- Veronica Phillips was charged with using a cell phone without a hands-free device (Vehicle and Traffic Law § 1225-c  [a]) and the ticket was returnable at the Nassau County Traffic Violations & Parking Agency.
- Rather than taking a plea deal, she ask for a nonjury trial. On December 12, 2013, the police officer testified that, prior to pulling over Veronica’s car, he had observed her holding her cell phone in her hand, next to her face, while her vehicle was in motion.
- Veronica, appearing pro se, testified that she was not using her cell phone while she was driving and that her phone was located by the vehicle’s glove compartment. Veronica also indicated to the court that she had exculpatory evidence to present. However, per a recent decision of the Appellate Term, Second Department, JHO Lawrence M. Schaffer “did not respond directly to defendant, or even acknowledge her request. Instead, without allowing defendant to rest her case, the judicial hearing officer rendered his verdict, finding her guilty as charged. Defendant immediately protested, stating that she did not understand why a verdict had been rendered when she had informed the court that she had exculpatory evidence to present.”
- To Veronica’s credit, she did not give up. She appealed and on the appeal won!! The Appellate Term explained in its January 8, 2016 decision that “the District Court did not allow defendant to present evidence after she had clearly indicated her desire to do so. In fact, rather than rule on whether it would permit the introduction of such evidence, the court simply ignored defendant’s request and rendered its verdict without allowing defendant to rest her case. As a result, although it is unclear just what that exculpatory evidence may have been, the court improperly deprived defendant of her constitutional right to present evidence in her defense (see People v Gilliam, 37 NY2d 722 ; People v Lyons, 112 AD3d 849 ), which may have rebutted the presumption that she was engaged in a call on her hand-held cell phone while her vehicle was in motion.”
- In vast majority of cases, a traffic judge will allow a motorist to present relevant evidence and rarely will he or she deny such a request without even inquiring the nature of the evidence. However, if such a situation should arise, you can cite People v. Phillips in support of convincing the court to change its mind.
Motorist Deprived Of Fundamental Right During Traffic Ticket Trial At Nassau County Traffic Violations & Parking Agency
Matthew J. Weiss, Esq. graduated Hofstra Law School in 1984. He was Law Review and won the law school’s prestigious Procedure Award. Upon graduation, he became one of the first Hofstra Law School graduates to work at the New York State Court of Appeals (New York State’s highest court) working on various appellate matters.
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