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New York yellow traffic light
17 Nov2017

How to Fight a Red Light Ticket in New York

Want to fight a red light ticket in New York? The first thing worth noting is the law itself. It’s very simple. Intersections have a stopping point. This may be a crosswalk or a specific stop line or even the curb line in the absence of painted lines on the roadway.

There’s a spot where drivers cannot cross if the light in question is in its red phase. This is what an officer is (or should be) looking for and this is what will be at the heart of any hearing or trial regarding the matter — the color of the light at the time the driver enters (crosses that stopping point) the intersection.

The classic situation that may lead to the issuance of a red light ticket is the driver who blatantly drives straight through an intersection after the light has already entered its red phase. However, there are also situations where a driver may have entered the intersection literally at the same time the light changed from yellow to red — a virtual tie that the officer gave to the light instead of the driver.

We also see many situations where the driver entered while the light was in a green phase but was delayed getting through the intersection. This could be a situation where someone is waiting for vehicular or pedestrian traffic to clear before turning or someone going straight but is moving slowly through the intersection due to congestion.

These “delay” situations are completely legal maneuvers that sometimes can appear to an officer at the scene as if it was a violation if they weren’t paying close enough attention to the entire intersection and cycle of the light.

As with all moving violations, some people will choose to plead guilty and pay and some may choose to fight. As a three point violation in New York, we’ll almost always recommend trying to fight the ticket and avoid the conviction and points.

1. Understand your Options

Not every court is the same. Some (the NYC TVB) will require a small hearing for every case while others (just about every other court in NYS) will allow for a plea bargain / negotiation process where there may be a chance to avoid the points and just pay a fine. In either case, it is always your right to appear in traffic court to contest the charge in accordance with the particular court procedure.

“Appear” may mean on your own, by lawyer or, in some cases, by affidavit. While there may be more merit to one way of contesting a ticket over the other, there is one constant: You need to be in it to win it. You have no shot of avoiding the points from a red light ticket unless you plead not guilty and try to do something about it.

2. Listen and Inquire at Trial

If you end up at a TVB hearing in NYC or if you bypass the negotiation option elsewhere and end up at a trial, your goals are the same — a dismissal of the charge. The officer will testify regarding what he observed and you’ll want to listen for the basic “elements” of the charge.

  • Where (how far prior to the stopping point) were you when the light turned red?
  • What color was the light when you finally reached the stopping point?
  • Was the light working properly (when did the officer observe it, what is the typical light cycle, etc.)?
  • Did the officer have your vehicle in sight from the time he first saw you until the time he pulled you over?

These are just some of the basics. It will be your job (or your attorney’s) to listen closely, ask questions, review notes and find some argument that can be presented to the judge as a reason to dismiss the charge.

3. A Note on Camera Tickets

Camera tickets are a whole other thing. Our firm doesn’t handle these. Few lawyers do because there are no points or impact on one’s license or insurance. They are a pain and can be costly and may not always be issued fairly. But, they are significantly better to receive than the three-point, officer-issued moving violation version discussed above.

Speak with a New York Traffic Ticket Attorney Today

If you have received a traffic ticket in New York, reach out to our office. We are happy to offer a free case evaluation and discuss your legal options with you.