So you were issued a traffic summons…Now what? How (and when) to answer your ticket.

July 17, 2008

You’ve been driving for years and never received a single ticket. And then out of the blue you get pulled over and issued a ticket for speeding, unsafe lane change, improper signal, or any other countless number of possible infractions. Now what?
The answer really depends on where you received the ticket. There are two different systems for handling tickets in New York, and correspondingly, two different requirements for answering tickets. If you receive a ticket in any one of the five boroughs of New York City, Suffolk County, Rochester or Buffalo, your ticket will be resolved according to the rules and procedures of the DMV Administrative Adjudication process, or Traffic Violations Bureau (“TVB”). If you receive a ticket anywhere else in New York, you’ll have to deal with a quasi-criminal process and procedure.
Tickets issued in any of the five boroughs of New York City, Suffolk County, Rochester or Buffalo
If you receive a ticket in any one of these four areas of the state, you have a few options available to you with respect to answering your ticket. On the back of the ticket, it will vaguely explain to you that can either return the ticket in person to any DMV office, or you can plead the ticket by mail. If you decide to plead by mail, you must inform the DMV whether you are pleading Guilty or Not Guilty by signing the appropriate box and returning the ticket by certified mail to the Albany address indicated on the ticket within 15 days of the date you received the ticket. If you plead guilty, you should send the ticket back with the appropriate payment in the amount indicated on the schedule on the back of the ticket.* If you choose to plead not guilty, you’ll receive a hearing notice in the mail from the DMV telling you when and at what TVB office to appear for a hearing. A hearing is essentially a trial on the ticket, so be ready to fight on the date of your hearing (i.e., have any witnesses, documents and other evidence with you so that you can defend yourself – more on this later).
If you fail to answer your ticket, eventually the DMV will send you a Notice of Suspension, informing you that you failed to answer the ticket, and unless you answer before a certain date (usually a week or so out) your New York State driving privileges will be suspended. If you answer after the date on the Notice, you’ll have to pay a $35 suspension termination fee to get the ticket placed back on the hearing calendar. You will most likely also have to pay a $40 bond (a bond is money you pay to the DMV/court to ensure your future appearance; generally, once the matter is closed, you will get your bond back. More on bonds later.). And finally, the Suspension Notice will also tell you that if you don’t answer by an even later date (usually one month beyond the first date) you will be convicted by default. Obviously, this is something you would want to avoid. So it is to your advantage to answer the ticket within 15 days to save yourself some money and possibly points.
Non-TVB tickets
If you receive a ticket in any jurisdiction other than those listed above, you can also answer by personally returning the ticket to the court identified on the bottom of the ticket, or you can return it by mail. Unlike TVB tickets, however, these tickets will give you a specific date and time by which you must return the ticket to the court. Similar to TVB tickets, you must also plead either Guilty (sign Box A) or Not Guilty (sign Box B). If you plead guilty, the court will notify you by mail of the amount of your fine.* If you plead Not Guilty, the court will send you a Trial Notice telling you what day and time to appear in that court to resolve the ticket. If you do not answer the ticket, you will receive a Notice of Suspension similar to the one described above. Unlike the DMV/TVB, however, most non-TVB courts will not default convict you on the ticket, BUT the suspension will remain on your driving record indefinitely, that is, until you pay the $35 suspension termination fee and get the ticket put back on the court calendar.
Note that the “return date”, which is the date on the bottom of the ticket, is only the date by which you must return the ticket to the court, which can generally be done by mailing it in. You do NOT need to appear in court on that day. If you do, the most that will happen is that a court officer or clerk will take your ticket and tell you that you’ll receive a trial date in the mail in few weeks. It would be nothing more than a wasted trip for you.
*As a matter of course, I never recommend pleading guilty on any ticket where points are involved. By simply pleading guilty, you are eliminating any chance of getting the ticket reduced or dismissed. I tell every person who calls me to at least consider challenging the ticket, even if you don’t hire an attorney and choose to handle it yourself. While TVB tickets are very unforgiving and difficult to reduce (more on that later), there is still always a chance that the issuing officer may not show up on the date of the hearing and you can get the ticket dismissed for failure to prosecute. In non-TVB courts, you will most likely be given the opportunity to speak with the officer who gave you the ticket and try to negotiate a reduced charge. This happens in 99% of tickets. So by just showing up in court, you are drastically improving your chances of reducing potential points on your license.

The traffic ticket defense attorneys at Catalano & Carpenter LLP have disposed of hundred and possible thousands of traffic tickets throughout New York State, and often without the client ever having to set foot in court.  If you have been charged with a traffic violation, call us today at (845) 454-1919 for a free phone consultation to discuss how we can help you defend your ticket or minimize the potential impact on your driving record, or visit our website at www.CatalanoCarpenter.com.