In a recent decision, Acting Bronx Supreme Court Justice Miriam Best ruled in People v. Serrano that the Traffic Violations Bureau is not a court for purposes of the attachment of double jeopardy. In Serrano, the defendant was found guilty by default of un-licensed operation under VTL 509(1), a violation. He was simultaneously charged with criminal un-licensed operation (i.e., driving when one knows or should know that he or she is suspended) in criminal Court.
Serrano argued that he could not also be charged in criminal court because the Traffic Violations Bureau determination already determined the issue and that the criminal proceeding was therefore duplicative. In ruling against him, Judge Best explained that the Traffic Violations Bureau is not a “court” for purposes of double jeopardy. Judge Best pointed to the different level of proof in a TVB court (clear in convincing evidence versus guilty beyond a reasonable doubt) as well as the fact at the TVB courts are unable to mete out jail sentences. Therefore, the Court ruled that Serrano could still be charged criminally despite the TVB determination.
In fairness to Serrano, the VTL 509 charge should have been made part of his criminal case (i.e., not a separate case at the TVB). In fact, if Serrano had been found guilty of VTL 509 at a non-Traffic Violations Bureau court, then he might have won this motion.