One of our attorneys, Patrick Scully, from our Albany office, takes a look into the legal process for a DWI charge. He offered insight in relation to an officer’s accusatory instrument and how that affects our client’s cases.

A simplified traffic information is the type of accusatory instrument that is overwhelmingly used by law enforcement to commence a criminal action where a charge of misdemeanor Driving While Intoxicated or another type of traffic offense (both misdemeanor and non-criminal traffic infractions) is alleged.

An accusatory instrument is the document used to allege a person’s violation of a petty or criminal offense in a criminal court and commencement of a criminal action, thereon, in a criminal court.

A simplified traffic information is defined as a “written accusation by a police officer [or an authorized public servant] which charges a person with the commission of one or more traffic infractions and/or misdemeanors related to traffic, and which, being in a brief or simplified form prescribed by the commissioners of motor vehicles, designates the offense or offenses charged but contains no factual allegations of an evidentiary nature supporting such charge or charges.” Criminal Procedure Law § 100.10(2)(a). See also, Criminal Procedure Law § 1.20(5)(b).

The form prescribed by the commissioners of motor vehicles (i.e. the New York DMV) for a simplified traffic information is the same ubiquitous form used to charge virtually every speeding or red light ticket in recent collective memory.

Despite providing a simple – nearly fool proof – computerized form for the use of law enforcement, the choice of using a simplified traffic information instead of another type of accusatory instrument has numerous larger consequences on a criminal action’s overall outcome that are beneficial to the prosecution especially with regard to statutory speedy trial violations.

Pursuant to Article 30 of the Criminal Procedure Law, a person accused of a criminal offense (i.e. misdemeanor or felony) has the right to a speedy trial.  Failure to provide an accused with a statutory speedy trial results in the dismissal of the corresponding criminal action.

A violation of an accused’s statutory right to a speedy trial is established by whether the prosecution made an announcement of readiness for trial within specific timeframes enumerated in Criminal Procedure Law § 30.30(1).  This determination depends significantly on when the criminal action is deemed to have commenced.

A criminal action is generally deemed commenced by the filing of an accusatory instrument with a criminal court. Criminal Procedure Law §§1.20(16) & 1.20(17).  However, when a simplified traffic information is used by law enforcement as the chosen accusatory instrument, the commencement of a criminal action for statutory speedy trial purposes is often determined differently.

The reason for this outcome is a simplified traffic information not only comprises an accusatory instrument, but also an appearance ticket.  It should be noted that a simplified traffic information is often served upon an accused together with a separate and distinct appearance ticket.

The dual nature of a simplified traffic infraction as both an accusatory instrument and appearance ticket is the result of the form prescribed by the DMV for a simplified traffic infraction also satisfying the requirements for an appearance ticket set forth in Criminal Procedure Law § 150.10. People v. Solomon, 124 Misc.2d 33, 34 (Nassau Co. Dist. Ct. 1984). See also, 15 N.Y.C.R.R. § 91.7.

An appearance ticket is a written notice issued by law enforcement that requires the person to whom it is served to appear in local criminal court in response to an accusatory instrument alleging that person’s commission of a criminal act. Criminal Procedure Law §§ 1.20(26); 150.10.  It is typically used in lieu of the accused’s immediate arraignment in local criminal court.

When an appearance ticket is used, the general rule governing the commencement of a criminal action does not apply and, instead – exclusively for the purpose of statutory speedy trial calculation – the criminal action is not deemed commenced until the first appearance in local criminal court by the person to whom the appearance ticket was served. Criminal Procedure Law § 30.30(5)(b). See also, People v. Parris, 70 N.Y.2d 69 (1992); People v. Stirrup, 91 N.Y.2d 434 (1998).

Thereby, absent the accused’s appearance in local criminal court by another method, when an appearance ticket is issued, the timeframe in which the prosecution is obligated to make a timely announcement of trial readiness is substantially extended in that said obligation does not begin until the accused makes an appearance in local criminal court in response to the appearance ticket which – depending on the facts of a case – can mean the prosecution’s obligation to make a timely announcement of trial readiness is extended by years.

Because the accusatory instrument used to charge a misdemeanor Driving While Intoxicated offense is predominately a simplified traffic infraction and most persons arrested for the same are released from custody before arraignment, it is very rare that the government’s statutory obligation to provide such an accused with a speedy trial is not substantially extended past the time necessary to make such an announcement for most other types of criminal offenses.

The exclusive purpose of this article is educational and it is not intended as either legal advice or a general solution to any specific legal problem. Corporate offices for Nave DWI Defense Attorneys are located at 432 N. Franklin Street, Suite 80, Syracuse, NY 13204; Telephone No.: 1-866-792-7800. Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome. Attorney Advertising.