Did you try to appear in court on a traffic ticket, but the traffic court clerk had no record of your citation or court date?
This is a question we get and answer frequently at Traffic Court Pros.com:
“I had a court date on my citation for Feb 15 10 but I went to court and the court clerk has no information about my citation or court date. I signed the citation, what do I do?”
|As a Defense Attorney working in the California Traffic Courts, I see this over and over. The truth is that when this happens, there are only 2 possible reasons: |
1. The court clerk is too dumb to find the citation or figure out what happened with it; or 2) the court simply has not processed the citation yet.
So if this happens to you, you should assume that the citation is sitting in a box somewhere waiting to be imputed into a computer by hand, or that the court clerk doesnt really want to find it for you.
The first remedy for this situation is to tell the clerk to look again. Show him or her your copy of the citation. Ask to talk to someone who has worked there longer.
I realize that this may sound rude and offensive to some. But the truth is I have had many, many cases where the first court clerk tried to tell me that it was not there or not processed yet, but the next clerk who looked found it.
Assuming the citation cannot be found by a competent clerk, you have to protect yourself and get proof you did what the citation requires (the part by your signature).
DO NOT EVER ASSUME THE COP DECIDED TO GIVE YOU A BREAK AND DECIDED NOT TO FILE A CITATION.
If the court truly has not processed the citation by the date you are supposed to show up, you need to follow up yourself. Expect them to screw you over, and get ready for it. Better prepared than suspended!
If you signed the citation, it is going to result in a court case at some point. If the court processes the citation after the date you are supposed to show up (by your signature) the will probably charge the date on you. And they may not tell you about the new date they set.
Generally, the court will change the date and attempt to give you notice by regular mail. They generally do this by sending out a “Courtesy Notice” to the address listed on the citation. Sometimes they send it to your DMV address. They may send it to an old address they have on file for your from a case 10 years ago. But they may also send it to an address that has nothing to do with you at all.
I have seen it all. I have had courts send me notices to an address that I have not used in 7 years, even though my correct address was clearly on the court papers.
Some courts will mail something that looks very much like junk mail with notice of the new date. Watch for it.
So for this reason, it is super important that you double and triple check with the court clerk that they have your correct address.
This problem can happen with traffic tickets and even with misdemeanor charges. Here is a classic recent example of this problem we experienced here:
Client had a DUI arrest in Orange County Criminal Court – Fullerton Courthouse. Upon release, he was told his court date was Feb 3, 2007. Defendant hired us, and I attempted to appear for the defendant at the scheduled arraignment. Once I got there (dressed in my best silk suit and tie), the court had no record of the case at all. No rescheduling, no new notice, no file, no info, no concern for the lack of accurate information, no friendly “let’s see if we can help” attitude, nothing.
Then, days later, the Defendant got a letter from the Orange County District Attorney stating that the court date had been changed to 3/1/07. Two days after that, the defendant got another letter stating that the date had changed again to 6/26/07! Of course, it made no sense, and increased the clients stress, confusion, and reinforced his lack of confidence in our legal system.
It truly proved there is insufficient rational thought put into these problems by the courts and prosecuting agencies.
So here is how you deal with it:
I recommend that if you go to court on the date listed on your citation, and the court has no record of the citation, do not leave without written proof you were there. In most courts, the clerks office will prepare a form for you on request called a “proof of appearance” document with a time stamp. They won’t be friendly when you ask for it, but that’s what you need.
Then, if there is a problem later down the road because you did not get notice of a new date, you’ll have proof that you made a good faith effort to appear on the date set on the citation. And keep the citation!!!
While you’re at it, please do us a favor and take some time to fill out a comment card for the court clerks office – letting them know how much of your time they wasted. And tell them you polluted their city driving there.