Valley motorist has questions about traffic citation apparently lost during processing

Driver wonders about his rights and responsibilities, and the statute of limitations

RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. - CBS Local 2 stands for you, and that includes helping out valley drivers who have troubles with traffic tickets.     

One driver, who wishes to remain anonymous, tells us he received a traffic citation for a minor infraction back on November 11th, 2013.

Yet he says the court has no record of the citation being issued, leaving the driver wondering about what happened to the ticket.

He is also wondering how much time the court has to process the ticket, before the statue of limitations runs out.

It was along a stretch of highway 111 in Rancho Mirage that the motorist was given the ticket for allegedly throwing trash out of his car window.

It was November 11th, 2013, with the ticket showing a court appearance date on or before February 12th, 2014.

In early January, the driver went to the courthouse in Indio, yet was told that the ticket was not showing up in the system, and that he would have to return on a later date.

"If you go to the court, and the court does not have a file from the police department, there is no court appearance," said Attorney at Law Jon Straub.

More recently, the driver searched for the citation on the court's website, but still no sign that the court has a record of the ticket in its system.

The deputy who wrote the ticket is under the supervision of Riverside County Sheriff's Captain Kevin Vest, who runs the Palm Desert station. 

"There is a lot of moving parts that people don't realize.  The officer issues a citation, the supervisor reviews the citation, they then give it to clerical, clerical processes the citation and sends it to the court.  The clerks process the citation, and then they enter it into the court system." said Vest.

The driver has not contacted the sheriff's office as part of his efforts to find out the status of his ticket, saying he doesn't think he "should have to do that".

Captain Vest says there is a possibility that the deputy's copy of the ticket somehow got lost somewhere in the system, either by the deputy, or lost by someone at the court.

Vest says there is also the chance that the ticket is sitting in a stack of tickets at the courthouse, still waiting to be processed by a smaller staff of clerks now doing more work as a result of county budget cuts in recent years.

"If a citation falls off a stack, or gets blown off a desk, or in the wrong pile, it could end up being so it doesn't get processed," said Vest.

Preferring not to speak on camera, court public information officer Marita Ford tells us it is a "rare occurrence" for the court to lose a citation, and she says the county court processes anywhere from 250,000 to 300,000 citations a year.

Ford tells us tickets are entered into the court system "within seven to ten days" of the court receiving tickets from the issuing law enforcement agencies.

If that is the case, it appears as though the court has not yet received the ticket issued to the driver in our story.

Something else to keep in mind is that a law enforcement officer has up to one year to send a ticket to the court for processing.

"They normally wouldn't take a year to do it.  There is reasons why they wouldn't want to do that.  They want to handle it in a speedy manner.  But one year in terms of legal issues is not that long," said Straub.

Captain vest says it is not out of the realm of possibility that the deputy lost or simply misplaced his copy of the handwritten ticket, with the handwritten tickets not used as much anymore.

Nowadays, Vest says 90 percent of the tickets issued by the station's deputies are processed, printed and recorded using handheld computerized devices, making citations issued this way virtually impossible to lose.   

Deputies at the station cite a total of anywhere from 500 to 600 drivers a week in Palm Desert, Rancho Mirage and Indian Wells.

Vest once wrote tickets himself in the valley.

"My experience was working in traffic, so I know of cases, occasionally, in which sometimes I misplaced a citation in my ticket book," said Vest.

Captain Vest says that 99 percent of citations issued are processed and in the court system by the arraignment date on the ticket, and if not by that date, Vest says "most likely the ticket won't ever be processed", and the driver will be off the hook.

For the driver in our story, that means if his ticket does not show up in the court's system by February 12th, he could be off the hook.

Finally, for any driver who receives a ticket, and especially those cases in which the copy of the ticket is lost somewhere in the system, there are a couple of key points to keep in mind. 

First, whenever the court receives a citation from the issuing agency, the court is required to send written notification to the driver.

Secondly, if a cited driver goes to the court on or before the appearance date on the ticket, and the ticket is not yet in the system, the driver should get documentation from a court clerk confirming they were there. 

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