Plea-Deal Push May Not Matter In County

MAYVILLE – A controversial push by Gov. Andrew Cuomo to curb the number of speeding tickets reduced to nonmoving violations may have little impact in Chautauqua County.

The governor is looking to halt drivers caught speeding 20 mph over the limit from pleading down. The long-standing practice allows towns and villages to collect revenue from the fines while drivers avoid points on their licenses.

Cuomo also is looking to tack on an $80 surcharge to all nonmoving violations as the result of a plea deal, a move to ensure the state collects its fair portion of speeding tickets; the state does not see any revenue from speeding tickets pleaded down in court.

However, according to David Foley, Chautauqua County district attorney, aside from the surcharge the new standard would not have a big effect in the county.

Foley said drivers cited for speeding 20 mph over the limit in the county are not allowed to plead down in order to avoid points on their licenses.

“I have read what the governor is looking to do, and it seems we already do it,” the district attorney said. “I don’t think we are going to see any big changes in how we do things here.”

Foley said each county can set its own policies to handle plea deals. Some counties allow drivers caught speeding at any length to plead to a nonmoving violation, such as a parking infraction. Town and village courts, at their own discretion, then pocket revenue from the reduced charge.

That’s not the case in Chautauqua County for speeders caught going 20 mph over the limit. Drivers can plead down to a lesser charge in some instances, but all include points on the license.

Cuomo is looking to crack down on dangerous drivers who become chronic speeders. The governor noted plea deals do not show up on driving records for repeat offenders.

But many municipalities are calling Cuomo’s push a money grab and a circumvention of the local courts.

“I think the state just needs to leave well enough alone,” said Jesse Robbins, Busti town supervisor. “I know the state needs money, but they’re always taking it from the little guys like us.”

Although largely unaffected by the potential change, Robbins said any loss in revenue through its plea deals would put a strain on the town.

“It’s not a lot but it definitely would hurt,” he said. “You can’t count on the court system to make money, so we do need this to break even.”

Local leaders throughout the county have expressed disdain with the plan.

“It would certainly hurt us if we lost that money, as it would a lot of municipalities,” said Laura Cronk, Ellington town supervisor.

Cecil Miller, Ellicott town supervisor, said he was wary over the reasoning for the crackdown, calling the governor’s push a means to collect more money from local municipalities. Miller added that plea deals over speeding tickets should be left up to the judges and not the state.

“I have complete faith in our judges that they’re making the right decisions,” Miller said. He noted that if revenue typically generated through reduced speeding tickets was lost, towns and villages across the state would likely need to seek the money elsewhere.

“We would have to make cuts or raise taxes, and I know the governor is against raising taxes,” Miller said.

Foley, meanwhile, said if less pleas are accepted when it comes to speeding tickets, courts across the state could see an influx in caseloads. The extra cases could jam an already backlogged system, he said.

“There could be an impact on the courts,” Foley said.