THE (DREADED) NEW YORK STATE POINTS SYSTEM
Welcome to New York. There's the Statue of Liberty, Times Square, Wall Street. And, right behind you, a police officer gesturing to you, pulling you over, and writing you a ticket.
New York has always found ways to take your money. The DMV Points System is an elaborate way to do that. The system also serves other purposes that matter to lawmakers -- ostensibly, it keeps bad drivers off the road.
The points system is the single most important element of a traffic ticket. If a ticket has no points, you do not need a lawyer. Hiring counsel is simply not worth the money. Either fight the ticket on your own or plead it guilty and pay.
But if a ticket has points, it can hurt you in numerous ways.
Points are a source of aggravation and confusion. Myths abound about them, usually perpetuated by non-lawyers who sound knowledgeable. This section will address some of those myths and attempt to clear the cloud of smoke surrounding points.
How Do Points Affect You?
Assessment fees. If you get six points on your license in an eighteen-month period, you will owe an assessment fee to New York. Assessment fees start at $300 for six points, and go up another $75 for each additional point; for example, eight points means an assessment of $450. You have the option of paying the fee in a lump sum or over a period of three years. Be warned that if you do not pay the assessment fee in a timely fashion, DMV will suspend your license.
Suspensions. Once you reach 11 points on your license in an eighteen-month period, you face the possibility of a license suspension. Note that judges have discretion. A judge does not have to suspend your license at 11 or more points, and a judge can choose to suspend your license for fewer than 11 points. But at 11, 12, 13 or more points, a suspension is likely. The standard suspension is 31 days (again, the judge has discretion) and begins 30 days after the hearing date. The more points you have, the longer your suspension may be.
During a suspension, you still have a driver's license. But if you drive when suspended, you may be arrested for driving with a suspended license. Police take this charge very seriously.
Revocation. If your driving record is exceptionally bad, a judge may revoke your license. This is like a suspension on steroids.
If your New York license is revoked, you no longer have a license; it is canceled. You are treated like someone who has never had a license before. You will have to apply for driving privileges, and you may be forced to retake the road test. Remember, driving is a privilege, not a right. If New York revokes your license, the state is under no obligation to give it back to you quickly, or at all.
Insurance. Accruing points on your license usually means increased insurance premiums. Insurance is a contract between two parties. In some cases, a minor ticket conviction might not affect your premiums. In other cases, it could have a devastating impact -- higher premiums or cancelation of the policy. Ultimately, this is between you and your insurer. Your best bet is to keep your license as clean as possible. If you get points, your insurer will likely find out, and there will likely be consequences.
Professional duties. Many employers require or prefer that you maintain a clean driving record. If you drive a taxi, for example, the Taxi and Limousine Commission keeps a watchful eye on your traffic convictions, and levies harsh penalties and suspensions if you accrue points. Others, such as the MTA and the NYPD, may demand that you close all your open tickets before applying for the position, and may deny you if you have any current or past license suspensions. In general, employers are allowed to do this. It's yet another reason to vigorously fight any ticket you receive.
Almost every local court offers the option of plea bargaining. This is the major difference between town courts and the Traffic Violations Bureau.
A "plea bargain" means that the accused agrees to plead guilty to a lesser violation than the original charge. For example, if the driver is given a six-point speeding ticket, it is possible that the prosecutor will offer a plea bargain to reduce the charge to a two-point traffic device ticket.
Do I Have to Go to Court?
In short, it depends.
Some courts will require you make a personal appearance. Others may allow you to handle the ticket by mail.
If you choose to have a trial, the prosecutor will state the case against you. The police officer may come to court to testify. You will have the chance to cross examine the officer. The prosecutor will do the same. Then the judge will decide whether the case has been established. e advised that once you get to this point, you have abandoned your chance for a reduction. You are either winning and getting zero points, or losing and getting the points connected with the ticket.
How Do I Know if I Got a Good Deal?
If you get no points on a ticket that carries points, you should be happy.
Otherwise, the simple truth is that you cannot know for sure if you have been offered a plea bargain you should accept. An attorney will know if this offer is satisfactory, or if you can push for a better deal -- and if so, how.
How Do I Get a Good Plea Bargain?
Every court is different. The judge and prosecutor in one town may have different priorities than the judge and prosecutor in the next town over.
The following factors may be considered:
*Your driving record. Some courts will request a driving abstract. If you have a bad driving record, you will find it more difficult to reach a suitable plea bargain. This is subjective. If the prosecutor has your abstract, she will see your entire driving record, including all of your traffic convictions, suspensions, revocations, and criminal charges such as DUI's.
*The seriousness of the charge. Some courts will not offer plea bargains for high-point violations, such as eight- and eleven-point speeds.
*The unique facts of your ticket. If you were involved in an accident, for example, the prosecutor may decline to offer a reduction.
Can't I Do This on My Own? Do I Really Need an Attorney?
Perhaps. Perhaps not.
If you have a good driving record and were issued an unremarkable two-point ticket, then yes, there is a good chance that you can represent yourself in a town court and be satisfied with the outcome.
If you have a bad driving record, if you are facing a serious charge, or if you drive for a living, you might be better served hiring a lawyer.
What Can An Attorney Do That I Cannot?
You've heard the phrase, "He who represents himself has a fool for a client." As the defendant, you are personally invested in the case. You may be prone to be upset, emotional or irrational. You may be more inclined to yell at the police officer or the judge. You might question the officer's perception or judgment, which may make him heated. A testy exchange rarely ends well for the defendant in traffic court.
An attorney knows when to push for a better deal. He knows when to step back and accept the deal on the table. In general, with an attorney, the process is more orderly and streamlined. This puts both the prosecutor and judge at ease. They are working, after all, and they appreciate routine and predictability. And there is a good chance that the judge and prosecutor both know, and like, your attorney, from having worked with him before. If the judge and prosecutor are on your side, you are likely to get a good result. .