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How much will my traffic ticket cost? It depends…

Getting a traffic ticket in New York can be a lot like buying jewelry or antiques.  Unless you have a trained eye, it’s almost impossible to know what to expect to pay.  Drivers should never assume they know what a traffic ticket will cost in fines, surcharges and other penalties without a full analysis from a traffic ticket professional any more than you’d agree to pay a price for a piece of jewelry or antique furniture without an evaluation by a trusted expert.

Let’s use a six point speeding ticket as an example.  Call it 52mph in a 30mph zone.  A relatively basic ticket with no major complications surrounding it.  If a potential client were to ask me how much this ticket may cost, here’s a rambling version of some of the issues and considerations I’d have:

I’d first ask which court it was in because in the NYS TVB (NYC mostly) there is no plea bargaining so I’d know that we couldn’t reduce the charge.  A reduction is important because at 6 points there is an additional $300 state surcharge (the DRP-Driver Responsibility Program) and if we stay below that there is no surcharge.  Of course that all changes depending on if the person has prior convictions, what the convictions were for and the date the prior traffic tickets in question were issued.  Anyway, in the TVB there are no reductions and in the local county, town and village courts a reduction is generally a possibility.  An exception at the TVB is sometimes a judge will find you guilty only of a lower category speed if you are just a few miles per hour into a higher category so a TVB judge may consider turning this into a 50/30 which would save two points and potentially $300 in state surcharges.  However, there are no set rules for this so some judges will move as much as 5mph and others won’t move at all so then it just depends on which judge you are randomly assigned to.  In a local court that is willing to negotiate, it’s important to know whether the ticket was issued by a NYS Trooper or a local officer because NYS Troopers are banned from negotiating on tickets due to an ongoing situation regarding their overtime pay.  However, most (not all) courts have found a way to work around this.  If the ticket is reduced, what about the fine?  Some judges/prosecutors will lower the fine as the severity of the charge is lowered but others may raise it as part of the quid pro quo for the reduction.  In any case, at least you are protected by some statutory maximum fines–good luck locating them by the way–unless the judge imposing the fine chooses to ignore these statutes or simply doesn’t know what the maximum fines are as was the case with a NY judge who recently admitted as much after a complaint was made against him.

Confused yet? We could go on for quite some time…

I know it’s rambling, but it’s not much of an exaggeration.  For a person coming into this 52/30 with one prior conviction for two points, he might expect to pay approximately anywhere from $125 in fines and surcharges to $700 in fines and surcharges.  Note that we haven’t even mentioned automobile insurance, arguably the biggest factor when traffic ticket costs are considered.

The moral here is to never assume the cost of a traffic ticket.  Whatever you base the assumption on—personal experience, articles on the Internet, discussing with friends—it is likely to be different than anticipated.  Talk with an experienced traffic ticket attorney who can help go through the analysis with you and figure out what your potential liability may be and how much time, effort and money you may want to put towards contesting the charges. Always remember that during an initial consultation, your attorney should not be there to convince you that you need an attorney. He’s there to review with you and rationally analyze your situation and help you make informed decisions moving forward.

Submitted by Scott Feifer