If you get a New York traffic or speeding ticket, you should fight it. A conviction will result in points being imposed, a fine and a surcharge—and possibly a driver assessment fee, auto insurance hikes and even suspension. Here, we'll look at some of the key concerns that people have when they get a traffic ticket, and what they should know about fighting it.
What if I lose?
Whether you plead guilty or fight your ticket and lose, the result is the same. You get the same number of points and the fine is roughly the same regardless of whether you "lie down" or "go down swinging."
Can I make a deal?
No. In New York City, Rochester and Buffalo, no deals are made; it's "all or nothing." Outside of these areas, the New York traffic courts will often negotiate a plea bargain.
Are all speeding tickets the same?
No. A New York motorist can receive 3 to 11 points for speeding. For some higher speeds, your license can be suspended, even for a first offense. The following will help you figure this out:
- 1–10 miles per hour (MPH) over the speed limit: 3 points
- 11–20 MPH over the speed limit: 4 points
- 21–30 MPH over the speed limit: 6 points
- 31–40 MPH over the speed limit: 8 points (possible suspension)
- More than 40 MPH over the speed limit: 11 points (possible suspension)
How are points measured?
Points are measured from the date of the offense (even if you are convicted years later). So, when adding the possible points for a newly issued speeding ticket, you must go back 18 months from the date of the new ticket and determine how many other points you had on your record during this period. If you receive more than 10 points within any 18-month period, then you can be suspended. If you get three speeding convictions within 18 months, then your license is automatically revoked for six months.
If I fight my traffic ticket, what should my strategy be?
Most people ignore the officer's testimony and fail to ask any questions. This approach is a good way to lose your case. Instead, put aside your emotions and be prepared to listen carefully and ask the officer good questions. Of course, don’t omit your defense.
Listen carefully to the officer's testimony and take notes. If the officer omits critical testimony (such as date, time, location, direction, your ID information, etc.), then point this out to the judge after the officer rests.
For instance, I once was fighting a NYC speeding ticket when the officer testified that the motorist was proceeding eastbound on the Long Island Expressway. The ticket, however, indicated westbound. After the officer rested, I pointed out the error and showed the ticket to the judge, who promptly dismissed the case.
If the officer gives testimony that is inconsistent with their other testimony or the information on the ticket, point this out to the judge after the officer rests, and ask for a dismissal.
What happens during my defense?
After a cross-examination of the officer, it is time for you to offer your defense. Speak slowly and clearly. Be prepared to hand up any evidence supporting your defense, such as photos, witness statements or diagrams. Keep in mind that the judge hears many cases and, therefore, you should not be repetitive or rambling, and should only discuss relevant information.
Gather any evidence such as photographs and diagrams. Lay out your defense and how you intend to present it. The best way is to start at the beginning without including meaningless details.
What should I do when the officer is testifying?
Put aside the emotions involved with case. Instead, listen carefully and take notes. Many untrained motorists basically ignore the officer's testimony, fail to ask any questions and, instead, just tell the judge their story. This incomplete approach is not recommended and is clearly ineffective.
What if the officer makes a mistake during their presentation?
Wait for them to rest. I'll say it again: wait for them to rest. When they are done, then you can pounce.
What if there are no omissions or inconsistencies?
If there are no omissions or inconsistencies (or you argued that some existed but the judge declined to dismiss), you should still ask the officer thoughtful questions. For example, if your defense is that the officer pulled over the wrong car, then ask: "Where were you when you first saw my car?" "Did you have to pass any other cars to apprehend me?" and "How long did you wait to pull me over?" These types of questions build on your defense.
What should I avoid?
If you believe that the officer omitted something or was inconsistent, do not ask them to fill in the missing item or to clarify. This will only provide them with an opportunity to correct their mistake.
What else should I do during cross-examination?
Ask to the see the officer's notes. (The judge must allow you to see them.) Read them and determine whether their notes are consistent with their testimony. Any discrepancy should be pointed out to the judge. Also, do not be afraid to ask the officer to decipher illegible portions of their notes.
Prior to fighting your case, watch the judge and how they handle other cases. Do they listen and take notes? Do they seem impatient or distracted? If they get angry at another motorist for something in particular, avoid such conduct when it is your turn.