New York State traffic ticket and the right to a speedy trial

In New York State, when charged with a crime a defendant has a Constitutional and statutory right to a speedy trial. Traffic violations, however, are not crimes but infractions. Consequently, the question is does a motorist charged with speeding (VTL § 1180), cell phone violation(s) (VTL § 1225), failure to yield / move over (VTL § 1144), have a corresponding right to a speedy trial even though the charges are not crimes?

The answer is a resounding yes. This answer is found at the intersection of NYS Criminal Procedure Law § 30.20, and NYS Vehicle and Traffic Law § 155. Under CPL § 30.20, “After a criminal action is commenced, the defendant is entitled to a speedy trial.” However, as I indicated a traffic violation is not a crime but an infraction. That is where NY VTL § 155 comes to the rescue.

NY VTL § 155 holds that “violations shall be deemed misdemeanors and all provisions of law relating to misdemeanors…except as herein otherwise expressly provided shall apply except that no jury trial shall be allowed for traffic infractions.” In other words, while a traffic violation is NOT a criminal matter, for all procedural purposes it must be treated like a misdemeanor.

The speedy trial provisions for misdemeanors is contained in NY VTL § 30.30(b), which holds that for a trial to be timely it must be held within “ninety days of the commencement of a criminal action wherein a defendant is accused of one or more offenses, at least one of which is a misdemeanor punishable by a sentence of imprisonment of more than three months.” This creates a problem for traffic infractions, because while a defendant can get sentenced to jail for a traffic violation, the sentences are rarely authorized for more than 3 months.

This means that speedy trial goes back to the catch-all under CPL § 30.20, “After a criminal action is commenced, the defendant is entitled to a speedy trial.”   However, how long of a time is it deemed to be “speedy?”

For that we have to look at case law. Case law is what judges have determined the laws to be when statutes are silent on the issue and it requires interpretation of statutory intent.

Numerous New York court cases have held that the speedy trial provision found in CPL § 30.20 applies to traffic violation cases. The question becomes therefore, what is considered an acceptable time frame within which one charged with a New York traffic violation must be brought to trial in light of CPL § 30.20? Two years seems to be the limit provided the delay is not caused by the defendant.

The lead case in this area is People v. Thorpe, 160 Misc.2d 558, 613 N.Y.S.2d 795 (App. Term 2nd Dept. 1994). In Thorpe the court reversed a trial court’s decision denying an oral application to dismiss on the grounds of violation of the right to a speedy trial. The court held that “the constitutional right to a speedy trial applies to all prosecutions,” and that “an unexplained delay of over two years in bringing a simple traffic infraction to trial warrants dismissal.” This is authoritative law that courts must follow. For example, see People v. Matera, 2003 N.Y. Slip Op. 51180(U) (App. Term, 1st Dept. 2003), People v. Braun, 2014 N.Y. Slip Op. 51582(U) (App. Term, 2nd Dept. 2014), People v. Mahon, 2007 N.Y Slip Op. 50796(U), Index No.: 14454/05 (Nassau County District Court 2007), and People v. Rogoish, 2003 N.Y. Slip Op. 51120(U) (App. Term, 1st Dept. 2003).

If you have been charged with a New York State moving violation we know that you may be confused or have questions. If this is the case give us a call now (anytime 24 / 7), and our lawyers will provide you with a free strategy session. During this session you will receive information about the ticket, information about the court, information about how a finding of guilty will impact your driving record and insurance rate, and how we can assist you in avoiding license suspensions and insurance increases.