Were you or one of your kids one of the hundreds of people ticketed for underage drinking in the Sip & Sail Tavern in Oneonta, NY?

On November 16, 2019 over 200 people were detained, searched, questioned, and arrested at the Sip & Sail Tavern in Oneonta, NY and charged with possession of a fictitious license under NYS VTL § 509(6). The State Liquor Authority, in conjunction with the NYS Department of Motor Vehicles investigations unit, and local law enforcement conducted an unannounced raid of the establishment.

Without any knowledge that anyone in the Sip & Sail Tavern was under age, they came in and, according to an article published in the Oneonta Daily Star on November 20, 2019, William Crowley, a spokesman for the State Liquor Authority, stated that “We close a place down, shut all the doors, and let all the people who are of age leave.”

In other words, without any reasonable suspicion to believe that anyone is there illegally, they come in, lock you in, will not let you leave, question you without probable cause or an attorney, and then compel a search of your person without your consent to see whether or not you have fake ID on you. What us lawyers call this is an illegal seizure, false imprisonment, a coerced confession, and an illegal search, all of which gives rise to suppression of the evidence as fruit of the poisonous tree and dismissal of the case.

In other words, the government simply cannot do this. But they did. And hundreds of college students were charged with NYS VTL § 509(6), possession of a fictitious license. Everyone was given a court date before the Oneonta City Court. Many plead guilty by mail to the charge, and many went to court. Those of you that did go to court did so without a lawyer. There you met the Oneonta City Prosecutor, a Michael Getman. Mr. Getman made it sound so easy. Just plead guilty to NY VTL § 509(1), which is driving without a license, and you can pay a small fine, and it will all go away. So, you did. And now, you regret it.

How do I know that you regret it? Simple. The case has incubated long enough now so that the insurance companies and the DMV have caught up with the pleas of guilty, and I am getting panicked calls from the parents of the students. Those of you who plead guilty to NYS VTL § 509(6), possession of a fictitious license are in bad shape because now the DMV is going to suspend your driver’s license for 90 days. However, those of you who took the deal in court are in worse shape, because now your auto insurer has discovered the plea to driving without a license and is dropping your son or daughter from your policy, or severely increasing the premiums. This of course makes no sense to you, because your child did in fact have a license and the charge had nothing to do with driving a car. However, that is irrelevant, because pleading guilty to driving without a license creates the legal fiction that you drive without a license, even if you had a license, and the natural consequences of what is occurring.

If you were involved in this illegal roundup, the primary mistake you made was not hiring a lawyer. As you can now see, these are complex issues and no one in the “system” is looking to help you.

The mistake everyone made in this matter was (1) not hiring a lawyer, (2) not questioning the method by which the evidence was gathered, (3) not asserting your constitutional rights, and (4) relying on players in the system who have no obligation to you (cops, the prosecutor, the court) for information and advice.

Your remedy now is simple – hire a lawyer that actually knows what they are doing to commence a Coram Nobis proceeding to vacate your previously entered plea of guilty to whatever you plead guilty to. You see, the entry of guilty was the triggering event to either suspend the license, increase your insurance rates, or drop your son / daughter from the policy. Upon prevailing with the Coram Nobis proceeding you then have to either (1) enter into a plea bargain agreement to something that does not trigger suspensions or insurance issues, (2) impress upon the court to dismiss in the interest of justice, or (3) do pre-trial suppression hearings and possibly a trial.

Will this cost you some real money – yes it will. But, you can already see the cost of doing nothing or trying to do it yourself. From the facts as I know them, there were over 10 legal defenses and issues to get evidence suppressed or the case dismissed. If you don’t know what your rights are, in no way can you assert them.

If you would like to explore this more feel free to contact us. Talking to people about their traffic and licensing related issues is something we do every day. We have defended numerous clients against the charge of NY VTL § 509(6) without loss of license, and we would love to discuss your issues with you!