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Listen Up: This Here Is Not the DMV

July 30, 1998|NORI ANNE WALLA

Maybe I need a sign posted in my court that reads: "I am not now, nor have I ever been, employed by the Department of Motor Vehicles."

Not that there is anything wrong with working for the DMV, but that's not what I do. I work for the Los Angeles Municipal Court as a commissioner, and I hear all kinds of court cases, including traffic cases. Although the court and the DMV exchange information about traffic violators, they are very different entities. This may seem obvious on the surface, but when it comes to traffic tickets, somehow the waters get muddied.

For example, a person, whom we will call Mr. Doe, recently came into my infraction court with hopes that when he left, he would have a clean driving record.

Doe appeared on three tickets. The first, issued in 1995, was for not having a valid registration sticker on his car. Although he paid the fee at his local DMV office, he did not submit proof of the corrected registration to the court, so an additional charge of failure to appear in court was added to that ticket.

The second, from 1996, was for driving in a carpool lane when Doe was the sole occupant in the car. A "failure to appear" was added to that ticket because he did not show up in court on the date shown on the ticket.

The third ticket was from 1997, when an officer cited him for an illegal turn and driving on a suspended license.

In his appearance before my court, Doe said he didn't understand the charge of failure to appear on the 1995 ticket because he went to the DMV and paid his registration fee. After all, he noted, the violation was a correctable one, he corrected it, and the DMV knew it.

What he failed to realize was that when he signed the bottom of the ticket, he agreed to the statement printed just above the signature line: "Without admitting guilt, I promise to appear at the time and place designated below." He promised to appear in court, not at the DMV.

On the second ticket, Doe told the court that he didn't understand the charge of failure to appear, because the officer who gave him the ticket told him he would be getting a courtesy notice in the mail to remind him of his court date. Doe said he never received it, so he didn't believe the court required that he appear. Wrong! It was his responsibility to appear, not the courtesy notice's responsibility to find him.

As for the third ticket, Doe said he didn't realize that his license had been suspended for failing to appear on the first two tickets until he was told by the officer who cited him for the illegal turn.

The DMV may suspend a person's license for a variety of reasons, including nonpayment of child support, being a negligent operator, driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs and sustaining a drug conviction.

How did the DMV know about this driver and his failures to appear, you ask? These and many other violations are routinely reported to the DMV by the courts.

The moral of this story is that when you are cited, it is your responsibility to go to court to clear the ticket and to do so by the due date on the ticket.

In this case, Doe chose to plead guilty to the charges on the tickets. The court ordered him to pay $652 in fines, and he asked for a continuance to pay. The court granted his request, ordering him to appear 90 days later to pay the fines. If he does not return on that date, the court will again notify the DMV of a failure to appear.


Nori Anne Walla is a commissioner of the Los Angeles Municipal Court. In this column, court officials review specific cases for Highway 1 to illustrate general topics of interest.

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