Friday, September 23, 2005

The "First Appearance" and the missing DA

One of the things you learn when you handle speeding tickets and DWI in New York is that some court appearances are a waste of time.

The court date on a New York traffic ticket is generally a first appearance date. Many clients are surprised to hear that the officer does not have to show up on that date. The first appearance is for you to enter a plea. If you plead "not guilty", the Court will set a trial date.

You can plead not guilty by mail, and then you don't have to go to the first appearance date.

Many non-lawyers (and even some lawyers) are under the impression that if the officer doesn't show, the ticket will be dismissed. On a first appearance, the officer does not have to show. Even on a trial date, some courts will not necessarily dismiss a ticket if the officer doesn't show. They might adjourn the case to give the officer another chance to show up. Sometimes another officer appears on behalf of the officer who wrote the ticket. That officer will negotiate a deal for the missing officer. In some courts you can get the ticket dismissed, but some judges will grant an adjournment (and you will probably not get a good deal the next time if you refuse the deal this time). You have to know your courts. Another good reason to hire a lawyer for your speeding ticket.

I encountered another "first appearance" problem this morning. Client was charged with DWI (his BAC was 0.08). I went to make a deal for him (he's out of the country), but there was no Assistant District Attorney -- and therefore no one with whom to make a deal. Most courts meet at night, and this is known as a non-DA night. I guess in this particular Court it was a non-DA morning. So I'm going back on Tuesday to wrap things up.

Of course, I should have called the Court ahead of time to make sure there would be a DA there, but the no-DA thing is pretty rare so I don't usually worry about it.

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