Flying Solo: What happens when you represent yourself in NYC TVB traffic courts?

So you’re doing your case on your own. Do you have a chance to win?

Your odds are not great. But they’re far from impossible. Motorists win cases in traffic court on their own all the time. Of course, they win less often than attorneys do, but depending on the charge, your financial situation, and other factors, plenty of motorists decide to go it alone, and some of them win.

There are many factors that affect your likelihood of success in traffic court. Some are beyond your control. In the five boroughs of NYC, for example, there are eight TVB courts. They are all different. And some are tougher than others. Staten Island’s TVB court has long been considered the most difficult one in the system. The Queens South and Brooklyn North courts are also tough. Your chances are better in Manhattan South, Manhattan North, and Brooklyn South.

In every case, there are elements of luck. If your officer does not appear, the charge may be dismissed. (But not always! There are exceptions to this.) That’s an example of you getting lucky.

Every case is different.

Every TVB court has between three and eight judges. They are all different, with different legal philosophies and widely varying views on the TVB’s regulations and the Vehicle and Traffic Law. Some judges hold the police officer’s to very high standards and will dismiss a charge due to minor imperfections. Some hold the officer to lower standards and will ignore small flaws in his case. Some judges will reschedule cases freely, even if they are quite old and have been rescheduled multiple times. Other judges will not reschedule cases of a certain age or with a certain procedural history.

If you do your case on your own, perhaps you’ll get lucky and end up with a good judge. In these cases, you might win, again, through sheer luck — once in a while, a good judge will dismiss the charge agains you after the officer testifies because he failed to make the (legal words ahead) “prima facie” case against you. You win without saying a word. But a win’s a win, right?

In most cases, though, this will not happen. The process will unfold something like this…

You show up in court, find your name on the board, and report to the appropriate courtroom.

The judge calls your case. You stand up and identify yourself.

The judge asks if you have any witnesses or are represented by an attorney, then asks if you are ready to proceed. If you say you are, the case begins.

The police officer is standing a few feet away from you. He or she will testify, usually with the assistance of the summons itself, notes, and the police memo book. They’ll say what they observed that led to them writing you a ticket.

Then, it’s your turn. You’ll be sworn in by the judge, promising to tell the truth. Then you can either make statements to the judge or ask questions of the police officer.

Once you’re done, the judge decides. In TVB courts, the result will be either “guilty” or “not guilty” on each charge. If you’re found guilty, the judge will then review your driving record for the relevant eighteen-month period and decide the fine amount and whether to sanction you with an additional penalty, such as a suspension or revocation.

If you’re found guilty, the judge will tell you the fine amount, when (within 28 days of the conviction date, although you can request more time) and how to pay, and the deadline to appeal (30 days from the hearing date).

How does the process when you have an attorney?

If you’re represented, the process is much easier.

You don’t need to go to court. You can go to work, or school, or whatever you do with your free time, and let your attorney handle the case.

Your lawyer goes to court for you, schedules or reschedules the case as needed, and eventually handles the trial. You’re not guaranteed to win, but your chances will be much better. This is because attorneys know the law and know the unique lay of the land of each court, and are experienced at winning trials.