Should I plead guilty?
June 29, 2013 3:36 PM   Subscribe

I caused some very minor damage (probably less than $100 worth) to the gutter of a storage unit building, by driving a truck in too tight a turn. The storage unit business had just had a bad experience with a similar accident, which destroyed one of their buildings. As a result, the receptionist was conditioned to respond very aggressively, and immediately called the police. The police told me that because it had been called in, they had to give me a citation for an "improper right turn." They gave me paperwork to send in, and told me I should decide how I want to plead. I said of course I'd plead guilty, since there is video footage of my mistake. The police seemed noncommittal, though, replying "Yeah, well just decide how you want to plead and send it in." So, is there any reason why I would not plead guilty to this? Is it worth talking to a lawyer about?

This is my first ever moving violation. I don't know what the consequences will be for my insurance premiums. The police weren't able to tell me what the penalty is likely to be for a guilty plea. This is in New York State, if it matters.
posted by fivebells to Law & Government (18 answers total)
Even if you plead guilty, going to court is almost always beneficial since the judge may reduce the fine and/or points on your license. "Improper right turn" sounds like a pretty minor violation- but I'm not a lawyer or expert on law in your state.

I would google how many points, if any, this will put on your license, and then decide if it's worth the pain in the butt of making a court appearance. If not, just pay the fine and forget about it.
posted by drjimmy11 at 3:42 PM on June 29, 2013

(What I'm getting at is, regardless of plea, you probably have the option to either just mail a check and a guilty plea, or else make a court appearance.)
posted by drjimmy11 at 3:44 PM on June 29, 2013

There is no such thing as an < $100 accident.

I would take pictures of the damage just in case.
posted by ODiV at 3:44 PM on June 29, 2013 [7 favorites]

In CA, going to traffic school removes the stigma from one's record. I don't know if it's the same in NY
posted by brujita at 3:58 PM on June 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

This was on private property? You might want to consult with a traffic attorney. There might be a case that there isn't enough space to make the turn and the property owner is actually negligent for not providing ample space in a place where trucks are expected.

It's probably a stretch, but it might be worth the free 15 minute consult most traffic attorneys will give you.
posted by COD at 3:58 PM on June 29, 2013 [4 favorites]

In many jurisdictions, traffic violations and/or points cannot be assessed for incidents that occur on private property. Also, assuming a moving violation is possible on private property in your jurisdiction, the validity of said traffic violation my be at issue due to lack of signage, validity of private signage, or lack of proper traffic engineering on that private property.

Don't assume your violation ticket is even valid. Seek legal counsel, it may save beaucoup bucks in insurance rate increases.
posted by Consult The Oracle at 4:01 PM on June 29, 2013 [13 favorites]

It's my understanding that the vehicle code applies to public rights of way and not private property. IANYL.
posted by humboldt32 at 4:05 PM on June 29, 2013 [2 favorites]

IANAL either, but if you just do a smidgin of Googling, it turns out you actually can get a traffic citation on private property.
posted by beagle at 4:22 PM on June 29, 2013

Not that I disagree with anything that has been said above, but I wouldn't read anything at all into the police being "noncommittal" about which way you should plead. I would think the cops would be trained pretty thoroughly not to advise you one way or the other about that.
posted by yoink at 4:49 PM on June 29, 2013 [4 favorites]

Two points worth mentioning:
  1. First, the traffic infraction is different than the property damage. That's a civil matter. They could ask you to pay, call your insurance company or sue you.
  2. Second, I know that in NY, if one car hits another car in the rear and the police are called to the scene (there isn't always a legal requirement that the police be called), the driver of the first vehicle will be cited, as per policy "for insurance reasons", for following too closely (I think the specific legal term is "failure to maintain an adequate distance"). However, most times, the police will quietly remark off to the side to the motorist being cited that state law requires the citing officer to observe traffic violations that they write summonses for and that since the officer did not observe the violation, the court will dismiss it.
(I know of one person who did appear for the summons, the local prosecuting attorney stuck with traffic court for the day read the summons and confirmed that the citing officer did not witness the accident or the "following too closely" and indicated to the judge that the charge was being dropped. It still didn't absolve the driver of the liability in terms of property damage, but as I mentioned, that's a civil matter and why drivers have insurance (which you may or may not want to use).)
posted by Brian Puccio at 5:13 PM on June 29, 2013

Lawyer. Please.

It is not the police officer's job, I mean, it is EXACTLY NOT the police officer's job to either know what is in the perp's best interest or advise accordingly.

Lawyer should be cheaper than not lawyer.
posted by Schielisque at 5:38 PM on June 29, 2013

Often if you go to court and show that you've made restitution to the property owner, you can get the charge dismissed.

I don't understand what you mean when you say the receptionist was "conditioned to respond aggressively." You damaged their property while you were driving, and calling the police is what people do (and should do) in such a situation, for several reasons including making an insurance claim, to help establish liability and hold you responsible for the damage, etc.
posted by Unified Theory at 5:38 PM on June 29, 2013 [3 favorites]

Call a lawyer in the county/city where you received the ticket. It is very minor, so a lawyer will talk to you over the phone about it. Find out what that lawyer thinks that she will be able to do. Find out what that lawyer's fee is. Then tell the lawyer that you need to talk it over with your spouse and will call back. If you are not comfortable with that first lawyer or don't like the fee, then call another and do the same thing.

Then go to court on your court date and ask the DA handling the case to give you exactly what the lawyer said she could do. If the DA agrees to offer you the same, then take the deal. If the DA does not agree to give you that same deal, then tell the DA you want to continue the case so you can hire a lawyer. Then go hire that lawyer.
posted by flarbuse at 5:46 PM on June 29, 2013 [2 favorites]

The property owner had every right to call the police. The police made a determination of a traffic violation, not the property owner. The police are as a general rule prevented from giving legal advice, as would be any court officers such as a clerk. For legal advice you need to speak to an attorney.

I'm just pointing out that you're putting some odd, even unreasonable expectations on the receptionist and the cops.

As a moving violation itself, it's pretty minor. As an incident which caused damage, however, it may be anything but minor to your insurance costs. Consider your strategy accordingly.
posted by dhartung at 6:25 PM on June 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

talk to a traffic lawyer right now. don't do anything before speaking with a lawyer.
posted by Ironmouth at 8:21 PM on June 29, 2013

Oh god please ask the mods to anonymize this question for you.
posted by 168 at 8:51 PM on June 29, 2013

I think it's a bad idea to plead guilty to anything without talking to a lawyer. You seem to be thinking about this morally - I did hit the building, so I should plead guilty. That is a mistake! The courts are about the law, not about morality.
posted by thelonius at 3:33 AM on June 30, 2013

Additionally, if you are the second person to hit this building, there may be more at foot here, like improper design, that makes you not at fault.
posted by Phalene at 6:43 AM on June 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

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