Bottom Line
Road Law
Don’t sign in the red box

By Jeff McConnell & James Mennella
Attorneys at law

 

We’ve written about the state of New Mexico’s traffic citation procedures before, but we wanted to give an update on a very interesting case regarding a particular OOIDA member and the three-year legal journey we recently completed. Because many drivers continue to have the same questions about similar New Mexico traffic citations, we wanted to share the results.

First, a little background on New Mexico’s citation procedures.

New Mexico may be the only state in the nation whose actual traffic ticket allows a driver to plead guilty to a particular charge right on the side of the road by signing the red Penalty Assessment box on the front of the ticket. By signing the Penalty Assessment box, you, the driver, are “acknowledging guilt of the offense charged and your options as explained to you by the officer.”

Don’t get us wrong. You certainly have the right to plead guilty to a New Mexico traffic offense on the side of the road if you want to. The problem occurs when the officer fails to explain your options and requires you to sign the Penalty Assessment box even though you wanted to contest the ticket in court. Now what do you do?

Q: I recently received a ticket in New Mexico. The officer gave me the ticket and told me to sign the Penalty Assessment box on the front of the ticket or I’d go to jail. I signed the box, but I didn’t want to plead guilty to the charge. Can I still go to court and contest the ticket?

A: No. You no longer have the option of going to the particular New Mexico magistrate or metropolitan court to contest the ticket. You pleaded guilty to all charges listed on the ticket when you signed the Penalty Assessment box. However, if your plea of guilty wasn’t voluntary – i.e., the officer told you to sign the Penalty Assessment box – there may still be hope.

Recently, we were successful in having a New Mexico district court remand or send back a Penalty Assessment ticket to a lower court for review, where we got the case dismissed.

WARNING: Having a Penalty Assessment case remanded back to a lower court for disposition took three years and many, many hours to accomplish.

To say the least, this remanding process is very difficult and can work only in cases where you signed the Penalty Assessment box against your will. This procedure will not work when you voluntarily sign the Penalty Assessment box and later determine you made a mistake.

Remember, to prevent a fatal mistake in New Mexico, don’t sign the red Penalty Assessment box on the front of the citation. Instead, simply sign the bottom of the ticket and tell the officer you want a court date. Then, if you change your mind and want to plead guilty later, you can. LL

 

Send any questions or comments regarding transportation law to: Jeff McConnell and James Mennella, Road Law, 3441 W. Memorial, Suite 4, Oklahoma City, OK 73134, call
405-242-2030, fax 405-242-2040, or e-mail roadlaw@att.net.

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