It was recently announced that after nearly 50 years the Rochester Traffic Violations Bureau or “TVB” - which is a division of the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles - will be closing. Its replacement will be the Rochester traffic Violations Agency (RTVA), and while it might not sound like a major change, there are major differences between old and new. Since all existing traffic tickets will be transferred from TVB to the new agency as of April 21st, 2018, the following implications apply to both current and future recipients of traffic tickets (unless their cases were resolved prior to April 21st; in that event TVB rules still apply).
Rochester TVA Allows Plea Bargains (Negotiation of Traffic Tickets)
One of the biggest limitations to receiving a ticket in a TVB court is that they don't allow drivers to negotiate their tickets. That means those individuals have only two choices: plead guilty and receive the full penalty of points and fines (and potential insurance hit) or have a trial in which the only two possible outcomes are win or lose. As one can imagine, defeating the prosecuting officer at trial is no easy task (though as professionals we’ve been quite successful at it) and statistically nearly 90% resulted in a conviction.
In the RTVA on the other hand, a prosecutor will be appointed and drivers (and their lawyers) will have the opportunity to discuss a potential settlement of their ticket with him. This settlement, also known as a “plea bargain” is a process in which the prosecutor who offers the option of pleading guilty to a reduced charge that usually entails a reduction in points and fines. This process virtually guarantees a more favorable outcome than a full conviction; at the same drivers can avoid taking their traffic ticket to trial (a more time-consuming and potentially costly endeavor). And the incentive to the prosecution is the same it avoids the hassle of trials and guarantees that a fine payment is obtained (if the prosecution loses at trial there is no fine).
Taking this one step further, and experienced attorney can often obtain the best plea bargain offer possible for a number of reasons:
- he can put forward a strong defense;
- the prosecutor knows that if the offer isn't accepted he will have to go up against a defense lawyer at trial;
- professional courtesy;
- a lawyer who has handled several thousand cases is in the best position to evaluate how favorable a plea bargain offer really is.
One final note on plea bargains: All plea bargains must be approved by the judge. While the prosecutor has the final say on what plea bargain option to offer, if any, the judge has the ultimate say on whether or not to accept it. If the judge rejects it, an amended offer can be negotiated with the prosecutor but that also has to meet the judge’s approval.
Motions to Dismiss for No Supporting Deposition Is Allowed in Rochester TVA
New York Criminal Procedure Law § 100.25(2) states that a defendant in a traffic ticket case is entitled to a “supporting deposition” within 30 days of the date the request is received by the court, or at least five days before trial, whichever is earlier. A supporting deposition is a document that lays out certain particulars about the alleged traffic violation including the driver’s details, location of the offense, and any miscellaneous information that could be used against the defendant at trial. However, this right doesn’t apply in TVB. In courts other than TVB, and Rochester now being one of them, a defendant has this right and accordingly can request that the ticket be dismissed if a supporting deposition is not timely provided.
Conviction by Default Will Rarely Happen (If Ever)
All courts will eventually suspend a defendant's New York driving privilege (regardless of where they live) if the traffic ticket it isn't responded to in a timely manner. However, one of the things that sets TVB apart is that they will also ultimately convict the defendant by default. This means that an individual can be found guilty and receive the full amount of points and fines even though they never pled guilty or have their day in court at trial. While this may seem very unfair, this is standard operating procedure in TVB courts like those in New York City. However, even though this is something that courts can do, in non-TVB locations it's something that rarely happens. The vast majority of the time they will take no further action then suspension of the defendant’s driving privileges. If the driver decides they want to contest the ticket at some point in the future all they have to do is pay a suspension termination fee (and/or bail, see below) and they can handle the ticket the same way as they could have initially.
In Rochester TVA, Bail Takes the Place of Bonds
If a defendant has failed to respond to a traffic ticket in the requisite amount of time, a court may require bail in addition to the suspension termination fee. The amount of bail is supposed to be commensurate with the severity violation and therefore in the case of a traffic ticket it is usually modest. In TVB, however, after the initial postponements have been granted the standard procedure is to charge the defendant a refundable $40 bond in order to obtain a new court date.
Rules of Evidence and Discovery Apply in Rochester TVA
In a TVB forum, a defendant has no right to see the evidence that may be used against him in advance of the trial. This can put an individual at a significant disadvantage. However, in a non-TVB forum like Rochester a defendant will have the right to request such evidence in advance. This evidence is sometimes referred to as “discovery.” Knowing what evidence one is facing at the outset can make planning the legal strategy easier and more effective.
The Burden of Proof is Higher
Many people are familiar with the gold standard burden of proof in criminal cases - “beyond a reasonable doubt.” This means that if the prosecutor can't prove that the defendant is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, the case is dismissed because the prosecution carries the burden of proof. However in TVB the standard of proof is lower. It's referred to as proof by “clear and convincing evidence.” This lower standard means in TVB it’s easier for a prosecutor to obtain a conviction. It also means that having a higher burden of proof means it's more difficult for a prosecutor to prove his case and this is a benefit to the defendant if the case goes to trial.
Rochester TVA Has a Three Strikes Rule
Under Rochester City Code 6-143(C) an individual who is guilty of three or more infractions within a 12-month period can’t appear before Rochester TVA and will rather have his case adjudicated by Rochester City Court. At the present time it's not quite clear what difference this makes but needless to say drivers who are repeat offenders are typically treated more harshly. this means they might not get as favorable a plea bargain offer (or an offer at all) and will likely have to pay higher fines. In keeping with this principle, the New York Vehicle and Traffic Law outlines higher fines for repeat offenders.