A Guide to Fighting a Traffic Ticket in New York

By: Matthew J. Weiss

Takeaway: If you get a traffic ticket in New York, you should fight it. Here’s how.

If you get a New York traffic or speeding ticket, you should fight it. A conviction will result in points being imposed, a fine, a surcharge and possibly a driver assessment fee, auto insurance hikes and even suspension. Here we’ll look at some of the key concerns 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 is “all or nothing”. Outside of these areas, the New York traffic courts often will negotiate a plea bargain.

Are all speeding tickets the same?

No. A New York motorist can get 3 to 11 points for speeding. For some higher speeds, your license can be suspended, even for a first offense.

The following chart will help you figure this out:

  • 1-10 miles per hour over the speed limit – 3 points
  • 11-20 miles per hour over the speed limit – 4 points
  • 21-30 miles per hour over the speed limit – 6 points
  • 31-40 miles per hour over the speed limit (possible suspension) – 8 points
  • More than 40 miles per hour over the speed limit (possible suspension) – 11 points

How are points measured?

Points are measured from the date of 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 get more than 10 points within any 18-month period, then you can be suspended.

If you get three speeding convictions within 18 months, 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. (Get more tips on dealing with law enforcement in Stopped by Police? Here’s What to Do.)

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), 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 his or her other testimony or the information on the ticket, point this out to the judge after the officer rests and asks for a dismissal.

Also, after the officer rests, ask to the see his or her notes. Read them and determine whether his notes are consistent with his testimony. Any discrepancy should be pointed out to the judge. Do not be afraid to ask the officer to decipher illegible portions of his notes

What if the officer doesn’t make a mistake or omit something important?

After the officer rests, it is your turn to cross-examine him or her. You should still ask thoughtful questions related to your defense. For example, if your defense is that the officer pulled over the wrong car, then ask “Where were you when he first saw your car?” “Did you have to pass any other cars to apprehend me?” and “How long did you to pull me over?” These types of questions build on your defense.

What happens after my cross-examination?

After 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.

With these tips, you are now better prepared to fight your own New York traffic ticket.
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 do 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 his presentation?

Wait for him to rest. I’ll say it again. Wait for him to rest. When he is 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 thoughtful questions of the officer. For example, if your defense is that the officer pulled over the wrong car, then ask “Where were you when he first saw your car?” “Did you have to pass any other cars to apprehend me?” and “How long did you 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 him to fill in the missing item or clarify. This will only provide him an opportunity to correct his or her mistake.

What else do 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 his notes are consistent with his testimony. Any discrepancy should be pointed out to the judge, as discussed above. Also, do not be afraid to ask the officer to decipher illegible portions of his notes.

What do I do after I cross examine the officer?

After you cross-examine the officer, it is time to offer your defense. Speak slowly and clearly. Present any evidence supporting your defense, such as photos, witness statements or diagrams by handing your documents to the court attendant. Keep in mind that the judge hears many cases and, therefore, you should not be repetitive or rambling, and should only discuss relevant information.

Anything else?

Prior to fighting your case, watch the judge and how he handles other cases. Does he listen and take notes? Does he seem impatient or distracted? If he gets angry at another motorist for something, avoid such conduct when it is your turn.

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