Traffic Ticket Dismissed!

I am happy to announce the end of a long saga: my decision to contest a ticket that I received in early March of 2005. I originally blogged about it here:

I went back and toned down some of my original post, because emotion does not help one defend oneself in a court of law.

Having spent an estimated 15 hours working on my defense, doing research into the California vehicle code, and approaching the court with a prepared set of questions for cross-examining my ticketing officer DID help me in the court of law.

I will attempt to give a brief summary of how the case proceeded, because it fascinates me, and because it may be helpful to others who may be contesting the same citation. The most interesting thing to me was that the judge stopped me during cross-examination to dismiss the citation and to discuss his viewpoint: essentially, since the signs over Arroyo Parkway were the same at the time of the ticket, and were later removed due to problems the executive branch had with them, the judge was not going to penalize me for happening to be at that intersection at that particular date. In other words, because the signs had been taken down and replaced, the judge decided to dismiss the case. However, although the judge said I had a pretty good cross-examination, he was not convinced that the officer ticketed me incorrectly, or that this particular sign/signal was illegal.

There were some extremely important things going on legally that I was aware of, yet I did not address through cross-examination to convince the judge otherwise. The most major distinction was whether the “FLASH RED NO LEFT TURN SIGN” was actually an official traffic control device, or a sign. The judge advised me to look into CVC 21351, which essentially allows local authorities to place any sign, regardless of conformance with local law. The distinction is important because official traffic control devices have uniform standards and specifications, outlined in CVC 21400 instead.

The tricky point is that I was ticketed under CVC 22101(d), which allows local officials and authorities to place official traffic control devices (and makes it unlawful to disobey them), but requires them to be placed in accordance with sections (b) and (c). Section (c) covers prohibited turns, and says that local authorities must place signs, not official traffic control devices.

Essentially, what the judge was saying to me was that the question of whether a sign or official traffic control device is required is primarily one of jurisdiction – whether the sign placed up at the Gold Line intersections for a short while is required to be a sign or an official traffic control device depends on whose law is applicable in that case – local or state. In this case, the judge argued that the local law was in effect, but I am not sure I recall the exact reasoning – maybe it’s just a tricky issue between state and local jurisdictions.

Anyway, I’m definitely not a lawyer, but I thought I made a pretty good case for it to be considered a traffic control device! If I were to spend more time on it, I would research more deeply into the fundamental differences between signs and official traffic control devices, specifically for a law on the books that states any lighted bulbs or electronically controlled devices are not signs. Significantly, though, I overlooked an entire section (CVC 21351) that the judge had to point out to me which he said was the law under effect at that intersection. So I wouldn’t hire myself as a traffic court lawyer just yet. 🙂

Most imporantly, I appreciate the judge’s sense of fairness and justice in dismissing my claim, as he believed that it would be unfair to punish me because of the date upon which I took a left turn through that intersection, especially if that type of signage disappeared soon after my violation.

Overall, this was a fantastic experience for me with legal research, and I have to admit that I felt literally excited each time I was in court, especially in the presence of a judge. I know that this was a close call for myself, and I was prepared for any outcome. I won’t forget the lessons i’ve learned in this case, and I definitely won’t forget the strange passion the law seeks out in me.

Here are some of the key things I looked at or did that were very useful to me:

  • The searchable PDF of the California Vehicle Code, especially Division 11: Rules of the Road
  • CVC 22101(d), the citation statute.
  • CVC 21100.1, which requires any traffic control device to conform to the uniform standards and specifications … pursuant to section 21400.
  • CVC 21450(a), which restricts colors used in official traffic control devices to red, yellow, and green only.
  • CVC 21457(a), which describes flashing red stop signals.
  • A plan of defense, including a thorough discussion of the main point (sign was supposed to be a traffic control device and did not adhere to standards)
  • An ordered questionnaire to help me stay on track during cross-examination of the officer, which first established the facts of the citation, then attempted to probe the officer’s understanding of the law as it applied to this sign. (This was most helpful in keeping me calm and on track in front of the judge)
  • A methodical approach to my defense following specific reading of the law as it applied to my case.
  • Proceeding in the cross-examination with respect for the ticketing officer, who was simply doing his job. I fully recognize the need for law enforcement officers to be able to make stops without having to get into a discussion of state and local authority, and I truly appreciate the service that police provide in the community.
And so, another saga of my life comes to an end. I typically drive like a very law-abiding grandpa, so I do not expect to receive any tickets in the future. The sad truth is that this confusion and resulting cost to both myself and the court system could have easily been avoided by a more cautious executive branch, which could have simply installed regular red solid arrows to prevent people from turning left during train crossing periods. In my mind, the most culpable parties in this case are the members of the executive branch who put their citizens in the unfortunate position of interepreting unusual signs, and put their officers in the position of enforcing them.

20 thoughts on “Traffic Ticket Dismissed!

  1. This post inspired me to be more focused and formal in my upcoming parking ticket defense. Up until now, my main reason for pleading innocent was simply to postpone paying the excedingly high 250 dollar fine.

  2. Wow, this post has inspired me. Its admirable to see a citizen prepare a solid traffic case, just to evade a ticket. And to think, I was gonna hire Jack Thompson to convince the judge that years of Driver had made me incapable of following road signs.

  3. Mac,

    In my defense, my goal was not at any time to “evade” a ticket. In fact, I believe that I behaved in good faith at that intersection according to a reasonable interpretation of the traffic control device present. I did not believe that I should have been ticketed, so I was attempting to right a wrong rather than get out of something.


  4. getluky:

    I cannot show my appreciation enough to thank you to have a site that simply goes to the heart of the search. I have been trying to find case laws to help my wife of the CVC 22101 (d). However, After spending $38.00 on TicketKillers comments and hours of reading it I had to go to the origin of the citation where I found your article.
    God Bless you. ON

  5. Hi, I have this problem, I did won and get my ticket dismissed, yet now the insurance agent is still raising my rates… I’m so pissed and I talked with other agents they are not helping. Do I have to sue the guy who hit me for damages or what? apparently I can do that a bit late but still I can sue him. what can I do is my question? and where to look for answers?

  6. “Most imporantly, I appreciate the judge’s sense of fairness and justice in dismissing my claim, as he believed that it would be unfair to punish me because of the date upon which I took a left turn through that intersection, especially if that type of signage disappeared soon after my violation.”

    I am glad to see there are still some judges out there that can cut a guy a break!

  7. Congrats on your case! What amazed me is the cost of the fine. Nice to know robbery has been legalized by the state.

  8. what happends if in my print out apears 4 of my tickets dismissed because i fihit for it and also went to trafic school but stil in my dmv print out and i don’t want them on it because i can’t get ajob as driving.

  9. I think you are an idiot and did just get out of a ticket. You obviously made a mistake and avoided the sign/traffic control device.

  10. Hi, Due to the future construction plans, few strip malls(very small) have been closed and I was passing through the community and cop ticketed me for ‘evasion of traffic control device’. There was no sign to let the ppl know we cannot pass through the community however people do as a short cut. I wouldn’t have done it if there was a proper sign there. My court date is scheduled next month and I appreciate a piece of advice.thanks!

    1. Sign—any traffic control device that is intended to communicate specific information to road users through a word or symbol legend. Signs do not include traffic control signals, pavement markings, delineators, or channelization devices.

    2. Traffic Control Device—a sign, signal, marking, or other device used to regulate, warn, or guide traffic, placed on, over, or adjacent to a street, highway, pedestrian facility, or shared-use path by authority of a public agency having jurisdiction.

  11. Willie: excellent point. If I had lost the case and had been willing to appeal, I would have definitely attacked the reasoning on those grounds. As it stands, it was in my best interest to stop arguing as soon as the judge decided to dismiss. 🙂

  12. why was an impartial judge arguing with you about which cal code it was? the judge can not be an impartial judge if he is arguing the state /city side of the proceeding. move for mistrial!

  13. I got no left turn ticket , so I did not see the sign because the big truck was loading I the left corner of the intersection, and the police cached me when I was turning left in the middle of the intersection. So , what I have to do?

  14. This is what we, the public, need. Because trust me, the people behind the traffic scheme and the officials working it are not on our side or the side of justice, and lawyers who fight traffic tickets and ignore the fact that the whole process is an unlawful scam and pretend felonies aren’t being committed in court just to punish infractions cannot be trusted.

    It’s not hard once you start to learn this stuff and there is no rule saying we can’t help each other unlike the system who refuses to help or answer questions. The more people wake up the less they can screw us.

  15. Oh and by the way. How many people look at the funding schedule? Take a look at where the traffic fine money goes. Directly to the court and state to fund their programs and pensions. If you don’t get it then read that again.

    The money goes directly to the state (the Plaintiffs) and the court (the Prosecution) in your traffic cases. That’s a mighty big incentive to convict you, even without evidence.

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