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How traffic court works, or doesn’t, in a pandemic

A HANDICAP PLACARD, MVD AND METRO COURT: Last month, Caryl Mcharney “went to the zoo for my first outing in a year. Coming out I found a citation on my car in handicapped parking. My handicap placard had expired last March just when COVID shut the state down. I could pay the $350 fine immediately or make an appointment to appear in Metropolitan Court in person!”

“I had the notion with MVD shut down for personal visits things like my placard were on hold til we return to normal,” Caryl emails. “My bad.”

What followed was an Abbott and Costello “Who’s on First?” exercise in confusion, starting with Caryl pinning down the fact Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham shut Motor Vehicle Division offices in March 2020 and directed no penalties for expired plates, licenses, etc. Then there was a call to the state MVD office off Montgomery NE that got the placard renewed and in the mail, and a call to Bernalillo County Metropolitan Court that directed her to mail the ticket and copies of her expired placard to get an appointment to get the fine dismissed. But wait, then Caryl got a call that the charges had been dropped! It was soon followed by a letter saying because Caryl “had not resolved the matter in 14 days as directed I now owe them $500!”

It’s been a hard pandemic.

So for everyone wondering what is going on, and how this might help you, know first that New Mexico remains under the governor’s emergency order and her direction to waive penalties has not been revoked. And that many MVD transactions can be done online at mvd.newmexico.gov, including renewing a placard and making an in-person appointment, of which MVD has added capacity.

And that Metro Court is processing thousands of cases like Caryl’s every day, primarily on Zoom calls – more than 18,000 traffic and parking cases were filed just last year.

HOW TRAFFIC COURT WORKS UNDER COVID: Camille Baca, public information officer for the court, says, “If you recently received a traffic or parking citation, here’s how “Traffic Court” works during COVID times:

• If you choose to contest your ticket in court, your citation may say you need to report to the courthouse on a given date and time. This is NOT the case at this time.

• Once law enforcement files your ticket(s), the court will mail you a notice of Virtual Traffic Arraignment that lists a date, time, phone number and PIN to call in. Please note the court will mail this notice of virtual hearing to the address on your citations. If you need to update your mailing address with the court, call: 505-841-8151.

• You will not go before a judge virtually at this listed date and time. Instead, this is an opportunity to speak with a special prosecutor appointed by the Bernalillo County district attorney who is available to discuss options in your case and negotiate a possible plea agreement with you. The special prosecutor is not a court employee and will speak with you only on the date and time on the notice.

• If you decide to take your case to trial after speaking with the special prosecutor, you will receive a second notice in the mail listing the date, time and Zoom information for your virtual trial. The officer and possible witnesses will also be summoned to the Zoom trial.

• If you enter into a plea agreement with the special prosecutor, you will have to go before a judge virtually down the road, no pun intended. You will receive a notice of virtual plea hearing with the needed information to appear over video or by phone. Metro Court also lists the call-in and video information for each judge on the homepage of its website. Please call the court at (505) 841-8151 if you encounter any issues or with any questions.

• If you plead guilty or are found guilty of the charges, there are options for complying with your sentence without ever having to leave home. Driver Improvement School can be completed online, and court costs and fees can be paid on the computer or by mail.

Caryl says “MVD did send my new placards as promised” and “my son-in-law got a copy of (the case detail) showing it was dismissed without prejudice April 23,” just over a week after the citation was put on her windshield. Clearly one of the “plea agreement” options is dismissal in accordance with the governor’s orders.

But her son-in-law “phoned the Traffic Division” just to be sure “I no longer need worry I owe them $500.”

Can’t blame him.

Editorial page editor D’Val Westphal tackles commuter issues for the metro area on Mondays. Reach her at 823-3858; dwestphal@abqjournal.com; or 7777 Jefferson NE, Albuquerque, NM, 87109.


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