As a defendant you have the following constitutional and statutory rights:
- To be informed of the charges against you in open court.
- To be represented by a lawyer.
(a) In infraction matters, you are not entitled to a court appointed lawyer, however you may hire your own lawyer.
(b) In misdemeanor matters, you may hire your own lawyer or if you cannot afford a lawyer, the court may appoint one for you at no initial cost. (However, the court may order reimbursement of costs according to your ability to pay.)
- To a speedy and public trial within 45 days of arraignment, or a court trial in infraction cases 
- To confront and cross-examine the witnesses against you.
- To put on a defense and as part of that defense to testify in your own behalf and to obtain a document (a subpoena) to compel witnesses to appear without expense to you. Click here for more information regarding subpoenas
- To remain silent and not to be called as a witness during your own court proceeding.
- To a court or jury trial in misdemeanor cases .
- To appeal if you are found guilty at a trial, provided you file your notice of appeal within 30 days and follow other court rules. [link to Appeal Instructions TR150]
If you plead not guilty, you are telling the Court you want to contest the charge(s) against you. A contested trial will be scheduled within 45 days. You may waive your right to a speedy trial and have it scheduled within a reasonable amount of time.
While many individuals with a good record may be released on their promise to appear, the court may require bail to be posted to secure appearance at trial, particularly if you have previous failures to appear or pay.
At your trial, the officer who issued the citation will testify as a witness. If there are other witnesses, they may also be called to testify.
At the trial you may question (cross-examine) the witnesses. You may testify yourself and / or call witnesses to testify.
After the evidence is presented the judge may rule immediately whether you are guilty or not guilty or the case may be taken under submission before deciding. If the case is taken under submission, you will be notified of the ruling by mail or you may choose to return to court.
If you are found not guilty, that is the end of the case. If you are found guilty, the judge will determine how much the fine will be. The fine may be more or less than the bail originally quoted in your case depending on the facts which were presented. If your driving record shows previous convictions, the fine may increase substantially and your driver's license may be suspended for up to 6 months.
Trial by Written Declaration – This option is for infraction violations only and does not require a personal appearance. You may request a Trial by Written Declaration which requires you to post bail in lieu of your appearance.
Instructions and forms  for a Trial by Written Declaration may be obtained on our forms page , by mail, or in person . Submit the Trial by Written Declaration form with any facts or evidence you wish to have considered. A written statement will be requested from the citing officer(s). A judicial officer will review your case and you will be notified by mail of the decision
Court Trial – This option requires a court appearance and is available for all violations.
A Court Trial requires you to post bail if you do not appear for arraignment. Posting bail pursuant to VC40519(b) constitutes a waiver of your right to a speedy trial within 45 days. Send a check or money order for the total bail or appear for an arraignment and enter your plea after which the court will set your trial date and notice you by mail. If you fail to appear at the time designated for your trial, either a trial in your absence will occur (Trial in Absentia), or a VC40508(a) misdemeanor charge may be added against you, which bears a $300.00 assessment and a driver’s license suspension until resolved.
For more information, see Pleading Not Guilty, above.
What is a Subpoena?
A Subpoena is actually an order from the Court telling a person to either show up in court, or to bring something to court. When a Subpoena is directed to a person to appear in court, it is called a personal subpoena. When it is used to get a thing into court (like a photograph or sign), it is called a “Subpoena Duces Tecum” – which means, basically, Subpoena “bring it with you”.
What Sort of Things Does a Subpoena Work For?
A Traffic Court Defendant in California can use a Subpoena to require any witness to appear in court. This includes police, bystanders who saw what happened, passengers, the person who maintains the machine, or the tow truck driver who impounded the car.
A Subpoena can also be used to get things into trial such as photos, maintenance records, radar guns, video recordings, paperwork, etc.
If you want to force a thing to come to court, you have to direct the subpoena to the “Custodian of Records” – or the person who is known to have possession or control over the item. Most large businesses and government agencies (including the CHP) have a person designated as the “Custodian of Records” who is responsible for responding to subpoenas.
How Does a Defendant Representing Themselves Get a Subpoena Issued?
In cases where a defendant represents themselves, (called “pro per”), the Defendant has the right to use a Subpoena, but they must get the court clerk to sign the completed Subpoena Form.
You can download the Judicial Council Subpoena Form CR-125 at www.courtinfo.gov . Then fill in as much information as possible and take it in person to the clerk’s office for issuance. Once there, tell the clerk that you need to get the subpoena issued, give them the form and ask for a signature and stamp.
Once a Subpoena is Issued by the Court Clerk, It Must Be Personally Served on the Witness or Custodian.
To be enforceable, a Subpoena must be personally handed to the person it is directed to. Defendants cannot serve the Subpoena themselves. There must be an Independent Person to Serve the Subpoena such as the Sheriff’s Department Process Service.
Once a Subpoena is served, the server must fill out the attached “Proof of Service” so the service can be verified in court.
There are time limits to serving a subpoena so that the witness or custodian has time to get ready. At least 10 days is required for most things or witnesses.