How to fight a NYC traffic ticket

If you’ve decided to fight a NYC traffic ticket, you’ll be dealing with the NYS Traffic Violations Bureau (the TVB).  The TVB is a state administrative agency that is part of the NYS DMV and handles the adjudication of traffic tickets (moving violations) issued throughout NYC.

After your ticket is issued, the first decision you need to make is whether to actually fight it or just plead guilty and pay it.  There is no requirement that you fight it.  Whether you decide to fight depends on a few factors including the severity of the traffic violation charge(s), your past driving history, your occupation, your available time (if you decide to fight yourself) and your ability/desire to pay a lawyer (if you determine a lawyer is the right move for you).  Here, we’re going to assume you’ve decided to fight and you plan to represent yourself.

You’ll see on the front of the ticket it mentions that “you must answer this ticket within 15 days of the date of offense”.  “Answer” refers to entering your plea and if you are fighting your ticket you will be entering a plea of not guilty.  You can answer the ticket by returning it by mail to the address provided or by following the instructions to enter your plea online.  We will always recommend entering your plea online when you fight a NYC traffic ticket .  When compared to pleading by mail, there are two main advantages.  First, you’ll get instant confirmation it was done.  Second, you’ll get to hold on to the original ticket instead of mailing that back to the DMV in Albany.  You can plead online here:  https://transact2.dmv.ny.gov/pleadnpay/.  

NYC traffic ticket

A typical NYC TVB traffic ticket.

One problem you may run into when entering a plea online is that the ticket sometimes doesn’t show up on the DMV system until after their 15 day deadline has passed.  It can take longer than that just for the DMV to enter your new ticket under your name/record.  Do not worry about that.  We get calls all the time from people who “can’t find” their ticket in the system.  If it’s not entered by the DMV yet, you will not be deemed late.  It’s not an issue.  You will just follow the instructions to request notification from the online system once DMV has entered your ticket in their system and you’ll be able to answer and plead not guilty once you get that notification.

When you plead not guilty, you’ll be asked to choose from up to three potential hearing dates.  You’ll need to choose the most convenient date/time of the options provided.  You’ll have no control over the particular TVB court to which you are assigned.

As your hearing date nears, if you need to reschedule it for some reason you’ll be given one opportunity to do so with no questions asked using that same online system.  If you want to do this online, you can only do it prior to the first assigned hearing date.  Once that date hits, any reschedule request must be made in court in person in front of one of the traffic court judges.

Ultimately, you’ll find yourself in court ready to fight your traffic ticket.  The officer who issued the ticket will start and he will offer testimony setting forth the date/time/place of the alleged traffic violation as well as the specifics of what he observed.  Once the officer has concluded, it’s your turn to play lawyer and represent yourself.  While much of any defense is based on the particular violation at hand and reacting to what you hear and see during the hearing, here are some general tips and considerations:

1.  Review the ticket carefully.  Look for any obvious errors or omissions on the face of the ticket.  Not every little mistake will matter to the judge but some might and it can never hurt to look and see if you find anything noteworthy.

2.  Compare everything the officer said to what is on the written ticket.  Any obvious contradictions?  Maybe a direction of travel or location or regarding specific information on a sign?

3.  Ask the officer if he used any notes to help testify and then ask to review those notes.  Any obvious contradictions or omissions or other questionable items in there?

4.  Be respectful.  Officers are “mistaken”, not “lying”.  Wait until the officer is done testifying to speak–judges don’t like when you jump right in even when it’s understandable if you are anxious to tell your side.

5.  Use common sense.  If an officer claims he could see something, ask if he remembers how he observed it (through mirrors or a window?).  If he relied on some mechanical instrument, ask whether he tested it and/or was trained to use it.  Listen for testimony concerning how the officer was certain he pulled over the correct vehicle, the one he observed committing the violation.   If the charge involves subjective terms such as “unsafe” or “unreasonable” or “too close”, ask for specifics (how fast, how close, etc).  

When you are done, sum up any points you may have raised during the hearing.  The judge will then confirm there is nothing else either party would like to say and there will be a decision.  Either you will win (no points, no fine) or lose (points and the fine that come with the ticket).  

It is possible to successfully represent yourself at the TVB but it isn’t easy.  Part of the process is understanding who the different judges are, what arguments they may accept, where to look for problems in the officer’s case, etc.  Lawyers who fight 100s of tickets every week are naturally going to have a better chance of successfully fighting a NYC traffic ticket than people who are doing it for the first time.  No lawyer can guarantee that they will win but certainly their experience doing this over and over helps.  

Lawyer or not, we’ll almost always recommend trying to fight a NYC traffic ticket.  The consequences of a conviction can be quite severe and it’s usually worth the time, effort and/or expense to take a chance and try to do something to avoid the conviction.