Aggravated Unlicensed Driving Desk Appearance Ticket (VTL 511)
The Nightmare Scenarios of Getting a Driving With Suspended License Desk Appearance Ticket
VTL 511, Aggravated Unlicensed Operation of a Motor Vehicle, or perhaps more commonly referred to as Driving on a Suspended License, is one of the most common Desk Appearance Tickets given out in New York City and also one of the most frustrating for the people accused. It is often frustrating because the people accused and put through the misery of the process are often not entirely to blame for the problem.
There are two primary sources of the horror associated with VTL 511, suspended license cases, both of them related to the bureaucracy of the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles. Both primary sources of horror start with a driver getting some sort of moving violation regular ticket somewhere in New York. It goes downhill from there.
the ultimate horror - The New York Driver Assessment Fee
In this scenario, the driver properly pays the moving violation ticket. But thanks to an poorly conceived separately charged and billed fee from the New York DMV, there is an opportunity for miscommunication. The address is wrong or the the bill gets lost in the mail. You name it. It happens. Driver never gets the bill. Driver's from out of state have no way really of even knowing to expect the bill. In state drivers are expected to know about it because it exists as a law on the books. Right. Either way, the $25 fee doesn't get paid, but the driver, having paid the ticket, assumes all is well.
Once the bill goes out, the DMV expects to get paid. If it doesn't get paid, it suspends the license of in state drivers or suspends the "privilege" of out of state drivers. That's right, VTL 511 also applies to people from out of state who are privileged to drive in New York because they are licensed elsewhere. That privilege can be suspended just like a license. This assessment is an almost ridiculously small amount, but the failure to pay it will result in suspension of the license or suspension of the privilege just the same.
So the next time the driver gets stopped in New York, the license or privilege will show up as suspended and the person will be arrested. Typically, this will result in a Desk Appearance Ticket being issued, although not always. Some people will be processed through the regular arrest to arraignment process in NYC. This can be an especially nightmarish experience for someone from out of town, whose "privilege" was suspended long ago, and who is driving through now on vacation with the family. Put the vacation on hold for about five hours or so while daddy or mommy gets arrested, but don't worry, it will probably be Desk Appearance Ticket.
Horror number 2 - Failure to get notice of impending suspension
The second similar horror story involves a mix of driver's oversight and DMV error. Driver gets moving violation. Driver fails to pay ticket for some reason. DMV is supposed to send out notice that license is or will be suspended. Notice doesn't make it to driver for some reason. DMV suspends license or privilege. Next time person is stopped in New York, and this can be years and years later when the ticket is a distant memory for an out of state person, the person is arrested. Again, the person will typically "only" get a DAT. (Getting a DAT doesn't mean you aren't arrested and doesn't make being arrested fun.)
If you find yourself in the middle of either of these nightmare scenarios, you should know that there is hope. It is not a joke, to be sure. You are charged with a crime and you are forced now to contend in the arena of criminal court, where you may not have experience. So you need to pay attention. And yes, you will need a lawyer.
The good news is that not only is the prognosis here pretty good, but that your legal expenses, even for an established criminal defense lawyer are not likely to be extraordinary. Cases like these are not going to require long nights of feverish preparation of intricate cross examinations of hard boiled homicide detectives. Long research memos are not likely to be necessary. In short, even the most experienced lawyers are likely to be more affordable than you imagine simply because the time required to solve the problem to most people's satisfaction will not be extraordinary. A lawyer's fee is usually related to the time required. Less time means less money for you. So yes, you will benefit from the insights of a criminal defense lawyer and having an experienced lawyer with you will give you greater peace of mind and make you more confident about the outcome. At the same time, you should not expect the need to spend enormous amount of money for legal fees.
So what can this mean for you? It means that in many, if not most cases, it is possible to resolve your case in a way that solves the three biggest concerns that people have when accused of crimes: 1) I don't want to go to jail; 2) I don't want a criminal record; and 3) I want this to be over with as soon as possible.
For example, for people who are uninterested in pursuing the matter to a trial, we are usually able to resolve these cases with a settlement involving a no points traffic infraction (non criminal) and a small fine. You should realize that paying such a fine on such a settlement in Criminal Court will not clear your troubles with DMV. DMV is a separate entity.
Adjournments in Contemplation of Dismissal (ACD), are not routinely made available by the prosecutors' offices in these cases, but we have occasionally arranged for them under unusual circumstances. Your lawyer will discuss the likelihood of such settlement when you speak to him or her. An ACD is a special negotiated resolution that involves no plea of guilt to anything at all and after six months results in an outright dismissal and sealing.
Where failure on the part of DMV can be documented, an outright dismissal may also be possible, although the process and expense of pursuing this sort of thing often causes people to engage in a cost/benefit analysis that suggests that the no points infraction and small fine is a superior, if frustratingly unsatisfying result.
Contact with criminal court can have additional consequences on various aspects of your life that are not reflected in the three main concerns people have. Often there are consequences that people don't know about, such as potential employment or immigration related issues. It is important to review your situation with a lawyer for all of these reasons.
In addition, especially for people from out of town, there are concerns about the ability to engage a lawyer to appear in their place or to move the court appearance to a different date. Changing dates and arranging for lawyers to appear for you, while possible in some circumstances, needs to be arranged well in advance of the date of appearance. There are affidavits to be prepared and signed and people to try to get on the phone. This is possible and we do it frequently, but expecting to be able to get it done right the day before the appearance is a bit optimistic.
Long term Predictions for Suspended License Cases
Prognosis is good. You will live to see another day and you will not likely be haunted by this in your future, especially if you pay attention and deal with it right up front. It is a small problem that taken care of properly with the aid of a lawyer will not develop into a big problem.
For your free consultation with a lawyer from Shalley and Murray, call 718-268-2171.
BY: DON A. MURRAY, ESQ.
Don Murray is one of the founding partners of Shalley & Murray, a New York criminal defense law firm with offices in New York City and Westchester County. Mr. Murray is a member of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. He has been practicing criminal defense in New York for more than 20 years. Any questions or comments about this article or seeking representation on a Desk Appearance Ticket can be directed to him directly at 347-674-1549.