The light is yellow and you are late for work. The boss is rather an unforgiving type, so you blow through the light, and the red and white lights begin flashing. “Pull over”, you hear. Now you are looking at a certain traffic ticket, right? Maybe not.
The first thing you should do is pull over, put your hazard lights on, and retrieve your driver’s license and registration. The officer approaches the car, and you roll down your window. Here is where people make their mistake. When Officer XYZ asks you “do you know why I stopped you?”, do not respond with “No, I have no idea.” I have spoken with many police officers over the years (including a family member) and this is a common theme. If you have any chance of an officer excusing the infraction, it is only a possibility if you are honest in this response. Something like this might work—“Yes officer, I am very sorry. The highway was a real mess today, I’m 15 minutes late for work, and my boss is not going to be happy.” You haven’t specifically stated that you went through the light, but, you are also not insulting the officer’s intelligence. Potentially, this will result in a warning to be safer in the future, and no ticket.
If you do get the ticket, and want to plead it down to reduce the points and or fines, and if you intend to do this yourself, request a supporting deposition. (Presently, this is often provided on a large computer print out when the ticket is issued). The supporting deposition is a document prepared by the officer which provides details of the alleged infraction—where the officer was located, what direction your car was going in, what the weather conditions were, what he/she observed, and in the case of speeding infractions, how the officer determined the speed—laser, radar or other means such as “pacing” your car.
If the officer does not prepare a supporting deposition, and you appear for the pre-trial conference, this is a basis for a dismissal of the traffic violation. Obviously, this method only works in the more old fashioned Courts where they still issue tickets which do not contain the supporting deposition. If the officer does not show up for the Court appearance, depending on the particular Court, you may move for a dismissal for “failure to prosecute.” However, in Traffic Violation Bureau Courts in the five boroughs of New York City, this will in all likelihood not be successful (unless the non-appearance by the officer is repeated) and the Court will schedule a new date. The New York City Courts are also notorious for no plea bargaining, and cases proceeding directly to trial with limited cross examination of the police officer who issued the ticket.
If you retain an attorney, in my experience, it is advisable not to request a supporting deposition, as this requires the officer to do more work and reduces the chances for obtaining the maximum possible reduction for that ticket. With regard to possible pleas for particular violations, clients should be aware that certain tickets, such as speeding in a construction zone, or in a school zone, are much more difficult to get reduced due to judges’ reluctance to countenance what they consider to be reckless behavior. Thus, a client seeking a reduction to a seat belt violation on a speeding in a construction zone infraction (usually at least 6 points, more than halfway to a suspended license at 11 points) has to accept that this may be exceedingly difficult to achieve. Driver’s abstracts can sometimes be quite helpful, in that if the driver has a pristine driving record, this can go a long way to a significant reduction.
In some jurisdictions, there are several judges, and it is sometimes possible to adjourn a case to a date when a more lenient jurist is on the bench, adding to the odds of a better resolution.