May 11, 2013 • By Dennis Beaver

Last week we told you about Alex, our Selma reader who received a red-light camera ticket in the mail, weeks after he and relatives — driving to a family reunion in San Diego — had briefly stopped along the way for lunch.

“My license plate was clearly shown in the photographs, but there is no way to determine from the photos or the video on their website if the left-turn arrow was red.

“Even if the car did go through on a red, I was not driving — my 18-year-old nephew was, and I am 68. Trying to get someone at the police department or the traffic court to listen to me and just look at my DMV photo has been an exercise in frustration, dealing with people who have no common sense or desire to do the right thing. They have all refused,” Alex told us.

“All of these people — court and police department — insist that I identify the driver and they tell me that I am legally obligated to do so. But I have reason to believe they are not telling me the truth, as, unless I am wrong, there is no legal obligation to snitch. Also, it is about a 4-hour drive to that town, and I do not want to lose all that time and gasoline for something which a quick look at photos should clear up.

“How can I get the attention of a judge who will look at the photos, see that I am not the driver and then dismiss the citation without having to actually be in court?” our Selma reader asked.

Fight the ticket and not leave home

“This is becoming more and more of a common fact situation as both red-light and speed camera tickets (in states which use them) can run well into the hundreds of dollars. They generate huge revenues, and are often responsible for major rear-end collisions,” observes traffic defense attorney Paul Denni, who practices in Southern California.

“Your reader is correct — there is no legal duty to identify the driver, but attorneys hear these stories all the time. Law enforcement and court personnel are caught every day deceiving the public into revealing who was driving. You can bring this to the attention of a traffic judge without going to court, and there are three basic ways:

• Hire an attorney who will go to court for you. The judge will be shown the photographic evidence, your own driver’s license photo, and the cost will usually run about around $500. The savings in fines and insurance rate increases will often be well worth it.

• Ask an attorney to send a letter to the issuing police agency, and the court, enclosing a photo of your license and asking that the ticket be dismissed because the registered owner of the vehicle was clearly not driving at that time. Unless promptly notified that it was dismissed, the next step is to ask for a trial by declaration, which you can do yourself without a lawyer.

• Trial by written declaration: For many of your readers, this can be the very first step if, like Alex, law enforcement or the courts are playing games, or when the car has been sold, yet somehow registration information does not show the current owner.

California and many states have a simple way of dealing with traffic matters, using easy-to-fill-out forms in which you state — and please be brief — why you are not guilty of the traffic offense. Experience shows that in most situations, the driver is going to lose the case. But where it is a question of identity — who was driving the car — or a change in ownership, the chances are very good that your ticket will be dismissed.

“Also, it must be pointed out that in order to use a trial by declaration, you need to post the amount of the fine (the “bail” amount). If you win, bail is refunded. Forms are available online, or from the court itself,” Denni added.

It’s not over even if you lose the trial by declaration

“But if you lose, it’s not over. You can request an actual trial — called a trial de novo — come to court, and present your side of the case,” he concluded.

There are some “tricks of the trade” used by traffic defense attorneys that Denni shared with us — including how to avoid a ticket in the first place — and we’ll tell you what they are next time. Attorney Denni’s website is an excellent source of information which we recommend

Dennis Beaver practices law in Bakersfield and enjoys hearing from his readers. Contact Dennis Beaver.