Court clerks are the gatekeepers of the court’s workload. In California’s criminal and traffic courts, if a defendant wants a ruling on a motion or appeal, or wants a declaration considered by the judge, the document must be “filed” by the court clerk first. Most other states have a similar process.
Example? In a typical misdemeanor driving on a suspended license case, a defendant will want the court to rule on a few motions. Maybe it is a Motion to Suppress Following Illegal Stop? Maybe a Motion for Order to Release Vehicle from 30 Day Impound?
The Standard Operating Procedure for getting a ruling is as follows. Write the motion. Then take the motion in person to the court clerk’s office for filing, and delivery to the judge. The court clerk will generally accept the original of the document, and stamp it with a “Filed” stamp with a date/time code.
Upon request, the court clerk will also “file stamp” a copy for the defendant’s own records. The court then adds the original filed document to the court’s case file, and where appropriate, calendars the case for action.
If there are other parties involved in the case, such as a prosecutor or co defendants, copies of the filed document must be immediately served on them also. All parties are entitled to see all filed documents. Usually. Many documents have to be served on all parties prior to filing. When in doubt, (attorneys sometimes think), serve everyone before and after filing. 2x if you can bill for it just to make sure everyone has notice.
|How does this help the self represented traffic ticket defendant fighting an unfair ticket or identity theft citation? Imagine that you have a declaration you want to file with the traffic court before your trial, but you live 13 hours away. |
You’ve never been to Barstow, and you sure as hell dont want to drive thru the desert before dawn to Barstow Court on Monday to drop off papers saying you have never been to Barstow. Is there a way to get the document filed by mail?
Or maybe you have a Petition to Vacate Civil Assessment (Penal Code sec 1214.1(d)) that you want a ruling on, and the traffic court clerk refused to accept it at the court clerk’s window. You either want them to file the motion, or give you a written rejection so you can appeal. Can filing by mail help?
Yes. And Yes. However, you cannot send send it off and expect something to happen. A court clerk that can ignore you probably will ignore you. They are too busy. Filing by mail requires attention to detail.
Here is a step by step guide for filing a common document in a misdemeanor or traffic court case as a Criminal Defense Attorney
would might follow.
1. Prepare self addressed, stamped envelope so that the court clerk can mail back your copy;
2. Draft a letter to the court clerk asking for filing of the document by name; or a written rejection if there is a legal basis for a rejection;
3. Ask the court clerk in the letter to file stamp the copy, and return it using the S.A.S.E.;
4. Make sure it is clear which copy is the original;
5. Mail the letter, the 2 copies, and the SASE to the court via US Postal Service Priority Mail with a tracking number required.
6. Follow up in writing as necessary.
If your document requires a “filing fee” (such as a small claims complaint) or “bail” payment (Not Guilty Plea and Demand for Trial by mail) the fee should be included with the filing request.
OK. There you go. Free Legal Self Help that you can actually use. If you cant get it filed in person, this method is almost guaranteed to produce a response. Maybe a rejection letter? Maybe your file stamped copy? Who knows.
If there is a technical error that prevents filing by rule, they will give you a chance to correct it. If there is a legal barrier to your request, you should expect the court to tell you what that barrier is in writing. Ask for a rejection in writing.
If the court clerk rejects a document you have a right to file, that is an issue that can serve as the basis of an appeal.
Check your local court rules! Some courts have specific rules on the format of documents. For examples, some courts require that the original be presented on top, and that documents have a 2 hole punch at the top.
For details on how your specific court accepts documents by mail, review the court’s local rules on filing of documents. In those court rules you can also find information on filing fees, if any. The local rules are posted on the court’s web site in most jurisdictions. For example, here are the Local Rules for the San Bernardino County Superior Court.