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What Fighting a ticket in a NY Traffic Court and Muhammad Ali have In Common

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Muhammad Ali. Unquestionably one of the greatest fighters of all time. Confident, skilled, and fierce, he fought for 21 years. But it’s not the sheer skill and brutality of a young Muhammad Ali that creates commonalities between him and New York traffic court. It was his intelligence and wisdom gleaned as he became an older pugilist which creates parallels between Ali and traffic court.

As Ali aged, he realized that he did not have the stamina and strength to take on opponents head on. Ali realized that if he did not change his tactics he would not last much longer in the ring. Ali had to do something to marshal his years of skill to give him a competitive edge.  What Ali designed was a new boxing tactic he called “rope a dope.”

Ali’s rope a dope technique was designed to extend the bout and in the process tire his opponent out while conserving his energy and strength.  He executed on this technique by leaning into the ropes and assuming a protective posture while allowing his opponent to hit him. Because the ropes were elastic they, and not Ali, absorbed much of the energy of the blows. Ali would let this go on round after round and when his opponent was worn out and tired Ali would exploit that, counter-attack, and win the fight.

In traffic court sometimes the best way to handle an overly aggressive prosecutor is to utilize the rope a dope technique. Our office just did this for a client in the Plattsburg Town Court in Clinton County. Our office was retained back in 2013, the client being charged by the New York State Police with speeding 10 MPH over the limit, 65 MPH in a 55 MPH zone. Had the work zone not been erected the organic speed limit would have been 65 MPH. In other words, in this case if the state could not prove the element of Work Zone then the entire case would have to be dismissed, because my client was traveling under the regularly posted speed limit.

The Clinton County District Attorney prosecutes all traffic tickets in Clinton County, and the office has a policy of not plea bargaining speeding in work zone. However, the allegation of the speed was written so imperfectly that we were confident that a motion to dismiss would have been granted. So, way back in 2013, we called the Clinton DA, explained our thoughts, produced our clients clean driving record, and asked that perhaps under the circumstances he could find it in his heart to offer a reduction. NO, was his resounding answer.

So do you know what we did after that in 2013. NOTHING! You see, a case can only get BETTER for a motorist the longer the case drags on. For example, the police officer can retire. Or get fired. Or the District Attorney can lose his next election and the new guy has a different take on it. Whatever could possibly happen, nothing can get worse then “plead your client guilty to the top charge.” It can only get BETTER from that point.

The court wrote us a few times regarding whether we were going to accept the offer to plead guilty “as charged” and if not whether we wanted a court date for our client. We “rope a doped” the case by not responding to the letter, as the court does not need our permission to set up a trial date. Our plan was to wait until the court gave us a date and then return a motion to dismiss for that date. Again, the longer the better, as the longer it drags on the additional ground for dismissal for violation of speedy trial rights accrue.

Then, on June 6, 2015 lightening struck. That was the day that convicted murderers Richard Matt and David Sweat escaped from the Clinton Correctional Facility located in the Village of Dannemora in Clinton County. Upon seeing the esteemed Clinton County District Attorney doing press conference after press conference from the woods of Clinton County surrounded by State Police in flak jackets and sporting automatic weapons, it dawned us that perhaps it was time to come off the ropes and go for the knock out.  We immediately called the court and requested a calendar date. Then, we wrote to the ADA and advised him that we had requested a calendar date in this case which was now 2 YEARS OLD. We also advised that we would be making a motion to dismiss which he would of course have to take time out of his day to oppose. Lastly, we explained to him that we realized that he likely had better things to do so if he were so inclined despite the strength of our client’s case we would be happy to allocute to a reduced offer if he so chose to extend one.

I think the Clinton District Attorney’s Office may have overnighted the offer, because it was in our office before you could say “Shawshank Redemtion.” The reduction made perfect sense to our client (remember, no matter how strong of a case you believe you have you can always lose), so we accepted the reduction, wrapped the case up, and did not exhaust any of the Clinton DA’s time from his continuing search of the woods for Matt and Sweat.

Many of our clients want us to wrap the case up FAST!!! However, this case illustrates the value of taking your time with difficult cases rope-a-doping overly aggressive prosecutors and courts.  A legal issue which could lead to a dismissal is not going to go away over time and in fact only gets stronger. If the case does go to trial memories fade with the passage of time they do not get stronger. When a case in which an offer for reduction is not made, or it is made but does not make sense in your situation, time is always on your side.