About once a week, a client shows me this form (see the photo to the right) and asks: “Should I mail this in to DMV?”
The answer: No!
In recent months, the DMV has taken to mailing this form to every motorist with a pending traffic violation in New York City.
In DMV speak, this is the “SIPOPA” form, a clumsy acronym for “Statement in Place of Personal Appearance.” I call it “The Guilty Form,” because it’s a convenient and easy way to get yourself found guilty.
If you mail the SIPOPA to Albany, as the form implies you should, this piece of paper will be used to stand in for you during your hearing. First, the officer will testify. Then, the judge will read your statement into the record and render a verdict.
Since a piece of paper cannot ask questions, there will be no cross-examination of the police officer. Since a piece of paper cannot read, there will be no review of the summons or the officer’s notes. Since a piece of paper does not know the law, there will be no motions or arguments to dismiss.
If the police officer appears, as they almost always do in the TVB courts of New York City, you will be found guilty the vast majority of the time if you appear via statement. You may win if the cop does not show, so the SIPOPA is marginally better than missing the hearing altogether. But in the likely event he does, you will not have a fair hearing. If you care about points on your license, appearing by SIPOPA is a terrible idea.
Do you know who can cross-examine the officer, review notes, and make motions to dismiss? Me, your friendly traffic attorney!
Read the words of the SIPOPA closely.
Check the language on the SIPOPA: “You have the right to be represented by an attorney for this summons, including having an attorney assist you in preparing this form.”
I italicized the second part, because, as an attorney, this notion is at best laughable, and at worst downright offensive. No real attorney would assist someone in filling out a firm that waives their right to appear before a judge and to confront their accuser. Any lawyer who would do this should lose his license.
For those that might not understand what is implied by the first line, please let me clarify: If you hire a lawyer, you want the attorney to fight for you in court. You do not want to be represented by a piece of paper. This line implies this, without saying as much. Makes you wonder if the DMV just wants to intimidate and confuse you.
In particular, check out the scary-sounding box on the bottom of the form: "Failure to send us a timely statement, appear in person, or be granted an adjournment may result in the suspension of your driving privileges and a $70 suspension termination fee."
If you read closely, you realize that this just means you have to either appear in court or submit the SIPOPA. You probably already knew that. But if you do not read closely, you might get the impression that you must send the SIPOPA, or face suspension. Many of my clients do this and send the SIPOPA's in, just trying to err on the safe side. I beg you not to do this.
Under no circumstances should you mail in the SIPOPA form if you are represented. As the DMV does not receive notices of appearances from attorneys, the judge may be unaware that you have counsel. It’s possible you will be found guilty by SIPOPA before the judge even sees that I’ve handed in your case. It’s happened to my clients before.
So what should I do with my SIPOPA?
I'm glad you asked. Here is a list of acceptable things to do with your SIPOPA:
1) Make a paper airplane.
2) Use it to light your next cigarette, stogie, joint (soon to be legal in New York!), hookah, bong, or other smokable item of choice.
3) See how many times you can fold it in half. (I’ll bet you ten bucks you can’t fold it more than seven times!) Fun side note: if you fold a piece of paper 103 times, it will be larger than the observable universe.
But absolutely do not mail this form to the DMV.If you care about your license, hire an attorney to fight for you. This will give you the best chance to get your ticket dismissed. If you do not want to hire an attorney, handle the case yourself by appearing in person — your chances are not great, but they’re much better than if you use The Guilty Form.