How to Fight a Traffic Ticket in New York

August 5, 2020

By Jill K. Sanders, Esq.

A traffic ticket is something that most drivers will have to deal with at some point. Sometimes, it’s a non-moving violation incurring fines and surcharges but no points. Other times, it’s a moving violation resulting in points on your license and affecting your insurance rates.

Knowing how the system works in New York is key to fighting your traffic ticket. In most cases, it’s best to speak with and hire an attorney familiar with the court where your ticket will be heard. In this blog, we discuss what you should know about traffic tickets in New York.


Traffic Tickets in New York State vs. New York City

Traffic tickets are handled differently, depending on where the ticket was issued. For tickets issued outside of New York City, they are handled by the local court system in city, town, or village courts. If you plead “not guilty,” you may get a pre-trial conference to meet with the prosecutor or a police officer. You can discuss your case and may be able to negotiate a favorable disposition. If you can’t negotiate a resolution, you can request a trial to be held on a later date.

In contrast, New York City traffic tickets are handled by the Traffic Violation Bureau (TVB), which is a division of the NYS Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). The TVB operates under a different set of rules, and every case goes to hearing or trial. There is no negotiation with a prosecutor or police officer. On the date of your appearance, an administrative law judge will hear the testimony and evidence, determine your guilt or innocence, and then impose sentence.


What to Expect in Traffic Court

How long will you be in court? If you are with an attorney, you will likely only spend an hour or two in court. Sometimes if you hire an attorney you won’t have to go to court at all. If you are on your own, expect to spend several hours there. Regardless, be prepared for an entire day in court just in case.

What should you wear? Make a good first impression by dressing appropriately. Choose clothing that shows that you are taking the process seriously. Avoid wearing jeans or any casual wear, shorts, or beach clothing. If you don’t look like you’re taking your ticket seriously, why should the judge take your case seriously?

What happens if you have an emergency and can’t go to court? Call your attorney if you’ve hired one. If not, call the court directly. Be prepared to show proof that you had an emergency. In NYC, you likely will have to go in person and may have to post a cash bond to get your court date re-scheduled.

What should you say? If you have an attorney, let him/her do all the talking and only reply to questions that he/she asks you to answer. If you have a copy of your driver’s abstract, show it to the prosecutor. Keep it simple, and be prepared to show your evidence. Be courteous and act professionally. Don’t accuse the police officer of lying; instead, say you believe he/she was mistaken.

Can you get time to pay my fines? Usually, the answer is yes. However, some courts will required you to pay your fines on the day you are in court. If you need time to pay, you should discuss this with the prosecutor and the judge at the outset of your court appearance.


Understanding the DMV’s Point System

Before you go to court, you may want to get a copy of your driver’s abstract. This is the official DMV record of your driving history. Your prior traffic convictions may be important in working out a disposition with the prosecutor. It may also be relevant to the judge for sentencing.

The NYS DMV uses a point system. If you accumulate 11 or more points within any 18-month period, your license may be suspended or revoked. And if you accumulate 6 or more points within any 18-month period, you will receive a civil penalty separate from any court fines and surcharges. This civil penalty is called a Driver Assessment Responsibility.

Common Traffic Tickets Points
Speeding (MPH over limit) 1-10 3
11-20 4
21-30 6
31-40 8
41+ 11
Reckless driving 5
Failed to stop for school bus 5
Cell phone violation 5
Failed to yield right-of-way 3
Traffic signal violations 3
Lane violations 3
Driving in wrong direction 3
Child seat belt violation 3
Most other moving violations 2 or 3


When to Hire an Attorney

Traffic tickets can be associated with substantial fines, surcharges, civil penalties, and suspensions or revocations. Many times, investing in an attorney might save you money in the long run. An attorney may also be able to protect you from losing your license. Contact Pappalardo & Pappalardo, LLP today if you were issued a traffic ticket in New York State.