In 2019 alone, 672,925 speeding tickets were given out across the entire state of New York. A high percentage of those given a speeding ticket (92.4%) are convicted of a traffic violation, with a mere 7.6% escaping conviction. Despite these slim odds, receipt of a speeding ticket does not always have to mean conviction, hefty fines, points on one’s license, and potentially higher auto insurance rates. Below are ten instances of people who, with the help of skilled attorneys, beat the odds and avoided conviction for their speeding tickets. As one of the leading speeding ticket lawyers in NY, we have a lot of experience in, and knowledge of ways to eliminate or minimize the consequences of a speeding ticket in New York. This includes our understanding of these prior cases.
1. Speeding Out of Necessity: People v. Cataldo
Fred Cataldo was traveling 67 miles per hour on the open highway (the speed limit was 50 miles per hour) when his excessive rate of speed was captured by a radar and he was stopped and ticketed for speeding. In court, Frank openly admitted to traveling at the rate of speed claimed by the officer but asserted that he traveled at that speed out of necessity, for he would have otherwise rear-ended a vehicle rapidly slowing down in front of him. When cross-examined, the ticketing officer could not recall whether a vehicle in front of Frank was slowing abruptly. However, the radar evidenced that the vehicle in front of Frank had slowed to 32 miles per hour when it passed through the radar zone.
The court accepted Frank’s testimony and sought to resolve whether the vehicle slowing abruptly constituted an “emergency” that Frank could assert as a defense under law. The legal rule is that a defense to a criminal charge exists in emergency situations where the conduct in question is necessary to avoid an imminent injury and the desirability of avoiding the injury outweighs the desirability of not committing the offense charged. In other words, the court asked whether Frank faced imminent harm when the vehicle abruptly slowed in front of him (yes, risk of a rear-end collision) and whether it was more desirable for Frank to speed to avoid rear-ending the vehicle than it would be for Frank to avoid speeding and hit the vehicle from behind (certainly). The court concluded Frank’s defense was appropriate, and he was found not guilty of the charge of speeding.
Though the law as written may often appear very rigid, it is not totally inflexible, as demonstrated in this case. The law is full of exceptions, partly for the purpose of ensuring common sense outcomes prevail. It is the job of an attorney to be aware of these exceptions and effectively apply them when circumstances demand it.
2. Failure to Identify: People v. Nicol
Delores Nicol was issued a speeding ticket for traveling 53 miles per hour in a 40 miles-per-hour zone. She contested, and at her trial, the prosecution proceeded to establish each element of the speeding charge. However, one point of contention was pressed by Delores’s attorney: Could the prosecution identify Delores as the operator of the vehicle?
Though the prosecution could prove that the driver had given the ticketing officer some identification and that the identification had been used to write the speeding ticket, the officer could not definitively identify Delores as the driver of the vehicle, admitting he had only briefly interacted with the driver over three months prior. Delores’s attorney cleverly pointed out that the officer’s description of the driver also matched another person present in the courtroom. The prosecution had further failed to enter into evidence the traffic ticket bearing Delores’s name and any notes written by the officer at the time the ticket was issued, each a useful piece of evidence in corroborating the identity of the driver.
The court relied on a previously decided case, People v. Klepper, in reasoning that while it is understandable that traffic police would not definitively recall the appearance of a person to whom they issued a ticket months prior, they are required at trial to definitively identify the driver either with the aid of notes from the time the ticket was issued or relying entirely on such notes as evidence. Since no such notes were entered into evidence in this case, the court concluded that the prosecution had failed to prove Delores was the operator of the vehicle and therefore failed to prove her guilty of the speeding violation beyond a reasonable doubt.
This case is a testament to the value of a skilled attorney. Recognizing mid-trial that the prosecution had failed to prove Delores was operating the vehicle, her attorney pressed the prosecution on this point and cast “reasonable doubt” on the prosecution’s case, leading to the court’s refusal to convict his client.
3. Untimely Service: People v. Tyler
In April 2002, Tyler was ticketed for speeding. The ticket contained directions for entering a plea of not guilty. The directions included a notice informing Tyler that he was entitled to receive a supporting deposition, a statement by the ticketing officer laying out the facts supporting the issuance of the ticket, if requested according to the proper procedures. Tyler followed all of the proper procedures, entered a plea of not guilty, and requested a supporting deposition on April 22. He then appeared in court for a hearing on May 1 and was served with the supporting deposition on May 31.
Tyler then asked the court to dismiss the case, arguing that the supporting deposition was given to him after the deadline of 30 days from the time it was requested, on April 22. The prosecution argued the deadline meant 30 days from the initial court date, making their service of the deposition timely, since the initial court date was May 1 and service was made on May 31. The Town Court disagreed with Tyler’s reading of the deadline, but on appeal, Tyler’s interpretation prevailed and his motion to dismiss was granted.
Litigants such as Tyler often benefit where there is ambiguity in the law and a court can be convinced of an interpretation favorable to the accused. An attorney’s specialized knowledge of procedure and keen capacity for compelling arguments can make all the difference in avoiding a conviction on such a narrow ground.
4. Inconsistent Prosecution: People v. Fox
Mark Fox was driving 44 miles per hour in a 33 miles per hour zone in the Village of Westbury in Nassau County when he was pulled over and issued a speeding ticket. He challenged his ticket in court, requesting that the case be dismissed because the speed limit sign on the road where he was said to be speeding was obstructed from view by tree branches. At a hearing, the court noted that the prosecutor had previously dismissed similar speeding violations on this particular road on account of the obstructed speed limit sign, a fact Mark did not know at the time. The prosecutor responded that he was entitled to change his mind and refused to dismiss the case.
The court found in Mark’s favor and dismissed the case, offering three reasons for the decision. First, the prosecutor had committed an ethics violation by not disclosing to Mark nor the court these prior similar cases where the prosecutor had dismissed the charges. The court concluded the prosecutor should have asked the court to dismiss this case also. Second, convicting Mark of this speeding infraction would violate the New York State Constitution’s requirement that all people be granted equal protection under the law. The court noted that convicting Mark of speeding under these circumstances would be unequal in light of the previous cases where drivers committing similar violations were not prosecuted. Finally, enforcing the speed limit against a driver when the sign is obstructed to the point of not being legible is prohibited by the Vehicle and Traffic Law.
This case demonstrates various factors that can absolve one of responsibility for a speeding violation. Improper maintenance of road signs, procedural unfairness in court, and not treating substantially similar violations in the same way are all valid reasons for challenging (and winning) a speeding ticket charge.
5. Uninformed Guilty Plea: People v. Velte
In 2004, Joseph Velte pled guilty to a speeding violation, accepting a $90 fine and six points on his driver’s license. Years later, the New York Department of Motor Vehicles’ Commissioner enacted a rule providing that a person applying for re-licensing should be denied a renewal of their driver’s license if they are found to have a certain number of infractions in their driving history. Joseph’s application for re-licensing was therefore denied because his driving record reflected an extensive history of alcohol-related infractions as well as the six points on his license resulting from his guilty plea.
In 2018, Joseph asked the court to overturn his 2004 speeding conviction. He argued that he would not have pled guilty to the speeding violation if he had known that this future rule would deny him re-licensing, as without the six point penalty, his alcohol-related infractions alone would not have been enough for denial under the rule.
The court agreed with Joseph and overturned his speeding conviction. They reasoned that the Commissioner’s rule was not itself inherently unfair, but under these circumstances, principles of justice and fair play demand that Joseph’s 2004 guilty plea not be upheld. Upholding the plea would be fundamentally unfair because Joseph did not enter that guilty plea with full knowledge of its consequences.
In this case, Joseph was spared the unfortunate consequence of being denied a driver’s license. The outcome in Joseph’s 2004 case likely would not have changed substantially even if he was represented by an attorney because even the most skilled attorneys are not clairvoyant. They do not know what laws enacted years into the future. However, even when pleading guilty to a driving offense, it is often advisable to consult an attorney, particularly when one has a messy driving record. Our practiced attorneys frequently use present knowledge of rules and regulations to fully advise clients of the actual and potential consequences of a guilty plea.
6. Double Jeopardy: In the Matter of Pronti v. Allen
When 76-year-old Pronti went to court to contest his speeding ticket, he repeatedly accused the prosecuting police officer of lying in his testimony and was held in contempt of court, a mechanism by which a court can punish one for failing to follow court rules and standards. The presiding judge thereafter declared a mistrial. Pronti filed an appeal, asking that a higher “appellate” court overturn the finding that he was in contempt and the declaration of a mistrial. He further requested that the appellate court prohibit his speeding violation from being prosecuted a second time.
The appellate court ruled in Pronti’s favor, overturning the contempt finding and declaring that his speeding violation could not be prosecuted a second time, thus amounting to no conviction. The court based its decision on the Double Jeopardy clauses contained in the New York and U.S. Constitutions, holding a person may not be prosecuted twice for the same crime. The rule is that if the defendant does not consent to a mistrial and the trial has already essentially begun, double jeopardy does not allow for a retrial unless the mistrial was absolutely necessary. Pronti succeeded in demonstrating to the court that the mistrial was not absolutely necessary and that he did not consent to the mistrial.
Defendants to a prosecution are afforded broad protections by both the U.S. Constitution and the constitution of the state in which the trial takes place. Speeding ticket prosecutions are no exception. Pronti was wise to seek the assistance of an experienced attorney to ensure he benefitted fully from such protections.
7. Right to Counsel: People v. Tate
Stephanie Tate, having received a speeding ticket for traveling 55 miles per hour in a 30 miles per hour zone, challenged her ticket in court in Westchester County. She represented herself and was ultimately convicted of the speeding violation. She appealed this conviction to a higher court, claiming the conviction should be overturned because she was never told she had the right to an attorney and consequently did not have ample opportunity to have an attorney represent her.
The appellate court agreed with Stephanie, overturning her conviction and ordering a new trial. They cited the rule that a defendant has a right to counsel no matter the gravity of the offense charge. It is the court’s responsibility to let the defendant know they have such a right and give them the opportunity to obtain an attorney should they decide they wish to be represented. The lower court in this case failed to instruct Stephanie of her right to counsel, so the conviction was overturned and a new trial was ordered.
Similar to the Pronti v. Allen case (discussed above), a person defending against a traffic offense has certain legally protected rights. When these rights are not respected in the judicial process, a person may avoid conviction, as in Pronti, or obtain a new trial and with it, a fair shot at justice.
8. Omitted Deposition: People v. Concepcion
In 2015, Matthew Concepcion was issued a speeding ticket containing instructions for how one may proceed with the impending case. Among the instructions were precise directions as to how one could plead not guilty and request a supporting deposition, a statement of the facts supporting the issuance of the ticket. Matthew complied with all of the procedural requirements but did not receive a supporting deposition. He consequently asked the court to dismiss the case. The lower court denied his motion, he was convicted of the speeding offense, and he filed an appeal.
The appellate court agreed with Matthew and reversed his conviction. Their reasoning was that the rule for receipt of a properly requested supporting deposition requires it is received either within thirty days of the request or at least five days before trial. Matthew never received the supporting deposition, in part because the prosecution was under the false impression that they were not required to send to Matthew the deposition because Matthew failed to file adequate proof that he had let the prosecution know that he was requesting the deposition.
As with People v. Tyler (#3 above), a seemingly obscure procedural rule helped Matthew avoid responsibility for his speeding ticket. Without the supporting deposition, Matthew was at a disadvantage because he had insufficient information to form his defense. Expert counsel makes all the difference in cases such as this, where an unobserved narrow rule can help one escape liability entirely.
9. Radar Gun Testimony: People v. Lampman
At Briana Lampman’s trial, where she contested her speeding ticket, the New York State trooper who had ticketed her testified as to the reliability of the radar gun he had used to catch Briana speeding. He indicated he had performed what he called an “internal test” on the gun at the beginning of his shift but did not know when it had last been certified by his Sergeant.
In considering the trooper’s testimony, the court declared that for a speed measuring device to be deemed accurate, the testimony as to its accuracy must be given by an officer trained and certified to use and test the device, and the officer must have tested the device close to the time of the traffic stop in question, with the test confirming that the device was accurate. If this testimony could not be offered, an officer would need some other form of corroboration, such as an officer’s visual estimation of the defendant’s speed.
On this basis, Briana was found not guilty of the speeding violation. The court went as far as to concede that Briana was probably speeding. However, the trooper’s testimony only mentioned that he had pressed a button and received a positive indication from the radar gun that it was accurate, falling short of the multifaceted testimony required by the court. The trooper also failed to corroborate Briana’s speed independent of the radar gun. The court thus concluded they had reasonable doubt as to Briana’s guilt.
An allegation of a faulty radar gun is a common defense in speeding violation cases. The New York court acknowledged as much and made clear that these defenses are often unsuccessful, particularly when they seek to impose unnecessary requirements, such as proof of calibration records. Nevertheless, an experienced attorney artfully questioning the ticketing officer’s recollection of events can protect clients from conviction.
10. Not Fast Enough: People v. Ilieveski
Petar Ilieveski was driving 55 miles per hour in the leftmost lane of a three-lane expressway consistent with the legal rate of speed when he was stopped and ticketed. Petar was said to be in violation of a subsection of the Vehicle and Traffic Law requiring drivers traveling at less than the normal speed of traffic to drive in the right-hand lane. The ticketing officer testified at trial that Petar was traveling slower than other traffic and had ample opportunity to safely move to the right-hand lanes. Petar testified that while the ticketing officer tracked him, the officer’s vehicle was blocking the lane to his right, placing him in the impossible position of choosing between staying in the left-hand lane, for which he was ticketed, or speeding up to safely move into the right-hand lane, risking a speeding ticket.
The court found in Petar’s favor. The judge pointed out that to rule against Petar would mean interpreting the statute to mean drivers traveling the speed limit are required to move lanes to accommodate speeding drivers, a result inconsistent with other traffic laws. The court rejected the argument that such drivers should be required to move lanes in order to avoid inciting road rage. The court finally acknowledged that Petar might have been guilty of another offense, namely failing to move to leave the left-hand lane open for passing, but the prosecution failed to charge him for this offense.
Though strictly speaking Petar was not prosecuted for speeding, this case is a fine example of how the purpose and context of particular laws can influence how courts interpret a law’s application to a particular circumstance. Arguments invoking these elements can prove quite effective in defending against a speeding violation. Moreover, it demonstrates how one can be guilty of a traffic offense but not ultimately liable because the officer might have made an error in charging one for their misconduct.
Who Should I Contact if I Received a Speeding Ticket?
Though the odds are low, these ten cases illustrate a variety of bases for successfully defending against a speeding ticket. An overarching lesson is that successfully asserting these defenses often requires the expertise of a capable, practiced attorney, such as those at Rosenblum Law. E-mail or call 888-815-3649 for a free consultation.