Now is the Time to Take Care of Old Cases in Contra Costa Courts

If you have an old misdemeanor case (such as Vehicle Code section 14601, 12500(a) or 40508a), or an old DUI warrant problem in Contra Costa County traffic or criminal courts, now is the time to take care of it.  A temporary perfect storm of good results in misdemeanor and warrant cases is being fueled by DA and court budget problems.

Evict the Skeletons!

Skeletons in the Closet? Evict them this Halloween

What’s changed?  Well a few months ago the Contra Costa District Attorney announced a plan to stop prosecuting some misdemeanor offenses because a lack of funds forced him to limit and direct resources to more serious felony cases.

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And the Superior Court itself, especially the traffic and criminal divisions, have been on a long term plan of saving resources on minor cases by resolving them with sentencing offers that make pleading guilty attractive to a misdemeanor defendant.

Together, these forces result in the court treating many misdemeanors as infractions, and recalling many failure to appear bench warrants without much trouble when the defendant takes care of the problem voluntarily.

We run into specific examples each week.  For example, under normal conditions, and in other ports, a violation of California Vehicle Code section 14601 (driving on a suspended drivers license) is a misdemeanor, punishable by up to 6 months in the county jail and a hefty fine.  A second offense carries a minimum of 5 days in the county jail, technically, and a fine of $1000 + when it’s all added up. The text of the law clearly states it should be a misdemeanor.

But one client last week got two 14601.1 charges reduced to infractions – even though he had 4 prior offenses! It really was an outstanding result.  In other courts, we would expect 6 months county jail.

Because there is a possibility of jail time with a misdemeanor, usually VC14601 defendants have a right to a jury trial. But jury trials cost money, and CoCo County Courts and county offices are squeezing every penny. They don’t want misdemeanor defendants having trials.

So, the county prosecutors in Contra Costa have not been using resources to fight the 14601.1 cases, warrant cases, and DUI probation violations, and as a result, the courts have been routinely treating these problems as “infractions” for defendants who appear in court voluntarily.

Infractions are not crimes, and carry only a fine as the possible sentence. Jail time is not possible with an infraction.   There is no right to a jury trial on an infraction.

By treating a 14601 misdemeanor or failure to appear as an infraction, the court does not have to allow a jury trial and the prosecutors do not have to do any work on the cases at all.  And it’s a win win situation for the defendant, because an infraction is usually a great result when you are facing a criminal misdemeanor charge to start.

This means the budget problems have effectively decriminalized driving on a suspended license cases and most failure to appear charges in the county for now.

There is a similar effect on cases with a failure to appear (Vehicle Code sec 40508(a) cases).  Where most courts would issue a warrant on a missed court date, Contra Costa traffic court Commissioners are treating missed court dates as an infraction with “civil assessment” penalty (fine), and not a criminal problem.

Some things have not changed: The court still imposes a drivers license hold as a result of a missed court date (which causes a DMV license suspension), but they are not requiring jail time.

This means that it is easier then ever to get misdemeanor cases reduced to infractions – even if there is a missed court date and failure to appear charges (Vehicle Code section 40508(a)). And it is easier than ever to get DUI warrants and probation violations cleared up without jail time.

Thanks to a lack of funds, a scary criminal problem can now be cured fast and the chances of getting out of a big problem with a good result have never been better.  Who knows how long it will last, but it doesn’t matter. If you have a failure to appear case in Contra Costa, you should take care of it ASAP.

Taking voluntary action to solve a warrant or misdemeanor problem is the best way to get a good result.

Most misdemeanor and warrant cases in the Pittsburg or Walnut Creek Courthouse can be placed on the courts schedule on a walk in basis, but the days are limited. The courts only have walkins for most cases 11 days a month (Mon, Wed, Fri and Closed some Weds.).

Walk in requests must be made at 8 am at the court clerks office.  We recommend calling in advance to make sure they do walk ins on the chosen day.

A court appearance is required to resolve most failure to appear cases, but an attorney can go for a client, or the defendant can go on their own.

If you have an old case pending in CoCo County, request a Free Case Aeview to let us show you why it makes sense to have help.

-Chris Dort

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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One Response to Now is the Time to Take Care of Old Cases in Contra Costa Courts

  1. stephen almond says:

    I need help if possible on an old, old ticket I did not pay -off entirely, it stems from being in a commuter lane after the elotted time during the beginning of rush hour on hwy 4 like back in 2003. Can I go back to court on this and get it turned into some other form of resitution besides ash because I have been disabled and out of work for almost 6 years, and I am now on ssi and receiving out-patient treatment for substance abuse at a local program and I am basicly homeless. I have job offers yet I can renew my DL because of this old ticket, help!

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