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WHEN A TRAFFIC TICKET IS NOT JUST A TRAFFIC TICKET

By: Kenneth S. Feraru, Esq.

Most of those of us who drive a motor vehicle on a regular basis have been, at some point in our lives, in the unfortunate position of being the recipient of a traffic ticket. Sometimes we are deserving of it, sometimes we feel unjustly prosecuted or singled out. Whichever the case, we usually get over it and just pay the ticket. This is not always a good idea. 

It is always necessary to respond to the ticket, there is no question about that. Ignoring a ticket could result in higher fines, additional charges, arrest warrants and sometimes even jail time. Therefore, we all must always answer the ticket. However, merely pleading guilty and paying the ticket is rarely a good idea. I will explain why below.

To begin with, depending on the court in which the ticket is returnable, it may be possible to plea bargain the charge down to a less serious one, with fewer points or possibly even no points. Commonly, an attorney could get a better disposition than if the recipient of the ticket went to Court on his or her own. Hiring an attorney shows the prosecutor and the Court that you are taking the ticket seriously, the attorney will be in a better position to know what is a good result, and the attorney will likely do a better job either negotiating a plea bargain or trying the case should you decide to take your case to trial. Therefore, by having an attorney negotiate for you, you could get a better deal than had you merely paid the ticket. 

Another, and even more important reason, why you must never just pay the ticket is that not all traffic offences are what are euphemistically referred to as “just traffic tickets.” 

Many of the provisions of the New York State Vehicle and Traffic Law are crimes: Misdemeanors and even felonies. These include Diving While Intoxicated and Reckless Driving, among others. 

Vehicular crimes also include the offenses I wish to talk about today. These are very common offences, and ones most people probably think of “just traffic tickets” rather than crimes. But crimes they are!

What I believe is probably the most often committed crime in the State of New York is Vehicle and Traffic Law Section 511 (VTL 511), operating with a suspended or revoked license, or as it is officially designated, Aggravated Unlicensed Operation (AUO). AUO is so often committed that many Courts even have separate 511 parts, which adjudicate only violations of that statute! 

There are three main subsections to VTL 511. These are 511.1, AUO in the third degree, an unclassified misdemeanor, 511.2, AUO in the second degree, also an unclassified misdemeanor, but one that carries a sentence of mandatory jail time, and 511.3, AUO in the first degree, is a class “E” felony, which carries a jail sentence of up to four (4) years.

AUO in the third degree, VTL 511.1, is relatively easy to commit. Get a traffic ticket, even a relatively minor office such as not wearing a seat belt or having a taillight out, and then neglect to answer the ticket. The Court will likely notify the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles, and at some point shortly thereafter, your license will be suspended. Should you drive while the suspension is in effect, it is likely that soon enough, one of the dedicated police officers of one of the various village, town, city, county or State Police Departments will do his or her job, and either lock you up or at least give you an appearance ticket.

AUO in the second degree, VTL 511.2, is a little more difficult to violate. To be guilty of VTL 511.2, one must be driving while having three (3) suspensions on at least three (3) different dates (meaning the defendant would have had to have been pulled over at least three times on different dates, given tickets on all three dates, and neglected to answer or pay all three (3)), driving when his or her licence was suspended or revoked for a Driving While Intoxicated (DWI) Charge, revoked for refusing a breath test, or a few other reasons. Violation of most subsections of VTL 511.2 carry mandatory jail sentences of at least seven (7) days. Of course, the sentence could be longer. 

To be guilty of AUO in the first degree, the felony subsection, one almost has to try. Apparently, however, there are those who are willing to put in the effort, as I have represented many clients on felony 511s. To commit the crime of VTL 511.3, one would need to drive with a license suspended ten (10) times on at least ten (10) different dates or committing the crime of VTL 511.2 while driving intoxicated or driving under a few other circumstances. As mentioned above, a conviction of VTL 511.3 could result in a jail sentence of up to four (4) years, plus probation and fines of up to five thousand dollars. Yes, FIVE THOUSAND DOLLARS!

Therefore, my advice to you, gentle readers, is drive carefully and don’t get traffic tickets. But if you do, retain an attorney to get you the best result. Under no circumstance should you ignore any traffic tickets or crimes; ignoring them only makes matters worse.  And if a disposition is reached on your case, ALWAYS pay the fine! Failure to pay the fine will also result in a license suspension! Should your licence be suspended or revoked, and you are charged with one of the various subsection of Vehicle and Traffic Law Section 511, ALWAYS hire an attorney! The reason for this is that you have been charged with a crime, not just a traffic ticket, and you NEED legal representation. A lawyer could likely reach a disposition whereby you will not need to plead guilty to a crime. Even if you are able to avoid jail, the last thing you need is a criminal record. Avoiding a criminal record is crucial! Think about this: Try applying for a job when you must answer “Yes” to the question “Have you ever been convicted of a crime?”

Thank you for time and attention in reading this article. I hope it helps you or someone you know from falling into the traps into which so many unwittingly fall. Drive safely, stay healthy and stay free!

As a Long Island criminal lawyer Kenneth S. Feraru, Esq. and the Law Offices of Kenneth S. Feraru, P.C., we focus on providing the legal services that people need. Whether you have been charged with a crime, injured in an accident, or served with an order of protection, we can help. Contact our Nassau County criminal attorney (516) 535-3333.