Even though COVID-19's daily infection rate in New York City hasn't improved much since early June, nearly all of its Traffic Violation Bureaus (TVB) have reopened for business.
That means if you have a pending ticket and wanted to enter a plea of ‘not guilty', now is the time to schedule your court case.
Feeling excited to cram yourself into a government building with tens of other drivers during a pandemic?
Yeah, neither is anyone else.
Unless of course you happen to work for the NYPD. New policy allows police officers to “phone in” in their testimony instead of risking exposure to a virus along with the rest of us mortals.
If it's not safe enough for the police, why open the courts at all?
Unfortunately, this appears to be a purely financial decision.
With the unemployment rate in New York City pushing 20%, the city has lost a lot of the tax revenue they've relied on in the past to keep the city running. Such a dramatic cut in revenue has forced the government to search for other means to replace that income, hence the opening of traffic court even when it's against the interest of public health.
I'm not the only one who thinks this is what's going on. Bhairavi Desai, the director of the New York Taxi Workers Alliance, has described the move as “a money grab”. According to one source, the Queens South bureau alone brings in between $10,000 to $20,000 in fines per day!
It gets even better: Seems like the city has realized how much money they're leaving on the table when it comes to traffic tickets because they just announced that they'll be adding additional NYPD officers to their ticket-writing taskforce. They project that this change will generate even more money than they've made in the past – and that's with fewer drivers on the road.
I'm sure the DMV can present arguments in their favor, but by not letting everyone phone in, they're definitely making more money. People are being so cautious about where they go these days that the death-rate from heart attacks has nearly doubled in the last few months. Why? Because people are afraid of going to the hospital. So of course drivers are going to think twice before stepping into the DMV!
Technically, you don't need to go to court
If you visit the New York DMV's website, you'll see that “you are not required to appear in person at your TVB hearing”. But they don't offer you an option to call or “Zoom” in or anything like that. If you want, you can submit a Statement in Place of Personal Appearance instead of making a public appearance. That might sound convenient, but there is a reason court cases are normally fought in person.
Aside from all the technical troubles you may encounter filling out the form and submitting it properly, you're going to encounter some other serious challenges in winning your case:
- Take it from a lawyer, words can be misinterpreted. You may have intended to say one thing, but if the judge understands your sentence structure, use of grammar, tone, or a million other things differently than you meant it, who's interpretation do you think she's going to go with?
- Which brings me to my second point: you can't argue back or clarify anything. You have one chance to throw your facts into the wind and hope for the best.
- There is also the issue of non-verbal communication. All your emotion, pain, stress, and hurt already experienced isn't going to leave much of an impression on the judge. If it did, maybe he would have ruled more in your favor. Judges are people too and your feelings and circumstances can play a role in their ruling.
What's a driver to do?
Like always, I try to give you a clear sense of what's going on and then provide you with some options. Here's the way I see it:
- You can plead guilty. Pay your ticket, accept your points and expect that big increase on your insurance. Of course I'm kidding. Don't do this!
- Presenting your case in-person is definitely going to yield better results than a written presentation, but then you need to ask what kind of risk you're willing to take to fight your ticket. How big is your ticket? How many points are we talking about? Not an easy decision to make.
- Or, you can hire a lawyer to take your place. They'll schedule the court date, prepare the argument and then present it in person. You never need to leave the house. Talk about taking a bullet for your client! (But seriously, if you'd like to learn more about this option, get in touch, and I'll tell you what's possible.)
Terri, I'll take my chances with the form. What advice can you give me so I don't mess it up?
- As I mentioned above, the report needs to get to the courthouse two weeks before the court date. If it doesn't, you may be fined $70 and have your license suspended.
- After you complete the form, let it sit for a day or two and then come back for a second review. You may catch typos or notice stronger ways to present your case.
- Consider getting a lawyer or at minimum a friend to review what you wrote. Anything from a typo to a poorly phrased argument can lead to an immediate rejection of your case.
- Note that you can't write in “if your driving privilege is suspended for failure to answer the ticket.”
If you have any tips or questions about navigating the current situation, I'd love to hear from you.
Until next time,
Terri, your friendly neighborhood traffic lawyer