Want to fight a red light ticket in New York? Take a close look at the specific language of the law and the individual elements of the charge and you may be able to dispute the sufficiency of the facts and evidence used to justify the red light violation charge.
Read on for a New York red light ticket attorney’s take on how you might fight the violation and prevent points on your license.
The full text of the relevant law, NYS Vehicle and Traffic Law Sec 1111(d)1 can be found here.
Penalties for Running a Red Light in New York
A conviction for violating VTL 1111(d)1 will include a fine and surcharge that can range from $200 to $800+ depending on where you get the ticket and your existing driving history. A conviction will also result in three points on your license. If you accumulate 6 or more points in an 18 month period, you’ll be required to pay a driver assessment starting at $300. If you accumulate 11 or more points your license will be in the suspension range (some judges have some give with this number so it’s not an automatic suspension at eleven).
Before worrying about any particular strategy for fighting red light tickets in New York it’s worth taking a quick law at the legal statute in question. In this case, it’s pretty 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. This stopping point is the point where drivers cannot cross if the light in question is in the red phase. This is what an officer is looking for, and this demarcation point will be an important part of any hearing or trial regarding the matter. The central question at hand is always: what was 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 where the officer has simply decided it was too close to let go and chose to issue the driver a summons.
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 in situations where they weren’t paying close enough attention to the entire intersection and the cycle of the light.
Note that regardless of your situation, simply stating to a prosecutor or testifying during a hearing that you didn’t do it or the officer made a mistake is unlikely to get you very far. Whether you went through the light while it was blatantly green, blatantly red or it was a close call you can expect the police officer to argue that the light was blatantly red. The officer isn’t going to come to court after issuing a red light ticket and say anything other than that.
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 red light conviction 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 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.
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Red Light and Other Traffic Signals FAQs
Should I fight the traffic ticket I received for running a red light?
A red light summons in NY is a three-point ticket and definitely can affect insurance rates. We’d like to see everyone fight every ticket–it’s very rare we’d ever recommend that someone just pay a ticket because even with a clean license you never know what is going to happen next week, next month, next year, etc. Of course a person’s existing driving history, job, license class, etc. can also play a role in the decision.
Will I need to go to court to fight my red light ticket?
If you plan on representing yourself, you’ll need to be in court in almost every traffic violation case. If you are represented by an attorney you’ll never need to attend your court hearing outside of the rarest and unusual circumstances.
What happens if I don’t pay my traffic ticket for running a red light?
Failing to properly handle and stay timely with a red light ticket will eventually result in a suspension of driving privileges. This is true for failing to respond to the ticket, failing to show for a hearing date and for failing to pay any fines due on time.
How long will a red light traffic violation stay on my driving record?
A red light violation conviction will be visible on your record from the time you are found guilty for at least three years going forward. This is the time where insurers and employers have a chance to see it. Point calculation by the DMV is always based on the date the ticket was issued and points are calculated by adding up the total number of points from tickets issued in any 18 month period.
Why do I need a lawyer to help me fight my red light traffic violation?
No one will ever be forced to get an attorney or “need” one. You can always represent yourself on a red light violation. However, with an attorney who knows what they are doing, you won’t need to attend court and you will give yourself the absolute best chance at a successful outcome. With a firm like ours, this is the only type of work we handle so we are quite experienced with red light tickets and other moving violations.
I Was in the Intersection Trying to Turn Before the Light Turned Red, Should I Have Received a Ticket?
Red light violations should only be charged where a motorist enters an intersection after the light turned red. If you were already well into the intersection at the time of the light changing, then you should not have received a ticket.
I Stopped At the Red Light. Why Was I Still Issued a Ticket?
Technically, anyone crossing the marked stopping point after the light has entered the red phase has committed a violation. The law does not require the driver to move completely through the intersection to be issued a citation. While most officers are likely to let it go if someone stops just after the stopping point, there will always be some who will write red light tickets as aggressively as possible.
Is It True That If the Charging Officer Fails to Appear My Ticket Will Be Dismissed?
If the officer who witnessed your violation and issued your ticket failed to appear at your hearing, the judge must then make a decision for how to proceed with your case. In many cases, they will dismiss the ticket, but they have the discretion to take other actions depending on the circumstances, including rescheduling the hearing. It may depend on your driving record and the particular reason the officer failed to make it to court.
Do Red Light Cameras Add Points to Your License?
No. These are treated like non-moving parking violations and issued to the registered owner of the vehicle, not the individual driver.