When Cousin Joe tells the story about the traffic ticket he received for what was surely a misunderstanding, you can run the other way, or if you attended the recent CLE sponsored by the Greater Rochester Association for Women Attorneys, you might be able to recognize an opportunity to lend a legal ear. And if you’re an attorney who claims no relative has ever asked you a traffic violation question, I’d have to guess you are an orphan.
“Fines, Fees, Points, OH MY!!” was the title of a one credit hour program presented by the Hon. Michael A. Sciortino and Mark Young on Dec. 6. As a town court judge in Parma, Justice Sciortino is more than familiar with traffic court cases.
Because of his Monroe County connection, he cannot represent anyone in this county’s town and village traffic courts. But if Cousin Joe was picked up in Dansville, Justice Sciortino is your man — he can provide your defense outside the county. Young (Law Office of Mark A. Young) also has experience representing defendants in and outside Monroe County.
First take-away lesson: Traffic violation hearings within the City of Rochester are usually before an administrative judge at the Traffic Adjudication Bureau of the City of Rochester — who goes by the book. A request for a reduction is pretty much pointless. (Traffic offenses that carry misdemeanor charges are before city court judges, at which point having an attorney’s advice may be prudent.)
Lesson two: Place an order for a few copies of “Magill’s Vehicle and Traffic Law Manual” (2011 edition $8 plus shipping) and wrap one up for Cousin Joe for the holidays. Town Court Judge Dutch Magill has been providing access to his traffic law summary for a number of years.
Lesson three: Never plead guilty to a N.Y. Vehicle & Traffic §319: operating without insurance. The financial ramifications along with a mandatory one-year revocation of license make this one worth a not-guilty plea and whatever effort it takes to reduce the charge.
Tips for drivers
• Don’t hang anything from your rear-view mirror.
• Your tinted windows must let in at least 70 percent light.
• Don’t attach your GPS to the windshield via suction cup.
• An iPod is arguably a Portable Data Device and subject to the no texting law.
• Typing an address into your GPS is definitely texting.
• And most importantly: If stopped by an officer, do not reach for the glove box. Put down the windows and put your hands on the steering wheel. Do not unfasten your seat belt. Do not reach for your insurance card and registration. Until the officer is in a position to speak to you, your actions can be misinterpreted as potentially dangerous.
• Oh yes, and don’t crumple up the ticket and toss it out the window as the officer walks away. NY VAT § 207(5) makes that a misdemeanor with up to a 30-day jail sentence.
Objects hanging from the mirror or attached to the windshield are arguably a distraction, and may create a cause for a stop, or become a point of contention if the driver has created an unfriendly situation in the opinion of the officer.
“Non-moving” traffic law violations generally do not create points against your license. But, moving violations can garner 2 to 11 points in a system that suspends your driver’s license after 11 points or more in 18 months.
Many traffic infractions —moving and non-moving — can result in jail time. Of course driving while ability impaired (and all subsections under §1192) carry some big penalties, but many other violations can carry a 15- or 30-day sentence. Because DWI related charges are so serious, an attorney knowledgeable in these specific defenses is highly recommended.
Common traffic infractions
Leaving the engine running and vehicle unattended is illegal, with a fine of up to $150 (plus surcharge). Failure to notify the DMV of a change of address can result in a $70 fine, plus surcharge. Currently, the surcharge in most jurisdictions is $85. Yes, that is added to the fine and definitely not negotiable.
Parking tickets are one of the few violations that do not carry a surcharge.
Fines for speeding violations are often doubled in construction zones, and the faster you go above the speed limit, the more points are added. If exceeding the posted limit by 11 to 20 mph, that’s a 4-point violation; 41 mph over the limit garners 11 points.
“You’ll never make your hourly rate in a traffic defense case,” Young said. “But, if you improve upon an otherwise bad situation, you may have a client for life.”
“If you are representing someone outside of Monroe County, you can add travel time to your fee,” Justice Sciortino added. “But you’re still fairly restricted on what’s reasonable.”
— Photos by Nora A. Jones