Monday, May 19, 2008

New York Traffic Courts: The Surcharge Tax Increase

Note: For help, please check out our New York Traffic Lawyer page.
Change is brewing in the surcharges for various offenses in the NY traffic courts and criminal courts. I've posted a portion of the schedule below that's most relevant to what we do, in the usual traffic ticket and DWI cases, will discuss these massive tax increases further below. I should also note that this schedule is for town and village courts. They may be $5 less in city courts, as they are now.

What you can see for starters is that the surcharge for simple traffic tickets has gone from $55 to $85. That is a whopping 55% tax increase (the $30 increase being 55% of the original $55 surcharge, which is not shown in the chart). Equipment violations go from $35 to $55 (57% increase). And that's not the bad news. The big monsters are on the DWI offenses. For a simple DWAI, the surcharge was $80. That is going up to $280 - a 250% tax increase. For DWI misdemeanors, the surcharge goes to $400 from what I remember as $110, and that's a 264% increase.

To give some context, the maximum fine for a speed from 11-30 mph over the limit is $300, and $150 is a typical fine. With the surcharge, that raises the final number from $205 to $235. That doesn't seem all that bad, but it's still more taxes.

With the DWAI it's huge. Fine range for a DWAI is $300-500, and many judges fine the minimum on first-time offenders. Thus, a typical plea means $380 in court fines and surcharges (not counting the other costs you get hit with). Now that $380 goes to $580. With a DWI, the minimum fine is $500, $610 with the current surcharge. That goes to $900 now.

Along with other changes in the court system, like DAs adopting policies that limit plea bargaining, this will encourage more defendants to hire lawyers, especially in DWI cases. It is now easier for me to make the economic case to a potential client. They DA policies mean they have little to lose (except our fees) by fighting a DWI case. At the same time, they have more to gain if we win, because they will avoid the now-higher surcharges.

With all the concerns people have about the economy, criminal defense appears to be recession-proof. What's really going on here is the legislature and the governor need revenue from somewhere. They think they can get away with hiding tax increases in fines, surcharges and assessments. And they're probably right. By sticking it to the speeding and drinking taxpayers, they are also making economic life easier for the Albany Lawyer, and others like me.

Please don't think for a second that I approve of these policy changes. They will help me financially but I was doing fine already. This is a gross perversion of any sensible tax policy. Liberals supposedly favor progressive taxes, where those with higher income or wealth pay higher taxes. These fines, surcharges and assessments are applied to all with no sensitivity to their economic circumstances. In reality, wealthier people are more likely to hire a lawyer to help them, and we do save them money overall. So these tax increases actually hurt the middle class and the poor harder.

Thanks to our faithful commenter, pml, for e-mailing the chart to me.
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