DMV hitting drivers with “zombie” traffic citations

LACKAWANNA, N.Y. (WIVB) – Out of the blue, drivers are getting fines from traffic tickets they received more than a decade ago, and unless they pay the fine, their driving privileges could be taken away.

In some cases, drivers may not have paid the original ticket. But Paul Fox, Jr. of West Seneca thought it was already taken care of when he got two old tickets that are 20 years old in the mail.

He received three letters from the State Department of Motor Vehicles over the weekend about two traffic tickets he received in Lackawanna in 1994. Fox then he found out other drivers are also getting notices about “zombie tickets” they got in Lackawanna years ago.

“One letter was for suspension of my license next month,” says Fox, who is a professional truck driver.

That notification put him on edge. The state DMV says Fox has 30 days to pay the fines for his old tickets or his Commercial Drivers License (CDL), which is necessary for his job, will be suspended.

Fox says, “They suspend my license, I lose my job. Now I can’t find a job, I am collecting unemployment. I’ve got to collect food stamps, and that is taxpayers’ money out of their pockets to support me.”

In March 1994, he was ticketed for a seat belt violation and driving an unregistered vehicle. Fox says he forgot to renew his registration, but police had the car towed, and he was required to get the vehicle registered before he could get his car back.

Fox claims he did pay the fines, but after 20 years it is going to be hard to prove.

“The fine is your punishment, and you’ve either pled guilty, or you have been found guilty, and you have not been punished yet,” says Williamsville attorney Steve Boyd.

He says old traffic tickets coming back from the dead is not just an issue in Lackawanna. Boyd says it happens all over the state and there is no time limit to collect the fines.

The Williamsville lawyer agrees, proving a zombie ticket is wrong can be a challenge.

“The very bank the check may have been written on may not exist anymore. Most people are supposed to keep records for seven years, so if you are talking 20 years, it is going to be really difficult for anyone to prove it,” he explains.

Court officials say with tickets and fines, drivers can get lost in the shuffle between local courts and the state DMV, and court notifications about the drivers go both ways.

Boyd says, “The statute of limitations only applies to issuing the ticket. Once you receive the ticket, and are found guilty, you have to pay the consequences, no matter how long it takes.”

If this is happening to you, officials say take it up with court officers, but do not ignore the notice, because getting a suspended driver’s license restored can be much tougher than fighting the citation in court.

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