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.


Anonymous said...

Your right about this being hidden. This was never discussed anywhere within OCA that the general populace was privey to. A number of courts have not even seen this info yet.

Just a note, these only apply to offenses committed after 1 July 2008 except the DWI increase is after 1 Aug 2008

Unknown said...

I have been to 2 busy courts since making this post and the judges and court staff in both were unaware of the increases. A third court was aware that there was a change but didn't know how big.

Anonymous said...

Is the chart correct? Shouldn't the total for DWAI be $260? What is the basis for the $20 for a DWAI conviction? V&T 1809(e)(1)(a) imposes a $20 charge but excepts " a conviction pursuant to section eleven hundred ninety-two of this chapter."
I think the total

Unknown said...

I don't know about 1809e1a, but usually my clients are not worried about the $20. They're worried about the thousands of dollars and other impacts of a DWI/DWAI conviction.

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

Why on earth, as residents of this insane state, we continue to allow this kind of highway robbery is beyond me. And now that I pled guilty by mail to having an expired inspection (nobody cares it was renewed the very next day) because I was out of state on the trial date, I'm pretty much screwed into paying the so-called "surcharge" that is more than DOUBLE the fine, right?

Unknown said...

Responding to the screwed "anonymous", basically you are correct. But if all you have is an expired inspection, you are not getting screwed nearly as bad as some others. I'd say you could have hired a lawyer on this, but it would not have been cost-effective. You'd spend more on us than you'd save in Court.

Senior Citizen said...

In Ossining Village (Westchester County) get a $20 parking ticket, ignore it, and they'll eventually impose a $230 PENALTY. The fine may fit the crime, but the penalty sure does not! One resident allegedly owes over $57,000 for parking tickets; another over $38,000. This exhorbitant and unjust enrichment a I see it. ... these V&T fines and penalties are no more than an additional "tax". The only thing we're not taxed on is the air we breath.

And it's too bad speedy trial rules aren't in place for parking tickets. Ossining Village Court is back-logged to 1985 (yes, 1985!).

Anonymous said...

I recently got a $35 seat belt violation for which I got charged an $85 surcharge. The fact that someone deemed a 243% surcharge on a $35 fine to be reasonable is not only amazing, but down-right wrong. This MUST change.

Unknown said...

I got a $10 fine and a $85 surcharge. Is that legal? I did not need the court, I would have been happy to pay the stupid fine or contest via mail it but those options were not available to me.

cc said...

I got the first ticket of any kind in over 8 years yesterday on I 87 for going 80 in a 55. I saw a cop hiding in the woods when I passed doing 67 with a group of other cars but thinking the limit was
65, I thought I was least 10 miles or more further down the road I sped up to move safely over to exit 87 for the NY thruway, when I looked in the rear view mirror to change lanes, I had an unmarked car flashing his lights 2 inches from my rear bumper. When asked by the cop what I thought the speed limit was, I answered honestly
"65"...the cop said I passed 3; 55 MPH signs (which I did not see, nor any of the other cars that weren't pulled over riding around me)....I know better than to mouth off to a cop, but why did he wait that long to pull me over...more $$$$? Living in NJ, insurance here is as expensive as in NYNY. Should I hire a Lawyer? court date is set for Dec 28, must have plea in Albany by Nov 28 allowing 5 days for mail that gives me 4 days to decide. 6 points and a ticket for going 25 MPH over the limit is going to really hurt a person like me on a fixed income. They maybe solving thier $$ problems sticking it to out of staters now, but in the long run all these out of staters that have been spending vacation $$$$ in NY state, will be going else where in the future.

Unknown said...

Should you hire a lawyer? Please see the page on our law firm website about that - Why Hire a Traffic Lawyer - and e-mail me with any questions.

As for your complaints, NY is not the only state that issues speeding tickets, and they write a lot of tickets to NY drivers.

You do have a pretty valid point, in my opinion, about how the fines don't really vary based on income. In some countries they do. It seems very unfair to me that wealthy people pay the same fines as someone making $20K/year.

Anonymous said...


Unknown said...

For the above comment, I strongly encourage anyone arrested for DWI to hire a lawyer.

Anonymous said...

My suggestion is to move to a large city, sell you car, and stop driving... You will be far happier in life and will not have to give a dime to the mechanism that is the greedy state tax coffers.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your great public service.
Here's my question:
I got a ticket for not wearing a sealtbelt a few days ago in NYC.

I live in MA.I checked and in MA this is considered a secondary offense.

This is such a stupid ticket and I hate to lose all that money not to mention greedy surcharges.
On the back of the ticket it says it will cost me $130 Is that true? Ridiculous if you ask me.

I'm just passing through and want to handle this nonsense on time but it irks me.
Will they come after me in MA if I just ignore it or will I be okay?

I admitted to the cop I had just pulled out of a parking place and was just putting it on when he saw me which was the truth. I was going like 2 miles an hour at a red light.


Unknown said...

If you don't respond to the ticket, NY DMV will suspend your privilege to drive in NY, and report to MA. MA will then suspend your license.

$130 is cheap to deal with the ticket. Or you can hire a lawyer if you're worried about the insurance consequences in MA. But we don't handle tickets in NYC.

Warren said...

I just payed 90$ for a ticket relating to an aftermarket exhaust on my car (which was already installed when I got the car). The fine was 35$, surcharge 55$!... Insanity. The muffler is really not that loud in the first place, definitely quieter than the average motorcycle.... I feel very taken advantage of.

Unknown said...

The muffler law is very poorly written. It should set a certain decibel level and require some kind of genuine measurement.

I had a client pulled over for a supposedly loud muffler. He was driving a Subaru. He had a Subaru-brand upgraded exhaust system installed by the dealer. Then he was charged with a DWAI when his BAC was at a legal level.

I appreciate the value of giving good cops discretion to do their jobs - they use it well. The problem is that some police use their discretion poorly.

Anonymous said...

Somebody told me that the surcharges imposed in traffic tickets are refundable. This didn't make any sense to me could you explain whether or not this is true?

Unknown said...

I don't understand the question. Why would it be refundable?

Anonymous said...

Hi, my son got a seat belt ticket recently. He was wearing a seat belt but going over the speed limit. The police officer said that he was giving him a chance. I take it the fine would be $50 plus a $55 surcharge. No supporting deposition was given. In terms of insurance, should he plead innocent and go to the hearing date? And what would be the court fee associated with appearing in court? Thank you in advance.

Unknown said...

Wow that question was really unclear. I'm sorry but I just don't know what you mean - what was he ticketed for?

Is there a "hearing date" set? Usually that would not happen on a ticket.

"Court fee"? Do you mean lawyer's fee, or something else?