There are other advantages to a Trial by Written Declaration. Even if the officer does respond, you have a much better chance of a favorable judgment. The officer will not be able to refresh his memory of your case without seeing your face again in court. After writing 200-300 citations per month, it’s difficult for any officer to remember the specific details of your particular stop. Since you will remember the details of the stop much clearer than the officer, you can usually write a much better declaration. Also, the intimidation that many defendants feel in meeting the officer in the formal setting of a court trial is eliminated by drafting a written declaration in the privacy and security of their homes. The result: most defendants are able to present a stronger case in writing than in person.
A friend of mine submitted a written declaration for speeding on the freeway; he was driving 93 in a 65, clearly in violation of the law. On his written declaration he wrote,”I’m not Guilty” with an orange crayon, misspelling “guilty”. The officer who cited him did not respond; my friend received a dismissal notice and his $270 in bail back in the mail. If the officer does not respond, your case is dismissed and all your bail is returned, regardless of the merits of your argument.
In a Trial by Written Declaration, the judge is able to assess the case fairly and separately in his chambers. His decision can be based on the merits of the case alone, unbiased by the social circus that is the California traffic court. Even if the judge finds you guilty, he may suspend or reduce your fine and assign you to attend traffic violator school.
In a court trial, fine suspensions are rare and fine reductions are smaller. Judges find it difficult to reduce fines drastically in a court crowded with defendants all expecting the same good deal.