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APPEARANCE TICKETS IN NEW YORK: IMPROPER SERVICE OF AN APPEARANCE TICKET WILL NOT DEPRIVE THE COURT OF JURISDICTION IF THE DEFENDANT APPEARS IN COURT AND A SUFFICIENT ACCUSATORY INSTRUMENT HAS BEEN FILED

Recently I was contacted by a person who had been issued a ticket for passing a stopped school bus (VTL 1174 “Overtaking And Passing School Bus) by a New Rochelle Police Officer who left the ticket with this person’s son at the front door of his home located in White Plains, New York. Briefly, this gentleman’s front doorbell rang. His nineteen year old son answered the door and was greeted by a New Rochelle Police Officer who asked him if he was the owner of a particular vehicle that was parked in his driveway. The son said he wasn’t but that his dad was at which point the New Rochelle Police Officer handed the son a traffic ticket for his father for passing a stopped school bus (VTL 1174).

I later learned that the New Rochelle Police Officer had not witnessed the alleged improper passing of the school bus nor had any other police officers. However, a school bus driver had written down the license plate number of a vehicle the school bus driver alleged had failed to stop for the school bus which had stopped, activated its lights and stop-sign and was discharging school children. The school bus driver then contacted the police, told them what he witnessed and gave them the plate number.

The police ran the plate number and learned the make, model, year and color of the vehicle and who it was registered to. The make, model, year and color matched the description given by the school bus driver. That’s what led the New Rochelle Police to this person’s home in White Plains, NY. However, the police cannot issue a traffic ticket to a person by leaving it with someone else.
As I’ve explained in other articles, a traffic ticket, uniform traffic ticket, simplified traffic information, etc are all Appearance Tickets. (See e.g. People v. Tyler, 1 N.Y.3d 493 (2004)(speeding ticket is an appearance ticket) see also People v. Hollinger, 15 Misc. 3d 130A (App. Term 2nd Dept. 2007)(uniform traffic ticket is an “appearance ticket”).
Because they are also appearance tickets, traffic tickets issued to individuals must be personally served. [CPL 150.40(2)]. Furthermore, the police can only issue an appearance ticket for non-criminal offenses if such non-criminal offense is committed in their presence. See CPL 150.20(1) and People v. Genovese, 156 Misc. 2d 569 (J. Ct. 1992)

Here, the officer did not issue the ticket to the actual defendant but instead the officer left it with the defendant’s son. However, this is not grounds for dismissal of the case. A defendant issued an appearance ticket cannot appear in the criminal action for the sole purpose of challenging the court’s jurisdiction based upon improper service of said appearance ticket if a sufficient accusatory instrument has been filed.

This is because the appearance ticket has nothing to do with the court’s jurisdiction. The appearance ticket is merely an invitation to appear in court. It is the subsequent filing of a sufficient accusatory instrument that confers jurisdiction. Therefore, an improperly served appearance ticket is not a ground for dismissal of the underlying action although it could be a ground to dismiss a charge of failing to appear on an appearance ticket under PL 215.58. People v. Byfield, 131 Misc.2d 884 (N.Y. Crim. Ct. 1986).

For more information, feel free to contact Tilem & Campbell toll free at 1-877-377-8666 or visit us on the web at www.tilemandcampbell.com. More detailed information can be found in our book “Appearance Tickets in New York” available at Amazon.com.