people walking in front of new york court building

What To Expect in Traffic Court

The big day has arrived — the day of your TVB hearing. What will the experience be like?

Well, during the pandemic, it will be strange, just like everything else. You will not be allowed to access the building unless you have an appointment. When you arrive, you will provide your name and hearing details to the security guard. Then, you’ll wait until the hearing room is ready for you. Once they’re ready, they’ll text you, and you’ll go inside. (Back in the day, this process was much simpler.)

Upon entering the courtroom, you will provide your driver’s license or photo identification to the clerk. She will give you a copy of the summons — not the original one issued to you, but a substitute one used by the court during the hearing. You check the box next to “not guilty,” sign your name and return the ticket to the clerk. When the hearing commences, the judge will ask you to say your name, and if you are ready. If you say yes, the case will begin.

The officer will testify against you. Most of the time, the officer will read from a prepared statement or testify from a memo book entry. You are not allowed to speak while the officer testifies, but you should listen closely and take notes. These days, the officer testifies via speakerphone. You won’t see him, you’ll just hear his voice.

Then the judge will swear you in. You will be asked to affirm that you will testify truthfully. Once you do so, it’s your turn to ask questions of the officer, make a statement to the judge, or both.

You are allowed to examine the summons itself, as well as any notes the officer used in testifying. Take a long look at these, especially the summons. If you see something that is incorrect, bring it to the judge’s attention. Many mistakes on the summons will not result in a dismissal, but some will, and it’s worth a shot.

When testifying, look the judge in the eye. Speak calmly, slowly, and carefully. Judges hear hundreds of cases each day, and they get tired of unnecessary theatrics. If you are rude or abrasive, you start off way behind.

Do not insult the officer. If you disagree with what the officer says, you should say so. But do not say the officer is lying; say he is mistaken. Refer to him as “officer.” Do not make sweeping, grandiose statements about the police or the justice system that have nothing to do with your exact case. Do not waste the court’s time with frivolous or unrelated opinions. Everything you say should be related to the facts of what happened that resulted in you getting this particular traffic ticket.

Do you think the officer was a jerk? That’s unfortunate, but traffic court is not the place to air those grievances. You are the one on trial, not the police officer. There is a system in place for civilians to file grievances against law enforcement. (Side note: While you are free to use this system, doing so may make it harder for you to win your traffic ticket.)

Tell the truth. Aside from the small detail of the oath you swore before testifying, it is the right thing to do, and is more likely to work than lying. In TVB, the judge is the finder of fact, which means it’s her job to decide who to believe. Most judges can tell if your story doesn’t quite add up.

If you win, congratulations! You saved yourself money and points on your license.

If you lose, you have the right to appeal. Click here to read more about the appeals process. You must pay your fine within 28 days of the court date. Depending on your record, your license could be suspended or revoked by the judge or by the DMV in Albany.