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How to Beat a Reckless Driving Charge in New York

Jason Stern, one of New York’s top criminal defense attorneys, has been featured in the NY Times, Good Morning America, CNN and Fox News.

Reckless Driving in New York

"Reckless Driving," as prohibited by Section 1212 of the New York Vehicle & Traffic Code, is treated differently in different areas in New York. For purposes of this article, we will discuss reckless driving tickets issued in New York City; however, if you have received a non-NYC reckless driving summons outside of the five boroughs, please contact me directly for a free consultation, as the information contained herein will not necessarily be applicable to your case.

In New York City, reckless driving cases are handled in Criminal Court -- not at the Traffic Violations Bureau. If you received a pink summons for reckless driving in New York, you will have to appear in New York City Criminal Court.

Although "criminal court" sounds more intimidating than "traffic court," the truth of the matter is that criminal court is a lot more friendly than traffic court. As a former Administrative Judge for New York City, I know that an Administrative Judge (as you'll find in NYC Traffic Court) has a lot less discretion to reduce a charge than a Judge or Judicial Hearing Officer (as you'll find in NYC Criminal Court).

All of this adds up to the fact that receiving a pink summons for reckless driving is far preferable to receiving a traffic ticket for reckless driving. That being said, if you have received a pink summons for reckless driving in New York, there's a chance to get that summons dismissed and sealed without affecting your driving record, insurance rates, or garnering unwanted points.

Reckless driving NYC pink summons

Reckless driving NYC pink summons

The NYC Reckless Driving Summons

Let's start by taking a detailed look at your NYC reckless driving summons or ticket. To use as an example, I've marked up a Disorderly Conduct pink summons below:

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Each NYC Reckless Driving Pink Summons Ticket can be broken down into ten (10) key sections.

  1. SUMMONS NUMBER: At the very top of the New York reckless driving summons is a 10-digit summons number. This number usually starts with a '4' and is used to track the summons through the system.
  2. IDENTIFICATION: The top section of the reckless driving ticket (marked #2) contains the name and address of the defendant as indicated on the identification provided to the police officer who completed the summons. While summons are tracked by the Summons number, your criminal court record is tracked by the identification provided to the citing police officer. This means that if the police officer spells your name wrong or mixes up your first and last (or middle) name, the information will be processed as indicated on the summons. If this is the case with your summons, speak with a criminal defense lawyer before deciding to skip out on your court appearance. Many potential employees find their hiring process is held up by similar names or close matches in a criminal record search.
  3. TIME, DATE, COUNTY, and PRECINCT: The next section on the reckless driving summons contains important information to satisfy the facial sufficiency requirements of the summons. This means that the summons must contain the time, date, and county to sufficiently establish where and when the violation occurred. Failure to establish the time or date of the incident would constitute sufficient grounds for a motion to dismiss.
  4. PLACE OF OCCURRENCE: This section of the summons is used to describe the location of the alleged incident. The location description may abbreviate a corner such as 'C/O 34th and Broadway' or specify that the violation occurred in front of a particular address such as 'F/O 1350 Broadway'. The description of a place of occurrence that does not exist is grounds for dismissal upon motion to the court.
  5. IN VIOLATION OF: Beneath that section, on the left (marked #2) is where the police officer has indicated the specific statute or law that was violated. 99% of the time, you will see 1212 handwritten in this section. Failure to indicate the statute or the proper statute is a facial defect that should require dismissal by the judge.
  6. DESCRIPTION OF CRIMINAL COURT OFFENSE: Immediately beneath the violation, the police officer must indicate the name of the violation. For the most part, this will read either 'Urinating in Public' or 'Public Urination', but occasionally simply reads 'Urination'. If this section is left blank, but the correct violation statute (#5) is listed, the judge probably will not dismiss the summons.
  7. COURT LOCATION and DATE: The pink ticket is an actual summons, and in this section, it states that 'The Person described above is SUMMONED to appear at CRIMINAL COURT' followed by the address of the courthouse and the date on which you or your New York criminal defense lawyer must appear before the court. The failure to direct the defendant to appear in court is a facial deficiency that should require dismissal, but some judges will deny a motion to dismiss on this basis.
  8. SIGNATURE OF COMPLAINANT: The complainant is the police officer who wrote out the summons. Occasionally, you will get lucky and find that the police officer forgot to sign the summons. On proper motion to the Court, a summons lacking the signature of the issuing police officer should be dismissed by the Judge.
  9. YOUR SIGNATURE: Beneath the Police Officer's signature line is a space for you to sign and acknowledge receipt of the summons. This section is NOT REQUIRED to be completed and the failure of a defendant to sign this section is not grounds for dismissal.
  10. THE BACK OF THE SUMMONS: You may think you're seeing the entire summons but the law requires the officer to provide a sworn statement of personally observed facts to accompany each summons. Therefore, even if the police officer has not made any mistakes or errors on the face of the summons, the summons may still be deemed defective if the officer fails to indicate that he personally observed the defendant driving in a reckless manner. Unfortunately, you don't get to see the back of the summons until you appear in Court. This is where having an experienced criminal defense attorney comes into play. Failing to properly describe the alleged incident may result in a dismissal upon motion by your reckless driving lawyer.

New York Reckless Driving Penalties

A New York reckless driving conviction for violating VTL 1212 imposes substantial penalties:

  1. A criminal record. Reckless Driving is a misdemeanor, not a violation or "the equivalent of a parking ticket."
  2. Points on your DMV Driving Record. A conviction for reckless driving in NY results in five (5) points on your New York driving record.
  3. Fines. A fine of up to $300 plus a fee of $70 for first-time offenders.
  4. Insurance costs. It is highly likely that your insurance company will hike your insurance rates after a reckless driving misdemeanor conviction.
  5. Possible suspension and fees. If a driver accumulates 11 points within an 18-month period, driving privileges may be suspended. If an NYC reckless driving ticket results in a driver crossing the 6-point barrier, the driver must pay a “Driver Assessment Fee” to the Department of Motor Vehicles, which is $300 for six points and an additional $75 for every point above six.

NYC Criminal Court Locations and Directions

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

Questions & Answers

Question: What should I do if I received a ticket for reckless driving in Westchester County?

Answer: You should always consult with an attorney in any traffic violation that could result in a suspension through points (reckless driving is a FIVE point violation) but especially reckless driving which is also a misdemeanor (crime) under VTL 1212.

© 2012 Jason Stern

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