How to fight a traffic ticket.
- What to do when you're pulled over by the Police.
- What to do after you get the ticket.
- What to do when you get notice of your hearing date.
- What to do on the date of your hearing.
- Stay calm. Getting angry with a police officer is never going to help your case. In fact, it can turn a simple traffic ticket into a criminal charge. Be respectful to the officer. The ideal thing to do is to turn your car off, put the keys on the dashboard where they are visible to the approaching officer and put you hands on the top of your steering wheel. This will instantly convey a sense of security and cooperation to the police officer and put him/her in the best possible mood to speak with you.
- Be careful of what you say. Unless you have a very legitimate reason for violating whatever rule you were pulled over for, you're better off not making any statements to the police officer. The police will usually start by asking you a question, such as "Do you know how fast you were going?" or "Was there a reason why you went through the stop sign?" The purpose of these questions is to get you to admit that you committed the offense. The officer will make a note of any admission you make and will testify to it at a later hearing. Your best response is to say that you would rather not answer or give an answer that doesn't admit guilt - such as "I thought I was doing the speed limit officer" or "The light didn't turn yellow until I was already in the intersection."
- Never try to bribe the cop. In the movies cops take bribes all the time, but in real life that is not the case. Also, cops are so afraid of sting operations to catch them taking bribes, that they're likely to think your offer is an attempt to have them arrested. Their response to an attempted bribe will likely be to arrest you.
Plead "not guilty." If you do not officially plead not guilty, you will automatically be found guilty and the points and fines will be applied. You can plead not guilty by mail or in person. If you received your ticket outside of NYC but in New York State, see the separate instructions for fighting a ticket outside of NYC.
- To plead not guilty by mail:
- Put an X in the "not guilty" box on the ticket before putting it in the mail.
- Make a copy of the front and back of the ticket before putting it in the mail.
- You must put it in the mail within 15 days of the date you got the ticket.
- It is best to send it in by certified mail so that you can track it later should they claim that it was not received. Save your certified receipt so that you can get proof that it was sent and received if needed.
- To plead not guilty in person:
- Go into any center anytime from 14 to 30 days after you receive the ticket and tell them that you want to plead not guilty. They will have you sign a printout with the not guilty plea.
- Beyond 30 days you are technically late but can still plead not guilty. You may be required to go in front of a judge in order to explain why you did not respond to the summons earlier. The judge may impose a $40.00 bond that you have to pay at that time. The bond is to guarantee that you will show up at the court hearing. If you do not appear at the hearing, you will lose the $40 bond and another bond may be required in order to schedule another hearing. If you do appear and are found not guilty, the bond will be returned to you.
Before going to a hearing for your summons, it is important that you know the possible consequences of going forward with the hearing on a particular day. If you have had even 1 ticket in the last few years that resulted in you getting "points" use the points/date calculation form.
Under the points system, fines can be quite steep and your license may be suspended or revoked depending upon your prior driving history. Traffic summonses in New York City cannot be plea-bargained. You must, therefore, know exactly what the effect would be of pleading guilty or being found guilty of another moving violation before you go to your hearing.
In determining fines and whether your license should or must be suspended or revoked, the judge will "look back" at 18 months of your driving history.
What to do on the date of your hearing.
The points/date calculation form will help you to decide whether you should try and delay your hearing. If you know that a guilty finding will result in a steep fine, a suspension or revocation of your license, then you will want to delay your hearing until enough points drop out of the look-back period (18 months). The 18-month period starts from the date of the ticket, not the date of the conviction. If you're not sure of the points you might have on your license, order an abstract, which will show not only the points but the dates of the points.
On the day of the hearing
- Show up at least 30 minutes before the time your hearing is scheduled. In the Bronx, your hearing will take place at 696 East Fordham Road. This is across from the Bronx Zoo. If you are driving to the hearing center, make sure you park in the parking lot. It only costs $3 for three hours and is generally safe. Parking on the street around the parking center is highly restricted and you're likely to get a ticket. Hearings take place from 8:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Monday through Friday and on Thursday from 4:30 p.m. to 6:00 p.m.
- Once you enter the Hearing Center look on the boards that are on both sides of the hallway for your case. Search using both your first name first and your last name first. It's common that they get those two mixed up. When you find your name on the board, check to make sure that it has the same time on your ticket or hearing notice. Look for the room you have to go to next to your name.
- Go to that room with your ticket and your driver's license. The clerk in the room will take your information and give you a printout.
- Check off not guilty on the printout. If you plead guilty, you will be taken first and will get out of their quicker, however the points will automatically be added to your license. There is rarely any benefit to pleading guilty with an explanation since the points are automatic.
- Sit down and wait in the room for your name to be called.
- Before starting to call the names, the judge will give a 2-to 3-minute explanation of your rights and then ask if anyone wants to change their plea from guilty to not guilty. Do not change your plea.
- Once you are called up, the judge will ask you if you're ready for a hearing and whether or not you have an attorney. If the police officer is not there, ask that the summons be dismissed. (see below) If the police officer is there and you want to get the adjournment, you must give the judge a reason for the adjournment, such as you're waiting to get information or you want to bring a witness who was not available that day. Getting a couple of adjournments is always a good idea because it increases the chances that the police officer will fail to show up and your case will be dismissed.
- If the police officer does not show up at this first hearing, ask the judge that the case be dismissed. If you have not asked for adjournments prior to this, the judge is likely to dismiss the case on the first appearance if the police officer does not show up. On the other hand, if you have asked for an adjournment in the past, the judge is likely to give the police officer the same number of adjournments before dismissing the case.
The police officer will be sworn in and will testify first. Listen very carefully. Quite often the police officer will testify very quickly, often just reading off of a script. You can ask the judge to ask the cop to testify slower so that you can understand and follow what the cop is saying.
After the cop testifies, you can question the police officer, make statements under oath and present any evidence or witnesses you may have in your defense. The normal rules of evidence do not apply in traffic court so don't worry about how you can get a piece of paper in evidence.
Questioning the police officer. If you wish to question the cop, always ask the following questions first:
- Do you have an independent recollection of the incident or are you relying upon notes?
- If the police officer has an independent recollection or even some independent recollection, ask the officer to fully describe what it is that he/she recalls without looking at his/her notes. Once the officer has finished, ask if there is anything else or if that is all.
- If the cop is relying on notes, ask to see the notes. You may be surprised to find that there either are no notes, that the notes are only a sketch or that the notes were made the morning of the hearing and not the day you were issued the ticket. These are all things that you will bring up to the judge, especially if the officer testified that he/she had little or no independent recollection.
- Most laypeople tend to bring up things that have nothing to do with the ticket. Don't get into whether the police officer was rude, etc. It detracts from any argument that you make and shows the judge that you didn't put a lot of thought into your defense.
- If you think you have a relevant defense, such as you were on your way to an emergency, make sure that you bring proof with you. For instance, if it's a speeding ticket and you got called from the school or hospital or your wife contacted you that your child was being taken to the emergency room, bring copies of the emergency room records that show the date and time that your child was there. Such simple elements of proof can often defeat the ticket.
- If you want to have witnesses testify, bring them with you unless you need to delay the hearing at which time you just tell the judge that you need time to arrange for a witness to testify.
Immediately after you finish, the judge will rule guilty or not guilty and will assess the fine, if any, on the spot. In determining the amount of the fine, the judge will look back at your driving record for similar types of violations and numbers of safety violations. Safety violations include such things as speeding tickets, red lights, failure to stop for a school bus, illegal u-turns or anything that could present a danger to the public. Other infractions such as driving with a broken taillight will not greatly affect the fine.
Multiple safety violations, however, result in very large fines. It is not unusual for a fine for 3 safety violations to be as much as $1,500.00 plus surcharges. In addition, if the judge feels that your driving record presents a risk to the public, the judge can suspend your license on the spot.
If you're found not guilty, you can immediately leave unless you had posted a bond. If you posted a bond, then go to Window 8 to request a refund of the bond.
If you're found guilty, you must go to Window 8 to make arrangements to pay the fine. In New York City there are no installment plans for the payment of the fine. You must pay by credit card, cash, money order or certified check within two weeks of your conviction. If for any reason you cannot pay within those two weeks, you can go back and request an additional two weeks, which is normally granted. You do not have to go back to Fordham Road to make the payment. You can make the payment or ask for the extension at any motor vehicle center in New York State.
If you cannot pay the fine when it is due, your license is subject to suspension and if you are caught driving with a suspended license you're subject to arrest. This is another reason why you may want to delay a hearing until you can afford to pay the fine if you're found guilty.