January 31, 2019
Digest: The Committee cannot determine whether judges have the legal authority to introduce new steps or procedures for defendants who plead guilty by mail under Vehicle and Traffic Law 1805, as this presents a strictly legal question.
Rules: CPL 170.10; Judiciary Law 212(2)(l); VTL 1805, 1807; 15 NYCRR 91.7; 22 NYCRR 100.2(A); 100.3(B)(7); 101.1.
An officer of a magistrate’s association asks if town and village justices may send an “informational” form letter to defendant motorists who plead guilty to certain traffic infractions by mail (see VTL 1805), to make sure they “are fully aware of their rights.” After outlining all a motorist’s choices on initially receiving a ticket, the form letter states: “If the court does not receive a written notification from you within thirty days from the date of this letter seeking to modify how you wish to proceed, the guilty plea(s) you submitted will be accepted, and the court will notify you by mail of the fine and surcharge imposed.”
A judge must “respect and comply with the law” (22 NYCRR 100.2[A]) and dispose of all judicial matters “promptly, efficiently and fairly” (22 NYCRR 100.3[B]).
The legislature has provided a mechanism for defendant motorists to waive the protections of CPL 170.10 and VTL 1807 and plead guilty to certain Vehicle and Traffic Law offenses by mail (see VTL 1805). The form and content of the uniform traffic ticket, including disclosures concerning the effect of a guilty plea and a form on which the defendant may plead guilty or not guilty by mail, is further specified by regulation (see 15 NYCRR 91.7).
The preliminary question here is whether judges have the legal authority to introduce new steps or procedures for defendants who have satisfactorily complied with all statutory requirements to plead guilty by mail under Vehicle and Traffic Law 1805. Until this legal question is resolved, we believe any ethical considerations are purely hypothetical and thus decline to address them (cf. 22 NYCRR 101.1; Judiciary Law 212[l]).