What Happens When: The Officer Does Not Appear in Court?

You show up in court for your TVB ticket bracing yourself for a tough trial with an unforgiving judge and an unrelenting cop. Then you arrive and find the former conspicuously lacking. Before long, you hear some welcome good news: the officer is not coming. Ticket dismissed.

Easy-peasy, as they say. (Do they say that anymore? Did they ever?)

Or, perhaps not.

First, let’s address a common misconception about the New York City Traffic Violations Bureau. The officers almost always appear. I personally know cops who come to court multiple times a week and have not missed a court date in a decade. If your officer writes a lot of traffic tickets — and there’s a good chance she does, given that a majority of tickets in NYC are written by the small percentage of officers whose primary duty is traffic enforcement — then she is probably going to be in court.

Now, of course, “probably” does not mean “always.” Every case is different. And you could get lucky.

So what happens when your officer isn’t there? The short answer is, it depends on three factors.

Factor #1: What is the reason for the officer’s nonappearance?

Officer nonappearances fall broadly under two categories — excused and unexcused.

Some officer absences are excused. The TVB permits an officer to miss a court date for the following valid reasons: illness, injury, funeral (for someone in the officer’s family), conflicting court appearance, police emergency, or responding to a crime. If the officer misses court for one of these reasons, the TVB regulations entitle him to one reschedule. If he misses for one of these reasons twice, your ticket will be dismissed.

The other absences are, as you guessed it, unexcused. If the officer simply does not appear, without providing a reason, your ticket should be dismissed. Or if he misses for a reason not included in the above list, e.g. he takes a vacation day or just decides he doesn’t feel like going to traffic court, your ticket should be dismissed. Unless…

Factor #2: What are the circumstances for this particular ticket?

It’s possible your ticket will be classified as a “required appearance.” You’ll know if your ticket is a required appearance by viewing the substitute ticket provided by the DMV website. Such a ticket will include the phrase REQUIRED APPEARANCE in all caps.

For a required appearance summons, the judge has the discretion to reschedule your case, even if the officer’s absence is not valid, and perhaps even if the officer misses multiple court dates. There are other examples, but these are the most common.

Some required appearances are marked as such because the DMV considers the violation especially serious. For a very high speeding ticket, you can expect the summons to be a required appearance. If the ticket involved an accident or personal injury, ditto.

Factor #3: What is your driving history?

Required appearances come in more than one shade. Some tickets bear this unfortunate label not due to the violation, but due to the driver.

If you have a very bad driving record, you can expect your ticket to be a required appearance. Examples: if you were suspended or revoked at the time of the ticket, have a large number of points on your license, or have a history of alcohol-related driving infractions.

The policy behind the required appearance is simple. For some drivers and some violations, DMV thinks the circumstances are serious enough that, essentially, that you shouldn’t get a free pass because the officer missed a court date, and that you should be forced to confront a judge before the summons is dismissed. This is a policy decision made by the State Legislature in Albany and enforced by the TVB judges.