FIGHTING A TICKET IN NEW YORK CITY
In New York City, tickets are fought in the Traffic Violations Bureau (TVB). In TVB, the driver cannot "plea bargain." If you are charged with, for example, a five-point cell phone ticket, you must fight the ticket at a hearing. If you are found "guilty," you get five points on your license and pay the fine and surcharge.
What Happens After You Get a Ticket in the City
When you get a TVB ticket, you have two options. The first is to plead guilty and pay the fine. If you do this, be aware that you are waiving your right to contest the ticket, and that you will receive all of the points attached to the ticket. Attorneys will strongly advise you against doing this.
Instead, you should plead "not guilty" and schedule a hearing. You may do this in one of three ways:
1) Visit a Traffic Violations Bureau office. The City has eight TVB office locations: two in Manhattan, two in Brooklyn, two in Queens, and one each in Staten Island and the Bronx. See the full list here. Present your driver's license and the ticket, and a DMV clerk will schedule you for a hearing date. Although this is a practical way to ensure your ticket is addressed properly, many drivers may find this method inconvenient, as it requires taking time during a weekday to visit a DMV office.
2) Use the DMV's web site. Then enter your license information (the nine-digit number on your New York license; also known as the "client ID") or, if you do not have a New York license, your full name, sex and date of birth. Then enter the ticket number, found on the top left corner of the ticket. This number is ten digits long and usually begins with "AB" or "B1." This is the easiest way to schedule your hearing, and because it will automatically generate a receipt with the hearing date, you can be sure that your request for a hearing was processed.
3) Mail your ticket to the address on the back of the summons. If you choose this method, make sure to sign your ticket and check the box for "not guilty." This method is not recommended, because you cannot be certain that the DMV's office in Albany actually receives your ticket and records your request for a hearing.
Keep in mind that if you hire an attorney, your attorney can handle all of these matters so that you don't have to. Your attorney deals with TVB on a daily basis. He or she can make sure that your hearing is scheduled, and, if possible, can arrange a preferable hearing date.
15 Days to Respond
The ticket will indicate that you have 15 days to respond -- e.g., to plead guilty or not guilty. To a degree, this is a fear tactic used by the DMV. It takes more than 15 days for most tickets to enter the DMV recording system. The driver actually has about a month to answer the ticket and get a hearing date.
If you attempt to schedule a hearing online for a new ticket, you may be greeted with a rude reminder. If your ticket is not yet in the system, DMV cannot schedule the hearing. You will be given a prompt that indicates you will receive an email from DMV when your ticket hits their online system. But this warning comes with a caveat: If the ticket is not entered in a certain amount of time, the warning expires, but you are still responsible for pleading not guilty to the summons. This happens more often than you might expect. Some police officers, especially those that do not write tickets on a regular basis, take some time to report their summonses to their sergeants. And sometimes a ticket may be filed, but simply take longer than usual to be recorded in Albany.
Correspondence from DMV
DMV may mail you correspondence about your hearing. If you have an attorney, you can discard this paperwork, as your attorney can track the hearing date much more efficiently through the DMV's online system for attorney case management.
Recently, DMV has sent motorists a form called an "affidavit." This form authorizes a hearing to occur in the motorist's absence. Do not mail in this form. It will result in an all-but-certain conviction. If you wish to contest your summons, either fight the ticket yourself, in person. Or, for the best opportunity to have your ticket dismissed, hire a traffic attorney.
On the day of your hearing, show up on time and dress presentably. Find your name on the electronic board. Next to your name is a number. This indicates in which room your hearing will take place. Go to that room and give the clerk your driver's license. She will give you a piece of paper, called a "substitute ticket," to fill out. Sign your name and check "not guilty." Then, sit down and wait for the judge to call your case.
First, the police officer will testify. The officer will indicate what he observed that caused him to issue the summons.
The judge will swear you in by asking for your name. You will affirm to tell the truth. You may then ask questions of the police officer or make a statement to the judge.
The judge may ask questions of both you and the police officer to clarify the evidence. After both sides have testified, the judge will make a ruling.
The burden of proof in traffic court is "clear and convincing evidence." But most judges in TVB interpret this as much closer to "preponderance of the evidence." The state need not produce physical evidence against you, such as a radar gun. If the hearing boils down to your word against the police officer's word, you will probably be found guilty.
With an attorney, the process is slightly different. Your attorney was not a witness, so she will not testify. Your attorney will examine the copy of the ticket and officer's notes. She will then ask questions or make legal motions. Your attorney knows that the officer must establish a legal case against you -- in legal terms, the "prima facie" case. And your attorney knows which judges view this in the ways most favorable to the motorist. Herein lies the best way to win a case at TVB: your attorney making a legal motion to dismiss, which the judge grants.
The ticket itself is the charging instrument, and it must be correct on the relevant matters. (Note that some parts of the ticket are not viewed as important enough to merit a dismissal. For example, the make, model and color of your vehicle are not relevant elements of a traffic violation.)
But My Friend Told Me He Got His Points Reduced on a Ticket
Your friend is mistaken. In New York City, there are no point reductions. This is an option in most courts in upstate New York, on Long Island, and in New Jersey. But not at TVB, which are the only traffic courts in the five boroughs.
If You Are Found Not Guilty at TVB
If you are found "not guilty," you get no points and owe no fine money. The matter will not affect your insurance or your driving record. It is as though the ticket was never issued.
If You Are Found Guilty At TVB
If your ticked carried points, you now have points on your license.
You will be levied a fine, plus a surcharge ($88 for all non-equipment violations). The fine is regulated by law, with the judge given some discretion to increase the fine for motorists with bad driving records. For most violations, the base fine is $50, but some tickets, such as speeding tickets and red lights, have higher fines.
After the guilty finding, the judge has access to your entire driving record. (Before the guilty verdict, the judge has no idea if you have a perfect record or a terrible one; this ensures that the hearing focuses only on your actions during this alleged infraction.)
You have 28 days to pay your fine. Fines may be paid online, in person, or via mail. Once again, most attorneys recommend paying the fine in person or by mail, to make sure the money is received. Unlike the aforementioned "15 days to respond" rule, the 28 days limit is enforced strictly by DMV. If you do not pay within 28 days, your license is suspended and you must then pay a $70 suspension and termination fee.
Appeals Are An Option, But Not a Very Good Option.
You have 30 days to appeal your conviction. Appeals are done by mail or Internet. There is no hearing for the appeal. A judge in Albany rules on your case based on the transcript of the hearing and any arguments you make.
DMV charges a $10 appeal fee. You may also choose to pay a $50 fee for the transcript. Every word said during a hearing is recorded. This record is then processed into a typed transcript. You can reference this transcript when arguing your appeal. No new evidence is heard on appeal. The facts have already been decided by the judge during the hearing. The appellate judge reviews only to see if a significant error of law was made by the trial judge during the hearing.
Attorneys advise against appeals in most cases, because they almost never work. The best chance to win your case is during the hearing, with an attorney. An appeal is nothing more than a waste of time and $60.
What About if You Have an Attorney?
Your attorney will answer your ticket for you.
On the first court date, and all subsequent dates, your attorney will attend court for you. You do not have to be there. If your attorney thinks the case is winnable -- based on whether the officer is present, who the judge is, and a number of other factors -- she will proceed and attempt to get your ticket dismissed. If your attorney thinks a guilty disposition is more likely, she will adjourn your ticket.
Traffic attorneys charge flat fees. You will not have to pay the attorney again. An attorney will reschedule the case only if it helps you.