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Top Ten Tips > Getting Your License Back After a DUI

5. Traffic Tickets & Unpaid Fines

Sonoma County DUI attorneys encounter driver license suspensions in a whole lot of different circumstances. One of the most common is when someone gets a traffic ticket for a moving infraction (such as a cell phone or speeding ticket), equipment failure (such as a broken tail light or modified exhaust), or registration violation (such as expired tags). If a ticket is never addressed, or an arranged payment plan fails, then the court may place a hold on your license which can cause a DMV suspension of driving privileges. Trying to lift the hold and get your license back can be a nightmare. See, Jake Quoted in Recent Press Democrat Article About Sonoma County Traffic Court and Ticket Suspensions. Clearly, DUI lawyers would suggest that the best way to avoid such problems is to deal with traffic tickets in a timely fashion before they become license suspensions.  

Traffic CourtCurrent (New) Traffic Tickets. Sonoma DUI lawyers know that traffic tickets may often be handled in a number of different ways. Read the back of your citation to obtain information about how to handle current tickets. Click here to see a sample of a CHP Citation & Promise to Appear and scroll down to the back side to read about options, or click on the Sonoma Traffic Court link below. Additional information can be obtained on the Official California Courts website, at Traffic & Ticket Basics. Typically you must wait until you receive a "Courtesy Notice" from the court before you will know the total bail (cost of ticket) imposed and the actual date by which you must make a decision to pay or fight.

A good Santa Rosa DUI attorney will tell you that most people would benefit by fighting a ticket if there are any viable defenses or one has the time to see if the arresting officer shows up at a trial in traffic court. Click here for Sonoma County's Traffic Trial Information Flyer, and here for the court website's List of Traffic Citation Options. Usually a traffic defendant may contest citations in writing without having to appear in court.

Click here for Trial by Declaration Instructions, and here for an approved Trial by Declaration Request Form fillable online. Understand that the court will send a request for statement to the traffic cop (see, Cop Form, and Officer's Statement). If you don't like the traffic court's decision, you may Request a New Trial in person within 20 days of the mailing of the bad decision. The court will send you a Notice of Trial granting or denying your request. An experienced Sonoma DUI attorney or other criminal defense lawyer may be able to help you write a persuasive declaration resulting in a Winning Result. For more information on traffic trials, see the Official California Courts website description of Traffic Trials.

If there are no defenses to a traffic ticket, or you do not wish to fight it, a Sonoma DUI lawyer will tell you that you may wish to elect traffic school during the time limit provided at the bottom of your original Sonoma County citation by asking for the traffic school alternative at the Sonoma County Traffic Court. Click here for an example list of Sonoma County's On-line and In-person Approved Traffic Schools (rev. 3/1/19), and here for the current DMV Listing of Approved Schools (you must independently confirm any specific school is approved by Sonoma County Traffic Court before you pay any fee or before you enroll), successful completion of which would result in no further points if so ordered by the court. This may help you to avoid any additional points which would cause you to meet or exceed the point limits. Discuss your specific situation with a local Santa Rosa DUI attorney.

In Custody Request to Dismiss. Santa Rosa DUI attorneys should tell you that if you are in custody in the Sonoma County jail, you may request a Dismissal of Non Felony Traffic Citations and Warrants from a jail deputy to fill out and submit while still in custody. Be sure to include all outstanding Sonoma County traffic matters for consideration by a judge. Such a request is granted or not in the interests of justice as provided in Penal Code Section 1385. Most Sonoma DUI lawyers understanding the difficulty of paying traffic fines or addressing traffic warrants from jail would advise incarcerated clients to examine this procedure as an efficient and justified method to clean up traffic court problems in order to re-obtain driving privileges after release.

DMV HoldsSuspended Driver License. You may receive a Collection Notice with respect to unpaid fines. If your driving privileges are suspended due to unpaid traffic tickets (failure to appear--FTA--or failure to pay--FTP), then if you pay off the tickets, the Sonoma County court in Santa Rosa will release its hold on your license and you will be able to reacquire your driving privileges.

The county where you got the ticket while driving is the county which must lift its hold, not the DMV or your county of residence if you live outside Sonoma County. Each county which has a hold on your license for a nonappearance (FTA) or nonpayment (FTP) must be addressed separately. One of the most efficient methods for ensuring you fix every problem causing a suspension is to go to the Santa Rosa or Petaluma DMV office and ask for a long form H-6 driver license printout. Ask the counter clerk to circle each and every item causing a suspension, and the county where each item must be cleared.

Next, in Sonoma County it is usually best to visit the Courthouse Collections Office (or GC services, located next door to the traffic division, which is a private collection agency with the same policies and procedures as Court Collections), or you may call the Sonoma County Court Collections Division at 707-521-6659 (or GC Services at 800-295-4695), to determine the current status of your matters. Reference each citation number if you have documentation, but be sure to ask for a grand total of all matters including late charges, etc. All old cases (except unsigned citations which resulted in FTA) reside in either court collections or GC services, not traffic court.

Sonoma DUI Lawyer Amnesty InfoAmnesty Program 2015-2017: Unpaid Traffic Tickets

The best Sonoma County DUI lawyers know that on June 24, 2015, Governor Brown signed into law an 18-month amnesty program, which allows individuals with past-due court-ordered debt (but not DUIs) to receive a reduction in the amount owed and reinstate their driver licenses. Click here for the Sonoma County Amnesty Program Participation Form to be presented at the traffic court or applicable court collections office.

The amnesty program, for unpaid infraction tickets or failures to appear with fine due dates or court dates prior to January 1, 2013, is part of an effort to allow individuals who cannot afford to pay accumulated fines on old traffic and non-traffic tickets to start making payments in order to lift license holds and begin driving legally again. Santa Rosa DUI attorneys will tell you that, in addition, the state will start to recoup some of the billions of dollars outstanding for old fines and fees, win-win situation.

Below is a summary of the 2015-2017 Infractions Amnesty Program. Be sure to click the official courts link at the end of this discussion for changes and updates to this program, and consult with a Sonoma DUI lawyer or traffic attorney regarding issues which may apply to your own unique situation before relying on this general program information.

Who can participate. Any persons eligible to have a driver's license, including undocumented individuals who are eligible for a driver's license under AB 60, are entitled to participate in the traffic amnesty program if they meet the eligibility requirements. There are two groups of people who can participate in the amnesty program: (1) Persons with unpaid tickets whose fines were originally due to be paid or had a court date on or before January 1, 2013, are eligible to have their debt reduced by 50 or 80 percent depending on income, and have their driver's licenses reinstated. (2) Persons who are currently making payments for unpaid tickets both before and after January 1, 2013, are eligible to have their driver's license reinstated but are not eligible for a reduction in the amount they owe on their payment plan(s).

People ineligible due to timing may still have their driver’s license returned, but will not have their fines reduced. Otherwise eligible persons may be excluded from the amnesty program if they owe victim restitution on any case within the county or have certain outstanding misdemeanor or felony warrants.

What kinds of tickets are eligible. Any infractions will qualify for amnesty. Unpaid tickets and related failure to appear violations with an initial payment due date or court date on or before January 1, 2013, are eligible. Individual superior courts and counties may extend this program to include some misdemeanors. This amnesty program does not apply to parking tickets, reckless driving, and DUI offenses.

How new payment amounts are determined. Under the amnesty program, eligible participants will not have to pay any civil assessments or penalties which accumulated for late payment or nonpayment of past tickets. Once the civil assessments are deducted, the remaining balance owed will be reduced by 50 to 80 percent depending on income level. The discount will be 80 percent for those who can certify that they make less than 125 percent of the federal poverty level — $14,712 for an individual, or $30,312 for a family of four — or who receive public assistance. The discount will be 50 percent for all other eligible participants.

Procedure to participate. Beginning on October 1, 2015, contact the superior court in the jurisdiction(s) where you received the traffic ticket(s) to determine your eligibility to participate in the traffic amnesty program. People who are eligible for amnesty will not have to see a judge. Courts or counties are permitted to collect an amnesty program fee of $50 payable to the superior court or county. The Department of Motor Vehicles will also charge a $55 driver's license reinstatement fee as it does for any license reinstatement. Payment plan options will be available through the superior court or the county and the payments under the plan will be based on the ability to pay.

Although Sonoma DUI lawyers may complain that there's no legitimate reason to disallow DUI fines and fees to be eligible for relief in this program, nevertheless, the best Sonoma County DUI lawyers applaud any program which helps millions of Californians to re-obtain legal driving privileges so they can better support their families and accomplish daily necessities. For an accurate summary of the amnesty program, including the latest updates, click here for the official California Courts Website Amnesty Program description. Check the Sonoma County Traffic Court site for any updates. You may also find helpful information on the nonprofit website: Back on the Road CA. For a complete text of the larger bill establishing the amnesty program, see, Text of SB85.

106-JCollection Problems and Unaffordable Late Fees (Outside or After the Amensty Program)

Pending Court Matters. If you have a current criminal court case of any kind in Sonoma County (a serious case or another traffic ticket, or even just on probation for a past case), then the court has jurisdiction to hear you on these old matters, so you or your DUI attorney can try asking the Santa Rosa judge in the current Sonoma County case to examine your old tickets and dismiss some of them, and/or remove the late penalty fees assessed pursuant to Penal Code Section 1214.1, and set up a payment plan for the remainder of the fees so that you can afford to pay and successfully cause the removal of the Sonoma County hold on your license.

You or your Santa Rosa DUI lawyer can point out to the court that if you can drive legally, then you may not have as many legal problems in the future and you may be able to start getting your life back in order by addressing substantial personal challenges such as employment, child care, etc. If you are or were incarcerated, then you can ask the court for credit for time served to simply dismiss all of the tickets and release the hold on your license.

Failure To Appear. If you do not have a current court case but you receive a DMV Notice Of Suspension for failure to appear (rather than failure to pay after appearing) then usually you can arrange with the court collections department to pay one-half of the amount owed and obtain a payment plan for the remainder in exchange for the court lifting its license hold.

Failure to Pay. If you receive a DMV notice of suspension for failure to pay a ticket after appearing in court and promising to pay a fine, but you have a recognized reason for nonpayment within the allowed time, such as military service, incarceration, hospitalization, or death of a family member, then the collections department may lift its license hold if you can pay a satisfactory amount and arrange payments for the remaining owed. If you have a compelling reason not listed above, for example homelessness or drug addiction, then you may wish to consider writing a letter to the judge as described below, to ask for the same arrangements. You should consult with a local Sonoma County DUI attorney about your specific situations.

If you are suspended for failure to pay after appearing in court, and you are able to afford the original bail amount of the tickets, then you may wish to consider paying that amount at the Santa Rosa courthouse and petitioning the Sonoma County Traffic Court to waive the late penalty fees on any remaining totals pursuant to Sonoma County's Local Rule 8.12. This approach typically works best when you have a recognized valid reason for nonpayment within the allowed time, such as military service, incarceration, hospitalization, or death of a family member. Any compelling hardship reasons should be included in such a petition to the Sonoma court, including economic and family hardship.

Click here to see an example of such a court request with the Sonoma County Petition, the Napa County Petition, the Solano County Petition, and the Mendocino County Petition to dismiss accumulated late fees and penalties.

Letter to the Judge. You may wish to write a letter to the Sonoma County traffic court judge in Santa Rosa to ask for leniency due to extraordinary circumstances which prevented you from appearing or paying in a timely fashion. A succinct, well-written letter which acknowledges responsibility and presents compelling reasons for nonpayment and offers an affordable payment plan may accomplish the reduction of a substantial amount of your accumulated total or even dismissal of tickets and release of your license. A Sonoma County DUI lawyer can help with such a letter.

You may obtain contact information on this site for the Sonoma County courts and the traffic, fines and collection departments in Santa Rosa by clicking here on Sonoma County Traffic Court, or click here to get specific collections answers to Frequently Asked Collections Questions.

Failure to Pay Judgement in Traffic or Accident-Related Lawsuit

The best Sonoma DUI attorneys will tell you that a related "failure to pay" suspension involves a driver license suspension for someone who failed to pay a judgement awarded by a court in an action described in Vehicle Code Sections 16370-16381. Typically, a judgement creditor (presumably the person or entity whom you owe money) submits a Form DL30 to DMV swearing to certain facts about the judgement debt. Click here to see an example of an "Order of Suspension" describing the DMV action, the judgement and certain options. You can explore obtaining payments on a judgement as described in Section 16379 to get rid of the suspension, or explore obtaining a restricted license as described in Section 16072 to alleviate the hardship of a suspension. This section is included here because Sonoma County DUI lawyers confront all kinds of license suspensions.

Failure to Pay Child Support

Under California law, parents required to pay court ordered child support must pay on time and in full. If the payment is late or is not paid in full, the California Department of Child Support Services (DCSS) can suspend or withhold a California driver (or other) license, pursuant to Family Code Section 17520. When the parent required to pay child support is 30 days or more delinquent, their name is submitted by DCSS to the DMV for suspension of their license. DMV sends a letter giving the parent 150 days to work with DCSS to pay their past due support. If payment isn't made, the driver license suspension is imposed on the parent.

Further, if a notice of intent to suspend has been sent to the same parent in the past, the parent's license will automatically be suspended when a child support payment is late again or not paid in full. If your driver license has been suspended due to non-payment of child support, you may call your local child support agency to discuss a possible license release by re-establishing payment arrangements. You can find the location of your local child support agency by clicking on Local Child Support Agencies, or by calling: (866) 901-3212. A Santa Rosa DUI attorney can help direct parents with these issues to the appropriate agency to help get their license back.

Failure to Pay Taxes

Starting in January, 2012, the California State Board of Equalization and the Franchise Tax Board publish lists of the the 500 largest tax delinquencies. Persons and entities appearing on these lists are subject to driver (and other) license suspensions pursuant to Business & Professions Code Section 494.5. Successfully negotiating and resolving issues with the applicable tax authority results in lifting of any suspension imposed.


Any result portrayed was dependent on the facts of that case, and the results will differ if based on different facts.

Our DUI Lawyers

Dave Jake Schwartz is an Honors Graduate from UC Hastings Law School, and UC Davis, former Federal Judicial Clerk, and Nationally Qualified Sobriety Tests Practitioner. Member of the California Bar for 30 years, Sonoma County resident for over 20 years, handles only DUI cases, including thousands of Sonoma County DUIs and DMV hearings: first/multiple offenders, minors, seniors, tourists, undocumented immigrants, veterans, probation violations, suspended license, public intoxication, open container, minor in possession, child endangerment, collisions, hit and run, evading, resisting arrest.


Dave Jake Schwartz