What do you do when the court has no record of your "crime"?
November 5, 2009 12:12 PM   Subscribe

I received a traffic ticket for driving without headlights on in Los Angeles, but now the court has no record of my citation. What do I do now?

I was cited during the evening of October 4th for "Driving without Lights on During Darkness." I had only been driving for a few blocks when I was pulled over and hadn't noticed my lights weren't on. For what it's worth, it was a fairly busy street that was well-lit at the time.

Anyway, the ticket says that I must appear at the courthouse by November 18 but I haven't received a courtesy notice in the mail yet. Assuming that the notice must've been lost in the mail, I checked the court's website and they have no record of a citation. I've searched the database with both my driver's license and citation number, but nothing comes up, even though it's past the "21 days" it sometimes takes for the citation to appear in the system.

I've called the court and navigated the automated phone system, but they have no record of it either. I tried to speak to an operator but the system was "too busy" so an automated message said to try the call at a later time.

Is it possible that the police officer, after the fact, realized how brightly lit the street was and decided to discard the ticket or not process it? Incidentally, I later learned that there was a full moon that evening, which could be counted as an extenuating circumstance, something which the officer might have realized himself. I don't know how likely that is or if it's even possible (or just wishful thinking on my part).

Does anyone have any experience with this or advice about what I should do? At this point, I'm leaning towards just going to the courthouse, which is a hassle, but would presumably settle the matter once and for all. On the other hand, I would like to avoid bringing the ticket to the court's attention if it somehow fell through the cracks and there's otherwise no record of it. Please help me, hivemind!

If anyone has any follow-up questions or would like to reply anonymously, my email is wheresmytrafficticket@gmail.com.

posted by anonymous to Law & Government (9 answers total)
A similar thing happened to me in L.A., after I got a ticket a couple of years ago. I wanted to deal with it quickly but it wasn't showing up in the system. There were a bunch of personal reasons why I really needed to take care of it ASAP, so I actually went to the courthouse in Van Nuys to ask about it. The lady there told me that it has to do with those ticket pads the officers carry -- they don't turn them in until they use up the entire pad, so there was literally nothing I could do but wait. So I did, and eventually it ended up on the record.

I would love to believe your ticket just disappeared into the ether, but I doubt it did.
posted by BlahLaLa at 12:16 PM on November 5, 2009

If you don't want to go to court, you're going to have to talk to someone on the phone and ask, but you may get that automated message again. Just call repeatedly until you get through. Last time I had to ask a question about a ticket, I called every hour on the hour until I stopped getting that "system is busy" message. There's usually a suggested calling time, and that's sometimes accurage.

On the other hand, I would like to avoid bringing the ticket to the court's attention if it somehow fell through the cracks and there's otherwise no record of it.

I'm pretty sure that if there's a ticket somewhere out there that fell through the cracks, and you don't deal with it, there will be attention called to it when it resurfaces. You don't want that. Call. Call again. Or go to the courthouse by the 18th.
posted by katillathehun at 12:17 PM on November 5, 2009

"that's sometimes accurage accurate" is what I meant.
posted by katillathehun at 12:18 PM on November 5, 2009

I'd go to the courthouse and request a trial by declaration - if the cop is too lazy to turn in the ticket he'll be too lazy to write a letter supporting the ticket you got. You'll have to pay the fine when you request the trial by declaration but they'll refund it if you win. Just write 'not guilty' on the form and cross your fingers. You'll get an answer in about a month.
posted by foodgeek at 1:23 PM on November 5, 2009

Go to court, as much of a pain it will be, with the paperwork you have, and stand in line. Do not leave without some sort of answer, be it a paper from someone that says "there's no record of this citation in the system". You want this in your glove compartment at all times. Let me tell you why. I live in Los Angeles and this same thing happened, and I wound up spending the night in jail because of it, five years later.

When I was 19, in the prehistoric days (I had a flintstones car and a very cute pet dinosaur), I was pulled over and issued a citation for an infraction that I knew would be VERY expensive. I begged and pleaded with the officer to let me off, because the citation would mean financial ruin for me -- I was living on a razor thin margin at the time. He actually did seem very reluctant and sorry, but he still issued the citation. Then -- no record in the system. I called the courthouse many, many times. I regularly went to the DMV to get a print out of my driving record to see if it showed up. After trying to follow up with it for a year, I figured the officer had taken pity on me and just didn't file the citation.

That's not what happened, because five years later I got pulled over, and the officers found I had a bench warrant for my arrest. I tried to explain, but I did not have any of the proof with me. I was arrested, held and eventually my mother came and got me out of the Van Nuys police facility at 4am. I was guilty of the original infraction, but when I went to court the judge did waive the exhorbitant fees and I got all of my money back, as though it were no harm no foul.

It still TOTALLY sucked, though, obviously.
posted by pazazygeek at 1:26 PM on November 5, 2009

Tickets don't just get lost or torn up. Police departments are very serious about keeping track of every ticket on the pad. Even tickets that aren't issued for whatever reason (damaged, filled out incorrectly, etc) have to be accounted for. Unless I got something in writing from the court or the police, I would show up on my court date.
posted by indyz at 1:29 PM on November 5, 2009

"Anyway, the ticket says that I must appear at the courthouse by November 18"

What you do is show up at the courthouse before November 18th. The courts consider a courtesy notice just that - a courtesy - and a failure to receive one does not absolve you of your responsibility. That's usually what the ticket says somewhere.. "I promise to appear.." or something like that.

Please do not just brush it off. Go down to the courthouse and speak to a clerk about it in person. As a former California resident, I am well aware of how ignoring a ticket can become very VERY costly. Please don't do that. :-)
posted by drstein at 2:37 PM on November 5, 2009

IANYL. Generally, a simple moving violation requires you to "post bail" at the court house or some other inconvenient location. If you do not intend to contest the ticket (see more on this below), you can simply fail to appear and forfeit bail. I did this (let's say more than once) as a California driver. The court prefers this as you do not take up its time when you will most likely lose the case. When you pay the ticket (aka post bail) ask the clerk to verify that this is what would happen if you don't appear, just to make sure that your appearance is not mandatory.

Now, about contesting the ticket. First, you have admitted to us that you did, in fact, violate the law. That it was full moon, or a brightly lit street, or whatever, is immaterial. You made a mistake and got caught. The best advice I ever got was from a police officer friend whom I asked to intervene on my behalf regarding a speeding ticket. He said, "How many times have you been speeding and you didn't got caught?" I replied that it was a few times. He responded, "Then you're ahead of us. Pay the ticket and go about your business."

Pretty good advice all in all.
posted by Old Geezer at 8:58 PM on November 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

"you can simply fail to appear and forfeit bail."

This is how you get a "Failure to Appear" charge slapped on as well.



Best thing to do - go to the court. Set up a court date. Go to the court date. Explain to the judge what happened. If the ticketing officer doesn't show up (common) then the citation will be dismissed. If he DOES show up, you'll have a chance to speak. Explain that you thought you had your lights on but couldn't see because it was bright out because of the moon/streetlights/etc. Apologize.

They will likely cut the fine down or just dismiss it outright.

Also, what kind of car is it? A lot of newer vehicles have that damn "auto headlight" feature that turns your lights on when the car thinks its too dark. If you own such a vehicle, explain that.

But please, just go to the courthouse first.
posted by drstein at 8:37 AM on November 10, 2009

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