Yes, you CAN go to jail for a traffic ticket! (…but in most cases it’s not likely)

December 24, 2013

The worst that can happen to someone who pleads guilty to or is convicted of a traffic infraction is a fine and some points (which may get your license suspended), right?

Well, I guess that depends on how you feel about spending some time in jail! I for one think being incarcerated for any amount of time would be worse than a potential license suspension…but I have the benefit of actually seeing the inside of jails on a regular basis, and no thanks!

While it is true that, generally speaking, the worst you have to worry about when fighting a traffic ticket is a heavy fine plus surcharge and how many points you end up with on your license, most people don’t realize that by just strolling into court and accepting a reduction (if you’re lucky enough to be offered one) or by mailing in a ticket with a plea of guilty to save yourself the trouble of having to wait for hours in traffic court, you may be exposing yourself to the possibility of jail time!

NY Penal Law Section 60.20 – Authorized Dispositions; Traffic Infractions, states, in pertinent part, that

  1. When a person is convicted of a traffic infraction, the sentence of the court shall be as follows:

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  1. A fine or a sentence to a term of imprisonment, or both, as prescribed in and authorized by the provision that defines the infractions; …

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Many of the provisions defining infractions/moving violations under the NY Vehicle and Traffic Law permit the judge to sentence anyone convicted of a particular offense to 15 days in jail; and some even allow for 30 days! The statutes don’t even distinguish between first and repeat offenders.  Look at one of the NYS speeding statutes as an example.

For convictions of VTL Sections 1180(b) (speeding in a 55 mph zone) or 1180(d)(1) (speeding in a zone other than 55mph), you may be sentenced as follows:

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  1. i)Where the court or tribunal records or enters that the speed upon which the conviction was based exceeded the applicable speed limit by not more than ten miles per hour, by a fine of not less than forty-five nor more than one hundred fifty dollars;
  1. ii)Where the court or tribunal records or enters that the speed upon which the conviction was based exceeded the applicable speed limit by more than ten miles per hour but not more than thirty miles per hour, by a fine of not less than ninety nor more than three hundred dollars or by imprisonment for not more than fifteen days or by both such fine and imprisonment (Emphasis added).

iii)                Where the court or tribunal records or enters that the speed upon which the conviction was based exceeded the applicable speed limit by more than thirty miles per hour, by a fine of not less than one hundred eighty nor more than six hundred dollars, or by imprisonment for not more than thirty days or by both such fine and imprisonment (Emphasis added).

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Generally speaking, driver are only sent to jail on traffic infractions in very specific circumstances, i.e., horrendous driving records or ridiculous speeds; but it can happen and I have seen it happen, and the unsuspecting driver is left in total shock and disbelief, and wondering how they are going to manage their job and families over the course of the next month while they sit in jail.  That’s why it’s always recommended that you speak to an experienced and knowledgeable attorney who regularly handles VTL/traffic violations if you find yourself on the receiving end of one of these tickets.

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.