My firm probably offers 10-15 consultations per day concerning issues at the NYS TVB, and just about every person wants to know if it is possible to win a hearing there and, if so, what are the odds it will happen.
The NYS Traffic Violations Bureau is an administrative agency. There are no plea bargains or negotiations there. With rare exception for certain types of speeding cases, hearings either end in a guilty finding (the points and fine as charged) or a not guilty finding (case dismissed outright).
Here’s a very basic blueprint for fighting a TVB traffic ticket:
1. Enter a not guilty plea. As they say, you have to be in it to win it. You only have a chance to get your ticket dismissed if you actually plead not guilty and schedule a hearing date.
2. Do a little research prior to your hearing date. Take a look at the particular section of law in question before court. There may be clues in there. For example, §1111(d)1, which controls red light violations, mentions that a stop must be made “at a clearly marked stop line” and §1110 which controls traffic devices (signs) mentions that signs must be “in proper position and sufficiently legible” in order to be enforced. Elements of the charge such as these will give you an idea of what the judge is looking and listening for and what may be a worthwhile line of questioning to pursue.
3. Show up on your hearing date. You can’t win a hearing if you aren’t there in court to actually contest the ticket. If you miss the hearing date for some reason, get to court within 30 days and reschedule for another date. Missing hearing dates is the easiest and quickest way to a license suspension and/or guilty finding.
4. Look and listen before doing anything with your traffic ticket once you get to the hearing. You don’t need to be the first person on line to hand your ticket into the clerk. Maybe you see something that makes you think twice about proceeding and fighting the ticket that day. Perhaps you see your officer get convictions on 20 people in a row or you see your Judge berating every self-represented motorist. Maybe you can ask for an adjournment–and live to fight another day–if that seems like a good idea for one reason or another.
5. Whenever your hearing ultimately begins, listen closely the officer’s testimony. Anything important seem like it was missing or unclear? Did the officer clearly establish when/where the incident took place? Does the direction of travel make sense? If an officer said he did something, did he offer anything with respect to when/where/how? Any of the elements of the charge you may know of from your prior research seem to be omitted or otherwise problematic? If you think you’ve spotted a problem, you can ask the officer questions about it or you can ask the judge to dismiss the case based on what you’ve found.
6. It’s probably been a few months at very least since the incident occurred and there’s a good chance the officer issues many summonses every day. You have a right to question his recollection of the incident. It’s likely he has some notes he referred to during his testimony to help him recall. You can ask to see these notes and ask if the officer relied on them. If he is relying on them to recall, were they made right at the time of the incident? Did he offer any other testimony that perhaps wasn’t mentioned in these notes and, if so, how did he recall that particular information? See any contradictions when you compare these notes to the officer’s verbal testimony and the information written on the original ticket? An officer’s notes can be a very helpful to your case.
7. Once you are done examining the officer’s notes, asking questions of the officer and perhaps asking the judge to dismiss along the way based on any problems/issues you’ve found, you’ll have the chance to offer your version of the incident. Be clear and concise. Don’t use derogatory phrases concerning the officer such as he “lied” because you don’t want to put the judge in a position where he basically has to agree with that assertion for you to win. An officer may have been “mistaken” or possibly “distracted” by the construction, traffic, etc. Make your points, summarize what you feel were the problems with the officer’s case, and end it.
The judge will render a decision right there on the spot and hopefully it’s what you were looking for—case dismissed.
Are my chances of winning at the TVB better with a lawyer?
Clearly as a lawyer who does this type of work I may be considered biased but my answer is a very definite “yes”. I say that just like I would agree that a plumber has a better chance of fixing my toilet, a chef a better chance of cooking a good meal, a photographer a better chance of taking an excellent picture, etc. This is what we do on a daily basis. Knowing what the judge is looking for and listening for, knowing who the judge is and how he operates in comparison to the other judges and knowing how to find and emphasize the problems with the officer’s case gives a good traffic lawyer a legitimate chance at winning every hearing.
That said, there are a couple of things a TVB traffic ticket attorney absolutely cannot do:
1. Guarantee a dismissal. If an officer is fully prepared and testifies perfectly and has notes that support everything and leaves the judge with absolutely no doubt as to what happened, there may be nothing we can do. This is going to happen in some cases to every single attorney who does TVB work. Luckily, “perfect” cases are more the exception than the norm.
2. Assess your particular chances of success before the hearing. Everyone wants to know their chances of winning. “Here’s what happened…how does it look for me?” Every case looks exactly the same to us prior to the hearing itself. You may have your version of what happened, but we can’t rely on the officer giving that same version in court. Without knowing what the officer will say and how clearly he’ll say it, without knowing what if anything he’ll have as far as notes from the incident and without having any idea which judge will be randomly assigned that day (some are just way better than others) we have no way to predict your case. I know people want odds and percentages, but these numbers are completely useless in my opinion—the last 10,000 cases aren’t your case. All we can do is promise to put our clients in the best position possible by controlling the aspects of the hearing we can control and maximize the chances of a successful outcome.
By Scott Feifer