After I explained to a client how fines, points, and other consequences of traffic tickets accumulate, she said that I should name my website: "Don't Plead Guilty by Mail."
She makes a good point.
Consequences Add up Fast
A guilty plea for speeding 21 mph over the posted limit is a good illustration. If you are convicted for speeding 86 mph in a 65 mph zone you will get:
6 points added to you New York driving record,
$300 maximum fine from the court,
$93 surcharge imposed by the court,
$300 Driver Responsibility Assessment from the DMV, and,
Unwanted attention from your insurance company.
In the following year and half, if you got a ticket for holding your cell phone while driving:
5 more points on your record,
$150 maximum fine from the court,
$93 surcharge imposed by the court,
$375 Driver Responsibility Assessment from the DMV,
Suspension Notice from the DMV, and,
More unwanted attention from your insurance company.
All this for driving a bit fast, but likely not much faster than other cars on the road. And then for holding something that looked like a cell phone.
The result might be different if you are licensed outside of New York but not terribly so. And with information sharing between states and Canada, your insurance company is likely to learn of the convictions.
This post recounts a true story about how the consequences of pleading guilty can snowball.
I generally hear two reasons why people mail in guilty pleas:
1. Honestly Taking Responsibility for Their Actions
"I did it, so I pleaded guilty." This is certainly a commendable position. In many other areas of life, admitting wrongdoing and taking responsibility is the right thing to do. But not here.
Given that traffic charges are negotiable, a bad driver who always hires a lawyer for their many tickets may have a better record than a good driver who pleaded guilty once.
This strikes me as unfair. To avoid this inequity, never plead guilty and for the reasons below, please think of seeking a reduction as the responsible course.
2. It’s Too Much Trouble to Deal With
Hiring a traffic lawyer can be easy. In my office, most cases begin on the phone with an evaluation and end with a credit payment. Typically, within a few minutes, we will have contacted the court and emailed the new client further instructions.
For clients with only a speeding or cell phone ticket, we have made the process even easier by hosting the hiring process on our website.
After that, we handle most everything by email and all we ask clients to do is respond to our emails and calls. Traffic clients have no court appearances and are required to send anything to the court.
We make it easy.
3. Always Plea Bargain for a Reduction of the Charges
A traffic ticket is an accusation by the police officer that the prosecutor must prove beyond a reasonable doubt at trial. But there are far more tickets than prosecutors and courts can reasonably try. This gives rise to plea bargaining, where the prosecutor offers to reduce the original charge, upon good cause, to something less serious to settle the case.
Pleading guilty means there is no chance to present your case to change how a prosecutor decides to handle it. There are many reasons why a prosecutor may decide to offer a reduction. Collecting possible reasons and making that argument is the lawyer’s job. Of course, some reasons are more persuasive than others but one thing is certain, no ticket will be reduced without an attempt.
By hiring a lawyer to represent you in court and in negotiations with the prosecutor, you are maximizing your chances of success and minimizing the impact of the ticket on your life.
Remember, Pleading Guilty by Mail is Like Losing at Trial
The New York Uniform Traffic Ticket, states:
A PLEA OF GUILTY TO THIS CHARGE IS EQUIVALENT TO A CONVICTION AFTER TRIAL. IF YOU ARE CONVICTED, NOT ONLY WILL YOU BE LIABLE TO A PENALTY, BUT IN ADDITION YOUR LICENSE TO DRIVE A MOTOR VEHICLE OR MOTORCYCLE, AND YOUR CERTIFICATE OF REGISTRATION, IF ANY, ARE SUBJECT TO SUSPENSION AND REVOCATION AS PRESCRIBED BY LAW.
Under "SECTION A - PLEA OF GUILTY" the Uniform Traffic states: "I plead GUILTY to the offense as charged..."
By pleading guilty and sending the ticket in, you have:
Waived a trial,
Given up your right to be represented by an attorney, and,
Asked the court to fix the fine and penalty.
Don’t Send in that Guilty Plea, Call Us First
Think of the ticket as the officer’s opening offer. Don’t accept it, until you are certain that the prosecutor won’t make a better one.
Please call (315) 364-1155 for a complementary case evaluation.
Even if you think you can’t afford a lawyer, we are happy to talk with you and provide what guidance we can to prevent you from pleading guilty to the original charge.