More On Cuomo’s Proposed Restrictions On Speeding Ticket Plea Bargains

Governor Cuomo has included in his 2013-2013 budget a proposal to add additional fees to certain traffic tickets and restrict certain types of speeding tickets on plea bargains.

Typically, the “target” plea bargain is a reduction to a parking violation or other local ordinance.  The “win-win” here is that the local court collects their fine money and the motorist walks away with nothing reported to the DMV (no points, conviction or insurance ramifications at all).

Cuomo’s proposal seeks to end this type of deal on speeding tickets issued for driving 21+ mph over the speed limit.  Moreover, he looks to add an additional $80 fee when such a plea bargain is negotiated to compensate for the state surcharge that would have been paid had the case ended with a conviction for a traditional moving violations.

The $80 additional surcharge is what it is.  DMV has come up with new surcharges and increased existing charges consistently over the years.  There’s really no surprise with this type of thing.  It may not be fair, it may be just another “tax” on motorists, but it doesn’t materially alter the way traffic tickets are routinely defended.  In fact, it alters nothing–new and increased fees are very much business as usual.

The proposal to limit plea bargaining and interfere in the court process and prosecutor-defense negotiation was was more troubling on it’s face.  However, while the very first news reports offered headlines like “Cuomo seeks to end plea bargaining on speeds”, we now know this was a little too general.  The proposal isn’t quite that sweeping.  Specifically we are talking about only the following subset of speeding tickets issued:

  • Speeding tickets outside of NYC and the Traffic Violations Bureau (there’s never any negotiation or plea bargaining at all there)
  • Speeding tickets issued for 21+ over the speed limit
  • Speeding tickets answerable in courts/counties that in the first place would even entertain a plea reduction of a 21+ speed to a non-moving violation (not all courts allow this even without the proposal)

Moreover, the proposal doesn’t set forth eliminating plea bargains on such tickets.  Instead, it requires plea bargains on such speeding violations to be reduced to some “point carrying” violation.

So the downside to motorists issued tickets under this umbrella is potentially having to accept a two point non-speeding violation instead of a not on your record at all non-moving violation.

In most cases, this will still be a fair deal worth accepting and that will be the end of the matter.

I do however have three main problems with this proposal:

1.  This was included as part of the budget to help compensate for the money NYS loses for every ticket negotiated down to a non-moving violation.  However, I feel there is potentially an unfair burden place on local courts and prosecutors.  While this may not touch every speeding ticket issued in NYS, ultimately some higher percentage of cases will go to trial as a result of slightly lesser deals on certain tickets in certain courts.  The local towns and counties are the ones who will end up having to pay for this and the fact that this potential burden has been completely ignored by NYS is wrong.

2.  Too many quotes like this one from Morris Peters, a spokesman for the governor’s budget division:  “The point of this is public safety”.  The argument is that letting these individuals issued speeding tickets for 21+ over the limit off the hook without any mark on their license is a big danger where convicting them for a two point or similar lesser  moving violation will somehow make the roads safer.  Can we please just drop the “safety” argument here?  You are adding new surcharges and included all this as part of the BUDGET.  Clearly, this is an economic move.  Don’t insult our intelligence by proposing to hit drivers up for more money, points, potential insurance, etc. but that it’s ok “because it’s good for you”

3.  I don’t like legislative control of plea bargains like this.  I understand it wouldn’t be the first time sentencing was controlled by legislation (mandatory sentencing, repeat offender laws), but these are speeding tickets.  While those other guidelines really are mostly driven by safety and concern for the public, this is purely economic.  Changing how individuals are prosecuted simply because you are losing out on a little money isn’t a good enough reason to make the change.

By Scott Feifer