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COVID-19 Pilot Program: Reduced Fines for a Guilty Plea-why it’s a bad deal for most drivers.

If you have pending traffic violation in the San Mateo Superior Court you may have received a notice offering a reduction of the fine in exchange for a plea of guilty or no contest. These notices were sent to defendants and their attorney of record.

This pilot program was announced in response to the COVID-19 shelter in place orders which postponed traffic court trials. At a time when counties are desperate for revenue, traffic fines are a source. Counties are eager to accept a reduced fine without having to conduct a trial. And many drivers welcome the reduced fine.

Why pleading guilty in exchange for a reduced fine may not be a good deal:

Unless a driver is eligible for traffic school and chooses that as an option, a guilty plea will result in points on the driving record. These points can result in loss of employment and increased insurance premiums.

Especially during this time, hiring an experienced traffic lawyer with a proven history of dismissals or having citations reduced to no-point violations is critical.

History of Pilot Programs

Effective June 27, 2018 the Legislature created a pilot program to increase access to the courts by authorizing the online adjudication of infraction violations of the Vehicle Code and by authorizing online ability-to-pay determinations. West’s Ann.Cal.Vehicle Code § 40280. Legislative intent; creation of pilot program for online adjudication of infraction violations

Special procedures apply to the trial of infractions under the Vehicle Code or local ordinances adopted under that code. (Veh.C. 40901 et seq.) A court msy adopt rules for trial of traffic infractions. (Veh.C. 40901(a).) These rules may provide for the introduction of “testimony and other relevant evidence” in the form of a notice to appear (i.e., the citation or “ticket”) under Veh.C. 40500 and, notwithstanding the hearsay rule
See: Minor Vehicle Offenses., 5 Witkin, Cal. Crim. Law 4th Crim Trial § 668 (2020)

Pilot program for reduced fines on non-adjudicated citations (San Mateo County)

In response to the COVID19 pandemic, the Superior Court of San Mateo County has created a pilot program that allows drivers to ask the judge lower the Traffic Citation fine without going to court. This new program is for Traffic Citations that have not had a court hearing and the Judge has not made a decision on the case.
“When you ask for a reduction in your fine, you will need to tell the judge that you are responsible for the citation by entering a plea of “guilty” or “no-contest.” The Court will also allow you to sign up for traffic school if you meet the qualifications. You will not need to report to the Courthouse, nor pay your citation amount at the Traffic Office. You can accomplish all of this on-line.”
See: Superior Court of California County of San Mateo; http://www.sanmateocourt.org/court_divisions/traffic/fine_reduction_program.php

Notifying drivers who are represented by an attorney:

The Traffic Division of the San Mateo Superior routinely sends A Notice of Bail to the address listed on the citation. This notice is usually received within 30 days from the date the citation was issued. The notice contains information about the requirements and options available such as;
Amount of the bail (fine) and due date
Proof of correction for compliance violations
Traffic School Information
Failure to receive a Notice of Bail does not relieve you of the obligation to appear by the date stated in the Notice to Appear. By signing the citation, in front of the Officer, you have agreed to appear and/or respond to the citation in lieu of being arrested.
Failure to appear or resolve a citation on or before the due date, or failure to appear at a scheduled hearing may result in:
Imposition of a $300 Civil Assessment in addition to the fine.
Notification to DMV of your failure to appear.
http://www.sanmateocourt.org/court_divisions/traffic/

Sending these notices offering a reduced fine in exchange for a guilty plea to drivers who are represented by lawyers seems to be following the practice of sending the Notice of Bail to the address.

The skilled San Francisco DMV professionals at Uthman Law Office have been providing experienced representation on all traffic law matters for many years. Attorney David Uthman has over 20 years of experience as a litigation attorney and almost a decade of experience as a police officer. Put our experience to work for you in your DMV case. Call us today at (415) 556-9200 to schedule your FREE initial consultation and get the help you need.

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