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New York Legislature Cracks Down on State Police
The New York state legislature votes to force police to accept plea bargains for traffic tickets.

Assemblyman Lentol and Governor Pataki
New York state legislators have fought back against an attempt by state police to increase the burden and cost of traffic tickets for motorists. Assemblyman Joseph R. Lentol (D-Brooklyn) and Senator John J. Bonacic (R-Mt. Hope) introduced legislation to overturn a September 1 order of the New York State Police Superintendent forbidding troopers from negotiating plea bargains on traffic tickets.

Under the old rules, motorists who intended to challenge a traffic ticket in court might be offered a deal. A trooper could, for example, accept plea of guilty for a lesser offense that does not carry points instead of a full speeding ticket that carries points and a heavy driver's responsibility tax. This avoided a court battle for the officer while the motorist received a break. Police officials openly questioned the ethics of this practice.

"I find it difficult to believe that State police brass let a policy go on for years while they privately believed it to be repugnant or unethical," Bonacic said. "I think there is a different motive in this policy change."

State police management suggested that local municipalities should hire their own full-time prosecutors so that the force would not have to spend as much of its budget on overtime payments for troopers working in court.

"I'd rather invest $1 million locally to put more police on the street, than put $1 million worth of lawyers in traffic courts," Bonacic said. "Anytime you are paying two law enforcement officials to obtain the same result it used to take just one of them to obtain, the taxpayer is getting a raw deal."

Having passed the state Assembly and Senate by wide margins, the bill has awaits Governor George E. Pataki's (R) signature.

Article Excerpt:
IN ASSEMBLY April 12, 2006

Introduced by M. of A. LENTOL -- read once and referred to the Committee on Codes -- committee discharged, bill amended, ordered reprinted as amended and recommitted to said committee

AN ACT to amend the executive law, in relation to prohibiting certain plea bargain limitations

The People of the State of New York, represented in Senate and Assembly, do enact as follows:

Section 1. The executive law is amended by adding a new section 231 to read as follows:

231. Prosecution of violations of the vehicle and traffic law. The division of state police shall make no rule or regulation nor shall otherwise limit a member of the state police's ability to modify or recommend the modification of a charge before a court relating to a violation of the vehicle and traffic law. In addition, a member who has issued a citation or uniform traffic ticket (hereafter referred to as the "issuing member") to a person for committing a violation of the vehicle and traffic law, or another member acting at the request of the issuing member, shall be authorized to appear before the court where such violation is returnable on behalf of the people of the state of New York, at a date designated by the court, and recommend to the court the modification of the original charge or charges.

2. This section is not intended to affect any plea bargain limitations otherwise provided for in this chapter or other law of this state, including, but not limited to, those limitations set forth for the alleged commission of a violation of article thirty-one of the vehicle and traffic law.

2. This act shall take effect immediately.

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