We get asked many of the same basic questions about pink summonses quite often. It is quite likely that at least some of the questions you have are answered here.
- Can I Just Mail in the Fine and be Done with It?
- Can I Pay the Ticket Online?
- Can I Get the Case Advanced to an Earlier Date?
- What is that Slip of Paper they Ask Me to Sign?
- Who are the Judges?
- What Happens In Court?
- How Much are the Fines?
- Can Someone Else Appear for Me?
- What Happens if I don't Appear?
- What if I Can't Read My Summons?
- What if I Lost My Summons?
- What Should I do if I Missed My Appearance?
Unfortunately, in most situations, the answer is going to be no. There are actually a couple of pretty good reasons for this from the Court's perspective and one very good reason from your perspective.
From the Court's perspective, it is impossible to "just mail it in" in most cases, because even if you were allowed to plead guilty by mail, there is no set fine or punishment for you to pay. The punishment must be determined by a judge and is not something that is simply a set amount of money. In theory punishment even for non criminal offenses could be up to 15 days in jail. So there is no "the fine" to pay until the judge sets the amount of the fine.
Also, many of the offenses written up in pink summonses are actually crimes. Therefore, if you simply plead guilty and paid a fine by mail, you would be giving yourself a criminal record. That's not a good idea for any number of reasons. The primary exception to this general rule about mailing in pink summonses with payments is open container of alcohol cases. More recently this program has been expanded to include some other offenses. If eligible for this program, the police officer who gives you the ticket is supposed to provide a special form and instructions to you. If you have not been given a special form that explains that you can mail in a guilty plea plus some specified fine, then your working assumption should be that you must appear or have a lawyer appear for you. You may be able to obtain a copy of the form from the Court Clerk in the summons courtroom where you are being directed to appear.
You may have encountered a police officer who told you that you can mail in your summons. While it is unfortunately common for the police to say this, either because they actually believe it to be true or otherwise, it may not be true. As a general rule you must appear or have an attorney appear for you.
No. For the reasons discussed above, payment online would skip the step of a judge deciding what you were actually guilty of and deciding the appropriate punishment (usually fine).
Again, the police officer may have told you that you can pay it online. Sorry. Not true.
That depends on how much earlier you are talking about. If you are from out of town and you are leaving in two days, it is possible that the police officer told you that you can just go down to the court the next day and get it advanced. Sadly, this isn't true.
In order to understand why that isn't true, you need to think about how the process works. The police officer writes you a summons from a little book of summonses that he has. After he gives you the summons, you are aware of it because you have a copy, the police officer is aware of it because he wrote it, but the Court has no idea that the summons was even written yet.
The police officer has to turn in the ticket and have it processed in the police department, then the police department has to transmit the ticket to the court, then the court has to process the ticket. All of this takes time, and typically more than a couple of days. So when you run down the court the day after you got a summons, the court clerk is going to have no idea about your summons. Your copy is not something that the Court will act upon. The bottom line is that you will not be able to accomplish anything.
On the other hand, if by "earlier" you mean a couple of weeks earlier, that is something that you might be able to do. Depending on the discretion of the court clerk, and the availability of the court file, it is often possible to advance summons cases as long as you are within about two weeks of the scheduled date. As a general rule, as long as you within about two weeks of the scheduled date, the court clerks are willing to accomodate advancing of summons matters.
In order to request this, you would need to wait on line to speak to the clerk at the courthouse where the summons is returnable and ask permission to have the case advanced. Assuming the clerk has the file, and it isn't otherwise too busy, the clerks are often quite willing to advance the case for you.
When you check in with the clerk for your pink summons appearance, you will usually be handed a small slip of paper and asked to sign it. It may be described to you as something that you need to sign in order to have the case heard by the judge. If you actually read it, however, you will learn that in most cases the judges hearing these summons matters are called "Judicial Hearing Officers". What the slip of paper is trying to explain to you is that you in fact have the right to have your pink summons matter heard before an judge of the Criminal Court and not a Judicial Hearing Officer.
Most people, who simply want to resolve their summons matter that day and never deal with it again, are happy to have the case heard by anyone and so sign the document.
Strictly speaking, you do not HAVE to sign this document. If you would prefer to have your case heard in criminal court by a criminal court judge, you can simply decline to sign the document. Be warned that you may find that your case will be adjourned to another date and you will have to return on another day.
Typically, JHOs are retired judges with decades of experience on the bench. They are worthy of enormous respect for their years of dedication to our system of Justice.
Once you have checked in with the Clerk of the Court you will be directed to have a seat in the Courtroom to wait for your case to be called. As a general rule, cases are called in the order in which they are checked in, although a variety of factors can contribute to that order being disrupted. These courtrooms do tend to be quite busy with many cases on the calendar each day. Therefore, you should be prepared to wait a considerable amount of time for your case to be called.
Once your case is called you will be required to approach toward the Judge. The Judge will then be interested in knowing what your intentions are for the summons. That is, the judge is going to want to know whether you are interested in contesting the charges against you by trial or whether you are looking to resolve the case in some way. The judge may not put it exactly in those terms but this is the idea. You may hear something like "plead guilty or go to trial" or "plead guilty or not guilty".
Understandably, people who are not lawyers, who are unfamiliar with the court process and even perhaps a bit nervous, will occasionally hesitate at this question because they are not certain of the consequences.
If you tell the judge you are pleading "not guilty" the judge will frequently interpret this to mean that you want to have a trial. Your case will be set down for another date in order to notify the police officer who wrote the summons that he must appear for trial.
If you tell the judge that you are pleading "guilty" the judge will frequently interpret this as a sort of general statement that you would like to resolve the ticket in some way that might involve a fine perhaps, but not subject you to a criminal record. This is how in fact, most JHOs will interpret a "guilty" plea, although it is disconcerting as a lawyer to watch this process. The reason it is disconcerting is that many pink summonses are actually charging crimes and an offer to plead "guilty" up front, without any discussion of a negotiated settlement, simply leaves it to the judge to decide whether to reduce the charges to non-criminal versions so that the "guilty" plea doesn't give the person a criminal record. As a practical matter, I believe that JHOs are not routinely permitting people to plead guilty to crimes in this circumstance, but as a lawyer it is difficult to watch people charged with crimes declare themselves generally guilty before the judge. I am sure it usually works out just fine for people in this circumstance, but it might be worth clarifying with the JHO in advance. This is one of the reasons it is nice to have a lawyer representing you.
Ifyou plead "not guilty" and that is interpreted as a statement that you do not wish to negotiate and instead want to have a trial, the Court will alert the police officer to appear on another date. That will be the date where you will have your trial. If you choose to do this without a lawyer, you will be responsible for cross examination of the police officer as well as the presentation of the evidence in your favor. If you are not a lawyer, you are not likely to be able to do a satisfactory job of this, even if the facts are on your side.
Remember that the JHOs are enormously experienced judges who are used to having experienced trial counsel present cases to them. They sometimes can have little patience for inefficiently presented arguments, although they will usually afford some leeway to the non-lawyer. To have the highest chance of success in a trial, it just plain stands to reason that the assistance of a lawyer, whose job it is to understand the legal process, and whose job it is to know how to present cases to judges is important.
If you are interested in negotiating, and you are comfortable engaging the JHO in a discussion in court, you can attempt to negotiate your case with the judge instead of immediately answering the "guilty or not guilty" question.
Every offense has its own possible range of fines. Therefore it is impossible to list a schedule of offenses and penalties. Nevertheless, as a general rule individual fines in individual summons cases are often in the neighborhood of between $25 and $75. Where people are charged with multiple summonses, and in summons cases that charge certain offenses, those fines can either add up or be higher individually up to around $250. You should also remember that if you plead guilty to an offense from the New York Penal Law (like PL Section 240.20, disorderly conduct) you will be required to pay a mandatory surcharge (in other words, a tax).
Unless that "someone else" happens to be a lawyer, the answer is no. For most summons matters, the JHOs will permit an appropriately authorized lawyer to appear for the person named in the summons AND to resolve the matter on the person's behalf. That means that mom, dad, sister, brother, friend, husband, or wife will not generally be permitted to appear for another person, no matter how trivial the summons seems.
If you don't appear on the summons, the court will issue a warrant for your arrest. A warrant for a pink summons will probably not result in the deployment of a SWAT team to burst down your door, but you could well find it to be a most inconvenient embarrassment in the future. Your employer may discover the warrant in a background check, you may be challeged with the warrant upon entry into the United States after a trip abroad, or you may be confronted with the warrant upon being pulled over by a police officer for a routine traffic stop. It could even have an impact on your credit rating. All of these circumstances are far more unpleasant than dealing with the matter up front.
Occasionally, the police officer's handwriting may be illegible or the summons may become so worn that the date of appearance is no longer legible. If this is the case, you should first check to see if your summons is in the court system by checking online in webcrims. You can enter your summons number to see what the charges are and what date you must appear. Please be advised that all summons cases do not make it into the system. Also realize that it may yet be too early for the summons to have been entered into the system. Keep checking. You can also go in person to the clerk's office with the original summons and they might be able to help you, although they will not likely be able to help until the court is made aware of the original from the police officer. Please keep that in mind when making the trip down to the Court.
Losing the original pink summons is not a problem in and of itself, but if you don't have a copy, and don't have a summons number, it could be a little tricky to figure out when the summons requires you to be in court. You will need to go to the clerk's office and see if they will run your name and birthday in the system. Assuming the police officer spelled your name correctly and got your birthday right, and assuming that you have waited long enough for the original summons to make its way to court, the clerk may be able to get to the bottom of it for you. This may require more than one trip to the clerk's office, however.
You need to get to court to vacate the warrant. In most cases this will require your personal appearance. The Summons Courts will not usually detain those who voluntarily return on warrants.