Traffic Violations Bureau
Traffic Violations Bureau, often abbreviated as TVB, is an arm of the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles. The bureau is entrusted with adjudicating non-criminal traffic violations in New York City as well as the cities of Buffalo and Rochester. Effective April 1, 2013, the Suffolk County TVB was replaced with the new Suffolk County Traffic & Parking Violations Agency. The rationale behind the establishment of this office was to offload the large volume of such cases from the regular courts.
Unlike a true court, the TVB is an administrative agency, with different procedures regarding elements ranging from rules of evidence to threshold for conviction. The function of the judge is carried out by an administrative law judge, or ALJ. The sole options are to plead guilty or not guilty: plea bargains are not conducted, nor can the judge reduce a charge or a penalty, only rule guilty or not guilty on the stated charge. The judge does have the authority to increase a fine, as well as to suspend a license. There is no absolute right to a supporting deposition, and rules on admissibility of hearsay evidence are far more lax than in regular court. Typically, the hearing consists simply of each side presenting its story, the allowance of hearsay negating the necessity of formalities such as sworn witnesses and the like.
Appeals are made not to a higher court, but to the Appeals Processing Unit of the DMV. The appeals fee of $10 is payable to the Commissioner of Motor Vehicles. If the appeal is against the guilty verdict itself, as opposed to only the penalty, a transcript must be ordered for an additional $50.
Because the rules of evidence, specifically the right of discovery and the admissibility of hearsay, are more lax than in normal court, the TVB system has often been characterized as a difficult or biased one. The absence of an option to plead to reduced charges, traditionally a staple of traffic court, has been especially criticized.
The threshold of conviction is "Clear and convincing evidence", in contrast to the general definition of proof beyond a reasonable doubt. It has been argued that this is a lower standard, making conviction easier. Conversely, the argument has been made that the more streamlined process, coupled with the judge being an expert on traffic law, makes for a fairer trial.
The New York State Department of Motor Vehicles has in the past noted that a 65% conviction rate is required to maintain the financial viability of the Traffic Violations Bureau System (Source: New York State Bar Association Committee on Administrative Adjudication).
The concept of administration adjudication was upheld by New York State's highest court, the Court of Appeals, in 1977 in a 4-3 decision in Rosenthal v. Hartnett.
The National Motorists Association assists motorists and offers attorney referrals to motorists appearing before the Bureau.