More than 10,000 motorists cited for moving violations in Suffolk County since late last year have resolved their tickets through a virtual plea bargain system county officials say is the first of its kind in New York state.
The Suffolk County Traffic and Parking Violations Agency rolled out "TPLEAS" as a pilot program last fall, executive director Paul Margiotta told Newsday. He said officials have been working out kinks in the system since the beginning of this year. The vast majority of the more than 13,000 tickets issued since the pilot program began have been resolved through TPLEAS, he added.
"We are in full swing now," Margiotta said. "Now the biggest issue is getting the word out."
The program allows motorists to enter pleas and pay fines if necessary with a computer, smartphone or tablet at a time that is convenient for them, Margiotta said. Drivers can also ask prosecutors to review their cases, which could lead to plea bargains and reductions in charges, points, fines and fees.
"You could use this at three in the morning," Margiotta said. "You could do it on a Saturday afternoon."
Suffolk officials began looking into a virtual traffic court program before the start of the coronavirus pandemic but could not immediately find a vendor that could provide the necessary technology. Margiotta said county officials created the program to allow drivers to respond to tickets without having to take time off from jobs or classes.
"It is no secret that having to appear in-person at TPVA can be a real hurdle for many drivers," Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone said. "The COVID-19 pandemic has taught us that many critical services can be completed online, saving our residents’ time and money while recognizing they need flexibility with their busy lives."
The average number of moving violations issued in Suffolk before 2020 — which saw a deep dip in numbers because of the coronavirus pandemic — was 124,000, according to county officials. More than 128,000 moving violations were adjudicated in 2016.
Suffolk took in more than $21 million in fees and fines from moving violations in 2019, according to the county.
Under the new program, a clerk and a prosecutor review cases of motorists hoping for a plea bargain while also reviewing their driving histories and any other open matters motorists may have.
If a prosecutor determines that a plea bargain is appropriate, the motorist will receive an offer to review and sign electronically. Officials will set appearance dates at the Traffic and Parking Violations Agency if the motorist rejects the plea.
"With a traffic ticket, there was no way to get a plea without coming to court. People had to take a day off to avoid points," Margiotta said. "This is the way it should be. Who wants to come to court?"
Nassau officials hope to offer a similar program in the future, said David Rich, executive director of the Nassau County Traffic and Parking Violations Agency. The county, which does have a plea-by-mail system, has also struggled to find a vendor that can provide the required technology, he said.