In his budget address this week, NYS Governor Andrew Cuomo discussed changing the laws regarding how a New York speeding ticket can be resolved. Unfortunately, it has been widely mis-reported that the proposal would prevent prosecutors from plea bargaining speeding tickets. This is simply NOT his proposal.
The Governor’s proposal is limited to speeding tickets in excess of 20 mph. Under the proposed law, a prosecutor faced with a motorist with a speeding ticket of 21+ mph will not be able to plea bargain that ticket to a 0-point offense. Rather, he or she would only be allowed to offer a plea that carries points. A copy of the text of the proposed law appears in bold at the end of this post.
For instance, on a 6-point speeding ticket, a prosecutor could still offer a 2-point disobey a traffic control device ticket (2 points). He or she, however, will not be able to offer a parking ticket or equipment violation. The law does not affect a motorist with a 3- or 4-point speeding ticket. For those lower speeding violations, prosecutors will still be able to offer 0-point dispositions.
The proposed law provides an exception to this restriction when the charge is “not warranted”. In those cases, a 21+ speeding offense can be pled down to a 0-point violation. However, this exception makes little sense. If the 21+ speeding charge is “not warranted”, then the prosecutor should simply dismiss it. I cannot think of any circumstances when an un-warranted charge should not result in a dismissal.
Cuomo’s proposed law limits prosecutorial discretion. Under it, a motorist will an otherwise stellar record will be forced to blemish his or her license, or take the case to trial in an attempt to keep his or her license clean. Our NY traffic ticket lawyers have appeared in the vast majority of the 600+ traffic courts, so I can comfortably write that this law WILL impact plea deals in some of these courts. There are many traffic courts that currently will plea a speeding ticket to a 0-point ticket. Of course, this practice would no longer occur if the new law is enacted.
Motorists are not the only ones who will be hurt by this proposed law. The State loses money when a speeding ticket (actually when any ticket issued under the Vehicle and Traffic Law “VTL”) is pled down to a local regulation or ordinance. In such instances, the local municipality gets to keep all of the revenue and there is no State mandatory surchage. The new restriction will require thousands of tickets to remain VTL violations and, consequently, will allow the State to get more money. Local municipalities that depend on traffic ticket revenue to supplement their budgets will be hurt significantly. Further, in many instances, it will require motorists to pay more money than if they had pled the case down to a 0-point, no-surcharge ticket.
In fact, in my opinion, these economics (not claimed “driver safety”) is the true impetus behind this legislation and I am against it. New York motorists are all ready highly “taxed” in numerous other ways (ex., record high license and registration fees, traffic ticket fines and surcharges, and Driver Assessment Fees). Enough is enough. The DMV should not be a de facto arm of the Department of Taxation. Therefore, this law should not be adopted.
Proposed New Law – Vehicle And Traffic Law Section 1180(i)
Section 1180 of the vehicle and traffic law is amended by adding a new subdivision (i) to read as follows:
(i) In any case wherein the charge laid before the court alleges a violation of subdivision (b), (c), (d), (f), or (g) of this section and the speed upon which the charge is based exceeds the applicable speed limit by more than twenty miles per hour, any plea of guilty thereafter entered in satisfaction of such charge must include, at a minimum, a plea of guilty to a violation of this chapter or of any ordinance, rule or regulation adopted pursuant to this chapter for which points are assigned pursuant to the regulations of the commissioner; provided, however, that, if the district attorney, upon reviewing the available evidence, determines that the charge of a violation of subdivision (b), (c), (d), (f) or (g) of this section is not warranted, such district attorney may consent to, and the court may allow, a disposition by plea of guilty to another charge. In all such cases, the court shall set forth upon the record the basis for such disposition (emphasis added).
Has this proposed law gone into effect?
Not as far as I know.
Yes it will be. I also think it’s possible the provision requiring the DA to place their reason on the record is intended to ensure that narrow interpretation you’re talking about. But, on the record for who I wonder?
That’s a really good point. The “on the record” part is intended to keep the prosecutors from abusing the exception and give judges an opportunity to ensure that the law is followed in good faith.
Thanks again Matthew, you’ve been very helpful and being able to hear back from someone so quickly, especially on a legal blog is very enjoyable.
In your interpretation of a narrow exception, then, what is it that leads you to believe that the basis on which a District Attorney can find a 6+ point charge of speeding to be “not waranted” is so limited?
I’m not sure why, but I immediately imagine a very different situation, perhaps in some nearby county, where the prosecutors will have adopted a sort of resistance to this new law (should it become that):
Joe Smith gets a 6 point speeding ticket in a typical plea-by-mail town. The D.A. gets a letter from Joe’s attorney with a copy of his ticket and certified driving history showing the past 5 years free of any traffic violations whatsoever. If I’m a D.A. in that sort of place, the evidence I have before me is enough to convince me that the charge is “not warranted”, as this is obviously a model citizen. I agree to counsel’s request to have the charge reduced to a 1201a and the local Justice (who also shares my same sentiment) approves. Joe Smith pleads guilty to a 1201a with fine of $100.00 and (still) no state surcharge and the case is closed. We keep the money and the governor can go look elsewhere to fill his budget gaps.
That’s the broad reading I had of the proposed amendment that makes me think this change could have little effect as the primary discretion for plea bargain reduction, in the end, still lies in the hands of the district attorney. Of course, now I’m wondering about places where D.A.’s are not the ones prosecuting as the law specifically mentions “district attorney”.
Also, could counties that share the same attitude as my hypothetical just circumvent the whole thing through the implementation of Traffic Diversion programs?
I don’t read the “not warranted” language as loosely as you. I interpret it to mean incorrectly issued especially when, as here, the proposed statute requires the DA to place on the record the reason he or she determined it to be un-warranted.
If this law is enacted, it will be interesting to see how this curious phrase is construed.
Thank you! (especially for doing that so quickly) And I meant to be sarcastic with the “alarming” comment, sorry about that.
So, after reading through the proposed amendment to 1180, it seems to me to say that nothing has really changed. Am I missing something? Any plea of guilty in satisfaction of a 6+ point speeding ticket must be something for which points are assigned provided, however, that the District Attorney thinks otherwise, and if the court agrees, a plea of guilty to some other charge is ok.
As long as I’m reading this correctly, it seems to me that it just means people better be even more careful to hire an attorney when they get a speeding ticket – as hired counsel is usually the thing to help a D.A. consider any charge “not warranted”.
And the Times Union article talks about forcing the $85 state surcharge fees on pleas to 1200 and 1201 but, again, the way I read the proposed amendment of that section, VTL 1201 and 1201 are still exempt.
No worries on the sarcasm. After the many inaccurate reports, I’m a little sensitive to claims that the new law will dramatically change things.
With that said, if enacted, the new law WILL prevent prosecutors from plea bargaining 21+ speeding tickets to 0-point tickets. The exception upon which you believe will keep things status quo actually can only be invoked when the prosecutor believes that the speeding charge is “not warranted”. This does not allow prosecutors to reduce any charge; rather, only those 21+ speeding cases when the charge is “not warranted” and he or she can place on the record the basis for this conclusion. In my interpretation, the exception is narrow and would require that the charge was improperly issued. Of course, as I wrote, if it was un-warranted, then it should be dismissed.
Finally, in regard to imposing the $85 surcharge on 1200 and 1201 violations, you are right. These charges would remain excepted from the surcharge.
Thanks for the blog post about this, but do you have a link to the original proposal anywhere? I’m beginning to think this “alarming news” has been fabricated, that’s how hard it is to find an original source on the internet these days. I see the same basic ideas on several local news publications, all without a single citation to any government budget document. I even watched the entire budget proposal recording to better understand Cuomo’s supposed proposal – but there was no mention of this!
Any information you have that can help the rest of us make the connection would be appreciated. Thanks again.
I am happy to help.
First off, I wouldn’t characterize the proposal as “alarming news” given that the proposal does not prohibit plea bargaining, just restricts it for 21+ mph speeding violations. Further, this information definitely has NOT been fabricated (although many news outlets have mis-reported it).
Here is Cuomo’s proposed budget which includes the proposed new speeding ticket law. Go to Part C, page 12, to read about the proposed restrictions on plea bargaining, among other things.