Tuesday, November 6, 2012

How to get a warning, not a ticket (New York version)

This weekend, Mr. Kehoe read an MSN article with this same title (minus the New York reference, of course). It was only marginally helpful and was obviously produced to sell insurance-related ads as it mentions the word "insurance" 40 times and seems to only glance the supposed topic of the article instead of being a useful resource on the topic. It was helpful, however, in the sense that it inspired us to write our own article in which we hopefully do a better job of explaining how to get a warning, instead of a ticket, when you get pulled over in New York.

Our office has been taking Vehicle & Traffic law cases for over 22 years. We are based in downtown Albany but represent clients in courts throughout almost the entire state of New York - from the mid Hudson Valley counties all the way north to Plattsburgh and the Canadian border. On the east, we go to the Massachusetts border and west to Chautauqua County. We have handled thousands of cases and listened to the accounts of thousands more motorists who have been pulled over for violating local traffic laws. We have argued and negotiated with the very State Troopers and other law enforcement agents who are responsible for prosecuting these cases. I mention this not as a bragging point, but to give some idea of our credibility regarding what I'm about to explain.

Like the MSN article says, the officer has full discretion to issue a warning and send you on your way OR to write the ticket, but there are several factors that may be considered and eventually determine what happens.

Why You Are Being Stopped


If you are pulled over for making a right-hand turn without signaling, you are much more likely to get a break than someone street racing at 100+mph in a school zone. Vehicle & Traffic laws (which include speeding and signaling) are put in place to provide order and safety to everyone on the road. If you are caught doing something that is particularly egregious or puts other people in danger, law enforcement officers are not going to be amused. In our experience, these public servants take their jobs very seriously and will not hesitate to prosecute to the full extent of the law, especially when it involves someone who appears to have no regard for the law or its officials. This brings us to our next point.

Your Attitude & Excuses


Don't tell the officer that you have a meeting to attend, are late to a funeral, or are just trying to get to the next exit to find a bathroom. They've heard it all. Even if it is true, stop for a minute and think about how many excuses and outright lies these officers hear every single day. Most Troopers appreciate a good attitude and some good old-fashioned honesty. They are not in the business of issuing false tickets (although it does happen) and they are not just there to collect revenue (although that may be part of it). Either way, when you get pulled over, the brief moment you have to interact with the officer at the window is not the time to "put up your dukes" and start a crusade against the Vehicle & Traffic laws. If you got caught, accept your ticket and learn about the great system New York state has for reducing or waiving your charges. If you want a fight, save it for later and hire a lawyer. If you want a warning, keep your self-righteous attitude and excuses to yourself. Officers are much more likely to give warnings to citizens that are cooperative, courteous, and in some cases, candid.

Your Driving History


It may be somewhat of a Catch 22, but if you already have a clean driving history you are more likely to keep it that way. Drivers with no points have an easier time securing reductions on their tickets and qualifying for diversion programs that provide for outright dismissal of charges. In fact, many Traffic Diversion Programs require you to have no speeding ticket convictions in the past 18 months in order to even qualify.  When you get pulled over, the officer can do a quick search of your driving history - and may do so before you're even stopped. If your license is suspended, if you have recently plead guilty to a traffic offense (especially if it was the same law for which you are being pulled over), or if you already have points, you are much less likely to get a warning. A bad driving history says that you are a problematic driver, putting people in danger and/or disregarding state traffic law. If that seems like the case, don't count on getting a break.

No Luck With a Warning? There is Still Hope


Fortunately, even if you don't get a warning you can still probably get a reduction or even have your ticket dismissed. New York state requires that you answer your ticket with a plea of Guilty or Not Guilty before any penalties like fines and points are assigned. In most cases, you can hire an attorney to apply for a reduction of your charges and save a ton of money and keep your driving history clean. Some counties, like Broome and Livingston, have Traffic Diversion programs. These programs will guarantee a dismissal of your charges if you complete the requirements (and can qualify). Most require you to pay a fee and take a defensive driving course.

Remember, if you feel that you are not guilty of the charges entered against you, you have the right to demand a trial. You will be able to face your accuser and testify before the judge that you were not speeding. When attending court, be sure to dress appropriately and be respectful. Your attorney should be able to advise you on everything else. If you're still shopping attorneys, feel free to contact us. We'll be happy to take a few minutes to get to know your case and give you an honest quote and evaluation.



Friday, November 2, 2012

On Appearance Tickets in the Albany, Schenectady, Rensselaer Areas:

By and large, when you hire us (or any lawyer) for a traffic ticket case in the Capital Area, we do not have to physically appear in court. This comes as a big surprise to many clients, but it's how the legal system works in New York state - and with good reason. Just imagine if every client or counselor had to appear before a judge for every traffic violation that was contested. Existing courts could run 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and there would still not be enough time to hear each case. Fortunately, there are policies in place to allow attorneys to appear by mail, fax, or postal mail (depending on the policies of the court), and only in particular cases do we really have to make a trip to the court. It's all a part of what's called judicial economy and usually works out to everyone's advantage while maintaining the rule of law.

When a physical appearance is required by the court either of the client, their attorney, or both, it will usually be on more serious charges like reckless driving, very high speeds, U.P.M. (Unlawful Possession of Marijuana), Aggravated Unlicensed Operation (A.U.O.), Logbook Violations, and other criminal misdemeanors. Some local courts also require personal appearances on certain offenses that most courts do not. The Bethlehem Town Court (in Delmar), for example, requires an appearance on all speeding charges of 85mph or higher and 1144-a Move Over tickets. In the greater Albany Area, only the Ravena Village Court and Coeymans Justice Court require appearances on all Vehicle & Traffic cases.

I hope that helps to clear up a very common misconception about litigating traffic violations in our area, although the same idea applies statewide.