Councilman David G. Greenfield introduced a resolution in the City Council this week calling on the state legislature to no longer incarcerate drivers for not responding to traffic summonses such as tickets for moving violations. Under Councilman Greenfield’s proposal, drivers whose license was suspended solely due to failing to pay traffic summonses would face a fine, instead of the threat of jail time. Currently, a motorist who fails to pay a ticket for a moving violation faces the same type of criminal penalty as someone who commits serious crimes against society. Many New Yorkers innocently forget to respond to a summons because they have moved or simply don’t realize that their license will be suspended and they may be jailed if found driving as a result.
Councilman Greenfield introduced this resolution at Monday’s Stated Council meeting to bring the punishment in line with the actual offense after several constituents informed him they were jailed after having simply forgotten to pay a traffic ticket. In one case, a former city resident who had since moved abroad was pulled over by police while visiting Brooklyn for a family wedding. Because he had forgotten to respond to a nearly two-decade-old traffic ticket before moving, his license was suspended. As a result, when he was pulled over for a minor traffic infraction, the man was detained, handcuffed, arrested and spent the time that he should have been at the wedding in a prison holding cell.
“It struck me as a little extreme to drag someone from their car in handcuffs for what could easily have been a simple mistake like forgetting to respond to a ticket. I have heard of outrageous cases like parents being handcuffed and hauled off to a prison cell in front of their small children all because they forgot to respond to a ticket. Drivers should obey all traffic laws and pay when issued a ticket, but we must also recognize that forgetting to respond is not a criminal act,” said Councilman Greenfield.
In addition to individuals who honestly forgot to pay their ticket or were visiting at the time, Councilman Greenfield has heard from constituents who were incorrectly detained due to a simple paperwork mistake. The resolution introduced at yesterday’s Stated Council meeting recognizes that individuals who have their license suspended due to a serious violation such as driving while intoxicated should not be on the road and should be arrested. However, it seeks to draw a distinction between those who commit criminal acts that threaten public safety with those who simply did not pay less serious traffic summonses.
Right now, anyone who drives with a suspended license faces a punishment of up to $500 in fines and 30 days in jail and is immediately arrested if caught operating a motor vehicle in the City of New York. Councilman Greenfield’s resolution calls on the state to change the law so that individuals who are found to be driving with a suspended license solely due to failing to respond to traffic summonses would not be arrested and would instead face a fine.
“I have heard of too many cases where the punishment for forgetting to respond to a summons far exceeded the crime. It’s just not fair to arrest someone for forgetting to respond to a ticket. That’s why I am calling on the state to reform the vehicle and traffic law immediately,” concluded Councilman Greenfield.
Source: Press Release