Monday, August 31, 2009

How To Beat A Ticket

Back in December I was given four moving-violation tickets for a single incident by a particularly mean-spirited cop. (To read about it, click here.) These tickets could have meant six points on my license and $400 in fines if found guilty on all charges, so beating them was a big deal to me, especially since in New York City taxi drivers are subjected to special rules, one of them being that if you get six points on your license your hack license is automatically suspended for one month.

That rule, by the way, applies whether you get the points while driving a taxi or while driving your own car. Which means that a New York taxi driver could be driving a rented car in Wyoming, get a ticket at a speed trap or whatever, and lose his job in New York City. Seems clearly unconstitutional to me, but it's a rule that has stood since it was put in place by Mayor Crueliani, I mean Giuliani, in the late '90s.

But I digress.

I had to put my many years of experience in trying to beat tickets to work here because so much was at stake. I'm happy to say I was successful (or this post wouldn't be titled "How To Beat A Ticket"!) and, in reflection, I realized I might be able to pass a few tips on to you. So here goes.

1. The process of beating the ticket begins at the very moment the cop puts it in your hand. You have already (politely) tried to talk your way out of it, but that has failed. There is an impetus within you to say something sarcastic as the cop turns and walks away. Don't. Just shut up. The reason is that cops make notes of all pertinent data when writing tickets, and you want the cop to forget you. You don't want the cop going back to his squad car and noting, "make sure you nail this asshole". You're going to meet him again in a courtroom and you want the cop to have no special recollection of you.

2. Examine the ticket itself for errors. I have been surprised several times to find mistakes made in the transference of information from the driver's license and vehicle registration to the ticket. I once had a ticket dismissed by a judge who told me I "didn't have to say a word" - the ticket contained an error and that was all it took. Of the four tickets I had been given this time, two of them contained two mistakes and the other two contained one mistake. This doesn't guarantee a dismissal - apparently that depends on the mood of the judge - but it may be all you'll need. And it certainly helps present the argument that the cop's ability to observe what he says happened (as opposed to what you say) is questionable. This can be quite important because these cases usually really come down to your word against the cop's and the judge, if he's sympathetic to you, will be searching for any reason he can find to see it your way.

3. Delay, delay, delay. The most successful tactic for beating a ticket in New York City is to delay the hearing date which you receive in the mail after pleading "not guilty". The reason for this is that the hearing date you are first given will be a day that has been set aside for the cop's convenience as a "court day". The second or third date may not be a time that's as convenient for the cop and he may not show up at all or, as happened in my case, he may show up in his street clothes without his notes, and thus need to ask the judge for a delay himself because he is unprepared. Fortunately for me the judge did not grant his request and dismissed the tickets on the spot.

4. Do your homework. Don't show up empty-handed. Always prepare and bring with you a diagram that shows the streets, vehicles, and any other relevant information. Take photographs, if that would help prove your case. If a video could be useful, make one, and post it on YouTube so it can be referred to with the court's computer. (Just be sure it's less than 10 minutes in length - that's the time limit on YouTube.) If you have any witnesses prepare a statement of the facts of the case and get them to not only sign it, but to notarize it. A person who stands before a judge with an organized stack of stuff in his hand adds credibility and a bit of intrigue (what's he got there?) to himself. A person who is empty-handed looks like just another liar.

5. Try to get the judge to like you. Now here is something I'll bet you never thought of: traffic court judges hear the same insipid excuses from defendants day after day, week after week, year after year. They become bored and cynical and difficult to convince. Try to give them something that's a bit original. Here's an example. Many years ago I was waiting for a fare at 3 a.m. in front of a bar that was frequented by transsexuals. The meanest cop I have ever met came along and wrote myself and the two other taxi drivers in line in front of me tickets for double-parking. It was an outrageously mean ticket and when I asked the cop why he was doing this, after first threatening to "collar" me, he snarled back that it was because "we don't like this place". When I went to court I told the judge that I had just pulled up at the bar behind two other cabs and "a person who I thought was a woman" dropped money down on the front seat and exited the cab, leaving me there counting the money when the cop came along. So I wasn't technically "double-parked", I was momentarily "standing". My story, although a complete lie, entertained the judge and he decided to give me "the benefit of the doubt" and dismissed the ticket.

6. As you're waiting in the courtroom for your case to be called, say these words to yourself: "I can do this. I'm going to win."

Hope this helps!


And if it doesn't, maybe this will: click here for Pictures From A Taxi.