a “Writ”?

Questions?  Leave a Comment.

This free legal self help article was written by a licensed attorney and brought to you by Google Ads:

About Attorney Christopher Dort

Public Interest Attorney. CA State Bar #196832. Licensed to practice law in California 1998, and then the US Federal District Court in 2000. Civil Litigation Trial Attorney (Insurance Defense Firms) 2000-2003. Private practice 2003 - present. First Solo Criminal Jury Trial 1998 (Santa Cruz County). First Civil Jury Trial 2002 (Orange County). Santa Cruz County Public Defenders Office 1996-1999 (law clerk). BA in Politics from UC Santa Cruz, 1995. JD, University of California, Hastings, 1998.
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8 Responses to How to Appeal A Traffic Court Case

  1. Terisa Gurzi says:

    I lost my case after trial before a judge. I then appealed the judgment. The court made three separate attempts to dismiss my case on technicalities but I was diligent in correcting the errors. The government never filed a response. The “court of appeal” was coincidentally the same judge who rendered the decision at trial and obviously he simply affirmed his decision. You state that I have the right to have the decision reviewed by a different judge, but it appears that I did not. Do I have a right of appeal from the decision on appeal or do I have to file for a writ allowing me to appeal the decision on appeal? Thank you.

  2. Michelle says:

    What if there was no court reporter/transcription of the proceeding and no electronic recording as is the practice in the Santa Monica Traffic Court?

    • Michelle,

      If you want to appeal a traffic court case in CA where there is no recoding or record of the trial, you have to prepare a “Statement of the Case” which describes what happened, then the trial judge gets to edit it to conform to his/her memory.

      The instructions for that are in the judicial council form package for traffic court appeals.

  3. leslie sloan says:


    I have filed my appeal forms and heard from the court….I did CR-142 and CR 143 – the court amended and I shot back an amendment which he accepted “in part.” and then said “it is written” at the end of his brief….it seemed he ruled against me and said that no further appeal would be granted. So I thought I had lost my appeal….then I received a letter stating I had missed my date for the opening brief -I am happy to submit this! – I now have 20 more days. (I have paid my fines and am doing this on principle) My question: is there a form I can use to make it look like the “briefs” I see on line? Do you have any thoughts?

  4. Sher says:

    I filed a notice of appeal, and then turned in the Statement on appeal two months ago, within my deadline. I have not heard anything back from either the traffic court or the appeals court, and don’t know what to do or who to contact from here.

    • Sher,

      Contact the court clerk that you sent (or delivered) the Statement to. IN writing, ask for a status update. Make sure they have your current address. They will ignore you if you let them. Keep copies of everything.

  5. jon says:

    So I have an odd situation. I received a speeding ticket VC22350 and got a FTA for that. I paid both and followed your advice and procedures and after a number of attempts received a new court date. The police officer did not show up and my speeding ticket was dismissed. The FTA is still pending and I am following your advice to attempt for a new trial and if that does not work will be hiring an attorney. (Hopefully you guys would be available). My current problem is the VC22350 was not removed from my driving record. The point was taken off but it still shows up with a conviction date. I talked with the supervisor and she even called me and said they are sending over the abstract to fix this. I called DMV a week later and it is still on there. I am going down to talk to Tiffany the court clerk supervisor but what other recourse do I have. I know that your violation shows up but the point is taken off for attending traffic school but if I was found not guilty and it was dismissed I should have no record of this violation on my driving record. Your thoughts are appreciated.



    • Jon,

      Lot of issues here, and I only have a moment I can use to do some free work. Here are my thoughts:

      1) Unless you know what you are doing, it is dangerous to have a trial on a case where a failure to appear charge has been added – because can beat the speeding trial, and end up with a misdemeanor criminal conviction. And if you get a really unhappy judge, you can end up with a 6 mo jail term for a failure to appear – even after you win on the speeding ticket. Get it?

      2) a failure to appear charge under CA VC 40508(a) is a misdemeanor crime. You have the right to a jury trial. An attorney would demand a jury trial and use that leverage to force the prosecutor to do so much work that they would give up. But a person that did not go to law school probably has no chance at winning a jury trial on a failure to appear charge – unless you have proof you were actually there.

      3) If the speeding violation was dismissed, and DMV will not remove the record of it – you need to take proof of the dismissal to the DMV and demand that they correct your driver history report. The proof you need is your “Minute Order”, which you should have gotten from the court clerk after the dismissal (Never leave court without paperwork).

      Do not waste your time trying to get a court clerk to change DMV records. It will not work. You need to take proof of the dismissal to DMV yourself.

      Finally – if the point is gone on your DMV record – I would not even spend a second working on it. Life is too short.

      Double finally – dont try and get any of this work done on the phone. It will not work. You have to go in person.

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