The Judicial Council unanimously adopted a new rule Monday that directs courts to allow people who have traffic tickets to appear for arraignment and trial without paying the fine first.
The rule also states that courts must notify traffic defendants of this option in any instructions or other materials provided by the court to the public.
The rule takes effect immediately, although courts have until Sept. 15 to ensure that their forms, written instructions, and websites comply with the notice requirements of the new rule.
In addition, the council directed that its Traffic Advisory Committee and Criminal Law Advisory Committee expeditiously provide recommendations to promote access to justice when an individual has previously failed to appear or pay and in other types of infraction cases.
"This is an historic meeting," said Chief Justice Tani G. Cantil-Sakauye. "I am proud of the rule that has been developed. This is an important first step to address an urgent access-to-justice issue. More work lies ahead."
At the end of the meeting, she directed the council’s Rules and Projects Committee to oversee and coordinate the two advisory committees and to report back to the council on August 20 on their progress.
During the meeting, the Chief Justice noted that the Futures Commission, which she appointed last year, is taking a broader look at effective public access to California’s courts, including traffic proceedings.
The ACLU of Northern California called the action the "tip of the iceberg."
"This is just the tip of the iceberg, and we urge the Judicial Council to continue looking into the practices of local courts that harm low income people and communities of color," wrote Christine P. Sun, the associate director of the ACLU of Northern California, in a statement. "The system is broken. It has become clear that we are funding our judicial system through unfair fines and fees that act as a hidden tax on poor people -- who may not be able to afford contesting their citation -- and people of color -- who are disproportionately pulled over and cited."