It’s hard to tell whether Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s proposal to severely restrict plea-bargaining on speeding tickets is motivated by his need for revenue or a concern for motorists’ safety. Ideally, both objectives would be realized, so it’s not a bad idea. But it’s not without risk, either.
When motorists plead a speeding ticket to a non-moving violation like “parking on pavement,” the fine they pay stays with the jurisdiction that collects it. But if there’s no plea bargain, the state gets the dough on a speeding conviction. Cuomo estimates that, even with the existing $80-$85 state surcharge on most nonmoving violations, the state loses $58 million annually on such plea bargains.
Of greater concern, motorists who are given plea bargains get away with an undeserved break: They’re not only likely to pay a lower fine, they don’t get points (which could be used to revoke their licenses) and their insurance companies (as well as government prosecutors in future violations) are unlikely to know that they’re unsafe drivers.
Why might they get the break? Because judges aren’t anxious to tie up their courts with trials and municipalities don’t want to give up fine revenue to the state.
Obviously, the localities that rely on this revenue will not be happy about having to give it up. And if speeders who now plead their tickets down to nonmoving, no-point “parking on pavement” violations are no longer allowed to, more of them may start seeking trials — a pretty costly consequence that might make prosecutors reluctant to do their jobs. That would not be good for anyone — the state, localities or motorists.
So Cuomo has to be mindful of the consequences of this change, and give a little if he has to, to make sure it doesn’t create more problems than it solves.