Monday, February 6, 2017

Ithaca DWI Lawyer: Can You Get Jail for a New York Traffic Ticket?

Is this Reckless Driving Legally?
Generally speaking people do not go to jail or get sentenced to jail time for a New York State traffic ticket. But there are instances where your traffic ticket is more than a normal moving violation. Sometimes a ticket is really a criminal level offense that a judge would be compelled to sentence you to a term of jail. On the ticket itself the box marked misd means misdemeanor. Misdemeanors and higher are criminal level offenses. Now legally speaking in New York State a town, village, or city court judge could sentence you up to 15 days in jail for a violation level offense. Offenses like disorderly conduct, DWAI alcohol, or even speeding could receive up to 15 days in the local county jail.

So what situations or traffic violations could bring a short term of jail in New York State?

Bad Driving is Sometimes Close to Reckless Legally But Not Quite Enough to Charge IT or Prove IT 



First I want to look at RECKLESS driving, which is a crime and would be punishable by jail and/or probation. Then we can look at what behavior comes close to reckless but is NOT legally reckless driving in New York State so a judge and prosecutor might feel compelled to punish it as if it were reckless driving. In other words looks, feels, sounds like recklessness BUT can't be proven as such legally.

Reckless Driving in New York State Requires Lots of Proof 


Reckless driving is under New York State is VTL 1212, and is a criminal misdemeanor but requires a whole lot of proof. Proof for reckless is above and beyond speeding very fast. Even going 100 mph or higher doesn't usually lead to a charge of reckless driving even though it is to many people. Going from lane to lane back and forth, weaving in and out, even at high rates of speed is still NOT reckless under the law. This is the clear distinction, what is something UNDER the law, not what people imagine it is.


In order for you to find the defendant guilty of this crime, the People are required to prove, from all of the evidence in the case, beyond a reasonable doubt, both of the following elements:

1. That on or about (date) , in the county of (county) , the defendant, (defendant's name), operated (drove) a motor vehicle; and

2. That the defendant did so in a manner which unreasonably interfered with the free and proper use of the public highway, or unreasonably endangered users of the public highway.

                                                                        New York State Jury Instructions for RECKLESS

What is Unreasonable Interference of the free and proper use?


What is Unreasonably Endangered other drivers?


Looking to New York case law, we see a trend.

1. Causing a car accident in and of itself is NOT reckless driving, People v. Grogan, 260 NY 138 (1932).

2. Reckless driving involves additional aggravating acts or circumstances beyond a single violation of a rule of the road (People v Goldblatt, 98 AD3d 817 [3d Dept 2012], lv denied 20 NY3d 932 [2012]).

3. Reckless driving when the defendant had alcohol before driving, and struck another vehicle stopped at a traffic light, proved the charge of reckless driving]; People v. Earley, 121 AD3d 1192, 1193-1194 [3d Dept 2014], lv denied, 25 NY3d 1200 [2015].

4. Reckless driving proven when defendant crossed center line and colliding with oncoming vehicle, her admission to having been drinking prior to driving, and the arresting officer's testimony that she had glassy eyes, slurred speech, smelled of alcohol and appeared intoxicated, supported the conviction for reckless driving]; People v. Bohacek, 95 AD3d 1592 [3d Dept 2012].

5. Reckless driving proven evidence where the jury could reasonably infer that the defendant, in reckless disregard of the consequences, ingested drugs, drove her car across the center line of the highway, and collided with decedent's vehicle.

6. Reckless proven by a chemical test performed on defendant's blood which revealed the presence of, among other things, hydrocodone, an opiate, morphine, a strong opiate, and meprobamate, a muscle relaxant (found in Soma), and central nervous system depressant. Viewing the evidence in a light most favorable to the People, the jury could reasonably infer that defendant, in reckless disregard of the consequences, ingested these drugs, drove her car across the center line of the highway and collided with decedent's vehicle (see People v McGrantham, 12 NY3d 892, 894 [2009]; People v Devoe, 246 NY 636 [1927]; 8A NY Jur 2d, Automobiles § 946; see also People v Ladd, 89 NY2d 893, 895 [1996]).

RECKLESS DRIVING = Knowing the consequences of your behavior BUT having a reckless disregard for those consequences. 


Knowledge can be inferred based upon the totality of the facts. BUT intoxication alone is NOT reckless. You can be intoxicated and reckless or NOT intoxicated and reckless.

Now what things can't be proven as reckless driving by themselves?


1. Driving at a high rate of speed (90mph plus) is NOT reckless but a judge and prosecutor might want to punish it as if it was.

2. Driving carelessly. Weaving in and out of lanes, passing everyone and doing so dangerously is NOT reckless but a judge and prosecutor might want to punish it as if it was.

3. Road rage, as in following someone at close distance (following too close) and/or making them use evasive maneuvers to avoid hitting you a judge and prosecutor might want to punish it as if it was. This may lead to an accident or not but is NOT reckless driving.

4. NO reckless driving because there was NO evidence that any pedestrians or other drivers were affected in any way, where the defendant was driving 5 to 15 mph above the speed limit, failed to stop a stop sign, and two red lights, and there was no evidence that defendant knew the officer was trying to pull him over despite his lights and sirens being on for a two minute pursuit.
People v. Bulgin, 29 Misc.3d 286, 908 N.Y.S.2d 817 (Sup. Ct. Bronx County 2010).

5. NO reckless driving with multiple traffic infractions, insufficient evidence that defendant’s driving “unreasonably interfered” with anyone’s use of the oncoming lane or the lane from which he left and returned, or that he thereby “unreasonably endangered” anyone or anyone’s property.
People v. Khurshudyan, 34 Misc.3d 152(A), 951 N.Y.S.2d 88 (Table) (N.Y.Sup. App.Term 2012)

6. NO reckless driving with the passing of a single stop sign in itself cannot be said to establish “disregard of the consequences” of the act. If the defendant had also entered the intersection at an excessive and illegal rate of speed, it might be considered reckless.
People v. Garo, 208 Misc. 496, 144 N.Y.S.2d 107 (Broome Co. Ct., 1955) –

7. NO reckless driving when the defendant was going above 45 to 50 miles per hour, and made an UNSAFE ‘U’ turn from the outside lane 75 feet away, on an open highway, was not sufficient to convict him. People v. Korytowski, 14 Misc.2d 417, 179 N.Y.S.2d 424 (Schenectady Co. Ct., 1958) –

All of the above would potentially push (anger) a prosecutor to ask for jail time and/or a judge to want to give it. So just because your traffic infractions don't usually lead to jail, they could.