Goind to traffic court: a firsthand account

It was approximately 8 p.m. and I was hurrying through Pacific Palisades to say goodbye before my friend left for Brazil. As I quickly tried to pass the Drummond St. and Sunset Blvd. intersection light before it turned red, a Will Rogers park ranger van’s sirens suddenly went off.

After pulling me over he asked for my driver’s license, which I didn’t have with me in my car and my insurance card, which had expired in March 2010. Since it was June 2010, I was cited three tickets, one for running a red light, one for driving with expired insurance, and one for not driving with my driver’s license. As I studied my ticket that night, I found that he wrote my license number wrong, my location wrong, and believed I was an adult, not a juvenile. Weeks after I received the ticket, the ranger sent a corrected ticket, but I was ready to contend in trial.

Fifteen hours after I received my first three tickets I was speeding down Sunset Blvd. A cop on a bike popped out of the side street of Westcove Street and pulled me over for driving 52 mph in a 35 mph zone. Luckily I had my license with me, but I still didn’t have the right insurance card.

I had terrible luck with the court system. My first scheduled date to contend the speeding ticket was Aug. 3. I was interning at an attorney’s office all summer, and he suggested I go a couple days prior to my court date to check if the case was still active. Unfortunately juveniles with tickets can check if their cases are active solely through the actual courthouse. My case was found inactive, but I still panicked and showed up to court on the Aug. 3.

The juvenile traffic department was closed, so my mother and I asked an employee from the adult traffic court to check if my case was active. The woman thought she was doing us a favor by calling the police officer who gave me the ticket to remind him to give me a valid court date. Lucky me, a corrected court date ticket came in the mail two days later. My new date was Sept. 22.

Next was going to court for the first three tickets I received. It was Aug. 26, and my last time my mother accompanied me to court, since I was turning 18 in a few days. I surpringly saw a couple of Harvard-Westlake students and family friends there, which put me at ease. The judge said I could have one point on my record, attend traffic school, and pay a $500 fine. I knew I could easily fight the ticket so I bravely asked to go to trial. Trial was set for Sept. 23.

I went to court on Sept. 22 and extended my ticket to Oct. 22 because I didn’t want the judge to see me there two days in a row. Depending on my punishment, I may choose to go to trial.

The night before my first trial, I wrote down an entire argument against the park ranger. Clearly if he wrote all those mistakes on my ticket something was wrong. He wasn’t accustomed to giving tickets out; in fact I didn’t even know park rangers were given the power to. My father helped me rehearse, but I went to court alone to fight by myself.

I nervously sat in the chair and awaited my turn. If the officer doesn’t show up the tickets are automatically dismissed, however if he does show up, you have to go through trial procedures. When the park ranger showed up I was extremely nervous but I went in and said all the mistakes on my ticket and took pictures of different intersections and showed how it was impossible for him to see me pass a red light when he was directly parallel to me. The judge was impressed and all my tickets were dismissed.

As relieved as I am to have three tickets gone, I still have two more up in the air. I am honestly embarrassed to reveal my name in this article as it isn’t so highly regarded to be a defendant in court against the California traffic system. I just had a lot of bad luck within those 15 hours, but it was a slap in the face I deserved.

My biggest advice to students is to always be prepared. Going to trial isn’t necessarily a bad thing; you could win your case on your own. I learned a lot about the juvenile court system, which was interesting for me and am somehow getting around these tickets.


—Author’s name withheld by request