Unpaid Traffic Tickets in California: Can I Go to Jail?

Last year, U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch went on record as in a speech at the White House, actively opposing judges imposing traffic fines, calling such “the criminalization of poverty.” She cited the case study of Ferguson, in which citizens who have attempted to pay the ever-increasing fines of their traffic tickets and were subsequently arrested for not being able to come up with the money associated with late fees.

Fines Increase With Time

If you have received a parking or traffic ticket, you can bet that the fine will increase if it is not paid within the time specified on the ticket (usually 30 days). State and local governments fundraise through driving and parking tickets and they have no incentive to keep the prices down in the interests of fairness.

Failure to Appear

While most traffic violations are “infractions” and therefore not “jailable” offenses, failure to appear on a traffic violation or failure to pay a fine are misdemeanors, and subsequently become arrestable offenses. See CA Vehicle Code § 40508. Violation of Vehicle Code § 40508 can result in up to six months imprisonment and an additional fine up to $1,00, and a suspension of your license for 30 days. It does not matter if you were guilty or innocent of the actual infraction. You will be guilty of the crime of failure to appear just by virtue of not appearing in traffic court on the date specified on your ticket.

Failure to pay a fine may also result in the revocation of your driver’s license.

There is a defense for those who could not appear for reasons beyond their control. Furthermore, one’s license cannot be suspended if they have filed for Chapter 13 bankruptcy. If your ticket has become a misdemeanor, you will also be entitled to a jury trial.

California’s Amnesty Program

On June 24, 2015, Governor Jerry Brown signed into law a program that will allow Californians who have unpaid traffic or non-traffic infraction tickets to participate in a one-time Statewide Traffic Tickets/Infractions Amnesty Program. The program began on October 1, 2015 and will continue through March 31, 2017. To qualify, individuals must have an unpaid traffic ticket that was due by January 1, 2013 or have a suspended driver license and are making payments on the ticket.  The purpose of the program is to provide financial relief by reducing fines based on income level.  

San Diego Traffic Ticket, Infraction, and Criminal Defense Attorney

At The Law Offices of David M. Boertje, we understand that traffic tickets (paid or unpaid) are not merely infractions. They are expensive, affect your insurance rates, soil your driving record, and disrupt your work day to go to court. Mr. Boertje will utilize his knowledge of California’s traffic laws in order to minimize your fines and citations. Whenever possible, Mr. Boertje will seek to have your moving and nonmoving violations dismissed. If you have received a traffic ticket or a failure to appear charge, contact attorney David Boertje today.