CVC 40502

How to use CVC 40502 to your advantage: The “County Seat Rule.”

California motorists facing infraction charges have a neat trick that can sometimes help them ensure the police officer or highway patrol officer who cited them do not show up at their traffic ticket trial. The “County Seat Rule” in CVC 40502 allows the driver to request their traffic case be heard in the “county seat” of the county where they are stopped. This effectively moves the trial from the original courthouse location, to a courthouse in the “county seat” or “capital” of the county where they were stopped.

Invoking your rights under the County Seat Rule in CVC 40502

There are some steps motorists have to take to avail themselves of the protections in CVC 40502.

-The request must be “timely”
-The driver must live or work closer to the “County Seat” than the courthouse where the officer is setting the trial

county seat rule

CVC 40502 has several sub-sections. The most important sections are CVC 40502a and 40502b.  40502a states that the most appropriate courthouse for a traffic ticket involving an “infraction” is to be the courthouse nearest to the location of the traffic stop.  This is the default position of the law: your traffic trial should be held at the courthouse nearest to the site of the stop.

CVC 40502b states that, if the driver lives or works closer to the “county seat” they can request to have their ticket case moved to the county seat.  This request must be made in a “timely fashion.”  Courts have held that a “timely fashion” means as soon as possible, with many courts requiring the driver to make the request as soon as they are cited.

History behind CVC 40502b

The vehicle code in California used to have only two crimes: Misdemeanors and Felonies. Categorizing crimes into one of these two categorizes goes back to old common law days in English law that our law in California is rooted in. In the 1950’s, the California legislature adopted a modern concept: the “Infraction.” An infraction is a “lower” form of crime, the lowest and simplest crime in Caliornia law.
When the legislature created “infractions” they decided that special rules pertaining to infraction cases should be enacted. The legislature abolished the right to a jury trial for these “criminal” offenses despite the language of the California Constitution that requires jury-trials in criminal cases (Article 1 section 16.) Another legal protection that isn’t afforded infraction defendants is the right to an attorney to be appointed to their case if they cannot afford one.

Realizing some important substantive rights were taken away from people facing infraction cases, the legislature felt it would be fair to give them some minimum protections to offset these changes. In order to make it easier for someone who faces an infraction ticket to fight it, the legislature decided to allow the defendant in these cases to request the trial for their case be held closer to their home or workplace at their choosing. The “county seat” or the “capital” of the county (where the county administration and government are centered was chosen because historically the county seat had better transportation and accessibility than outlying cities.

Useful Links:

CHP Traffic ticket enforcement guide

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