City, town and village traffic courts were notified last month that the state Legislature amended New York’s Vehicle and Traffic Law to require courts to schedule an extra appearance date for motorists to talk over a plea-bargain with a police officer or prosecutor.
This law is related to the big change we saw back in 2006, when state police decided to enforce a policy against allowing troopers to plea-bargain traffic tickets. Traditionally, State Troopers would issue speeding tickets and other moving violations and then, in court, serve as prosecutor for the case and potentially offer plea bargains to lesser charges. This ended in 2006 and forced courts, which rely on plea bargains to quickly and fairly dispose of a high percentage of cases, to scramble and find alternatives. Many District Attorney offices don’t have the manpower to serve as prosecutors for vehicle and traffic cases, so they delegated that authority to lawyers hired by towns and villages. Some courts couldn’t afford or never found alternative prosecutors and don’t negotiate at all on traffic tickets.
This change in 2006 has been, at best, an inconvenience to courts, motorists and the newly appointed prosecutors alike. At worst, it’s an unfair practice that has brought numerous protests and appeals. How your case was treated in court depended on whether a State Trooper or local officer issued the ticket.
Primary purpose of all this? Limit the time the Trooper had to spend in traffic court and thus limit their amount of overtime pay.
Despite this policy aimed towards cutting Trooper time in court, Troopers would always be required to show up at court as a witness if the case went to trial. There was no way around that. When the court sent a motorist a “trial” date, the Trooper would need to be there on that date. Even if the Trooper was under orders to remain silent and offer no plea bargain, he still would be summonsed to court. Thus, if a motorist did not want to accept a plea bargain offered by an alternate prosecutor or it was a court which never found alternative prosecutors, the trial could be held that same day because the Trooper was already there.
Not any more. The new law now requires that first date to be a “conference” date. No traffic ticket trials will be held on this date and therefore the Trooper will not be required to attend.
Here are the ramifications now that a first date in court is automatically a “conference” date and not a “trial” date and there will be no Trooper present:
1. There was always a chance a motorist could get lucky and get a case dismissed because the Trooper failed to show. Not any more.
2. If a motorist tries to negotiate a plea bargain with an alternative prosecutor and is unsuccessful, the motorist must come back on another date to have a trial.
3. The motorist loses leverage. In courts where there are alternative prosecutors, these prosecutors know they can offer lesser deals because, if the motorist turns the offer down, the motorist must either plead guilty on the spot and end the case or come back another time for a trial.
4. In a court that has not appointed alternative prosecutors at all, a motorist must show up at court two times to fight the ticket. The first time, they will be forced to either plead guilty on the spot and end the case or come back another time for a trial.
What can you do about this? If you have been issued a New York traffic ticket that is answerable in one of these local courts, your goals should be the same as they would have been before this law. Prevent license points, surcharges, insurance increases, etc. The difference now is trying to retain leverage to get the best deal possible and doing everything possible to avoid making two trips to court.
As a NY traffic ticket attorney, I may not approve of all this but I do have to admit it makes my services a little easier to sell. We charge flat fees and our clients rarely need to attend court at all, let alone two times for one simple ticket. Moreover, I’ve always thought represented motorists are likely to get better offers on the whole than unrepresented motorists. Perhaps I’m biased, but considering the new playing field and leverage the courts/prosecutors have, this may be more accurate today than ever before.
If you have any questions about a NY speeding ticket or other traffic ticket in NY that you feel may be affected by this new law, feel free to contact us anytime.
Kudos to the Times Herald-Record for reporting on this new law. The original story can be found here: NY traffic tickets may require extra court dates.
Submitted by irked by this new law traffic ticket lawyer Scott Feifer