In New York, does a Defendant Have to Appear in Court to Fight a Traffic Ticket?

by Benjamin Goldman

Posted on 10 June, 2019 at 06:00 AM

The short answer is no. New York law allows for an attorney to go to court instead of their client. The attorney needs to prepare an authorization allowing the attorney to adjudicate the case without the client. This does not present a problem in the vast majority of cases. A typical traffic ticket is reduced significantly via plea bargain and the defendant and the prosecutor remain happy with the result.

Some judges and some prosecutors are very strict and the reduction offer in their court is minimal. In such scenarios, a good traffic ticket attorneys will take the case to trial as there is little to lose by being found guilty as charged. In general judges, prosecutors, and police officers do not like trials. It takes up their time. More importantly everyone has to be worried about the court record and being embarrassed by being overturned on appeal. Some judges and prosecutors began employing a tactic to stymie the defendant’s attorney. They required that the defendant personally appear at the trial. Ostensibly this was to ensure that the defendants are apprised of their constitutional rights. However the real purpose was to intimidate the defendant to accept the minimal plea offer or be forced to travel who knows how far for a trial.

In a decision dated May 30, 2019, the Steuben County Court Judge was decisive in his ruling. In People v. Bollu, Judge Philip J. Roche confirmed that for traffic tickets a defendant can choose not to appear for trial. Appearing at a trial is a constitutional right and for the benefit of the defendant. In New York State, a defendant is allowed to waive that benefit. This decision cites numerous case law in support of its ruling and is well written. The law is clear that prosecutors and judges should no longer be allowed to require the appearance of defendants at trials.

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