I have been practicing for 24 years now and I hear the question “What do I do with this DUI Ticket and this pink piece of paper?” Every week. And this week a latino friend (and now client) called me to tell me that he had a few beers and hit a car. He was taken down to the station and got a ticket, he told me, and they let me go after a little while and my wife picked me up. By the way, he asked, what is this pink piece of paper about?
The fact of the matter is that most people do not know that when you are detained and given a ticket, you have been arrested and given a “cite and release”. If you take a look at the ticket, it will indicate which code section you were cited under. For instance, a VC20002(a) is a hit and run and a VC 12500 is driving without a driver’s license in your possession. So you start out knowing what the ticket is for but not how much trouble it may be. VC stands for Vehicle Code, PC stands for Penal Code, and HS stands for Health and Safety.
So the next item to look for is the “I” or the “M” to the right of the code section or number on the ticket. The “I” stands for infraction and the “M” stands for misdemeanor. It is important to note that a lot of us lawyers will tell you that an infraction is just a ticket, like a speeding ticket. However, there are different levels of infractions and some may result in the loss of driving privilege and on rare occasion, up to a year on informal probation. A misdemeanor generally means that if it is your first time, you may receive up to 6 months in jail and 12 months in jail for more serious misdemeanors with up to 5 years summary or informal probation.
So, sometimes a ticket is a little more that a “ticket”. That is to say, if the “M” is circled, you must appear in court on the date at the bottom of the ticket and you should have a lawyer, even if it is a public defender. The challenge in accepting free representation is that you have to understand a lot of information in a short period of time and make a decision whether to plead guilty or not guilty. Public defenders can be good lawyers but simply do not have the time to explain the situation in a way that makes sense to you. If you think there is something to explain, even though you believe yourself to be guilty, chances are you need to hire your own private lawyer. And if you get a private lawyer PRIOR to the court, A PRIVATE LAWYER CAN GO TO COURT WITHOUT YOU BEING PRESENT!
Even if your ticket has a code section like VC 12500 and the “I” is circled, you must go to court. Again, A PRIVATE LAWYER CAN GO TO COURT WITHOUT YOU BEING PRESENT! In the case of an infraction, most lawyers will set a trial date to argue your case. The value in that is your case will be dropped or dismissed if the officer who gave you the citation or ticket cannot make it to court. So if it costs $75 to $100 for a lawyer, that is a small investment for a decent chance that the officer is too busy to make it to court. Thank God we live in America where we have the opportunity to fight tickets!