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How to Beat a Park After Dark Ticket
What is a 'Park After Dark' Ticket?
New York City has its own set of rules and regulations when it comes to New York City Parks. Not only are most NYC residents unaware of park rules, but many tourists and visitors are absolutely shocked that the NYPD and Park Officers will issue summonses or tickets and in some cases, even arrest those in NYC parks in violation of NYC Park Rules and Regulations (NYC PRR).
Contrary to the language frequently used on the summons, New York City’s Park After Dark Statute (NYC PRR 1-03) does NOT actually prohibit a person from being in the park after dark or dusk. The statute simply requires a person to obey any posted signs at the entrance or exit of a park and makes it clear that no one is permitted in the park between the hours of 1am and 6am.
The most frequent issuance of this summons is actually not between the hours of 1am-6am but instead, the hours immediately following the closing hours of the park (typically 9pm or 10pm). The biggest causes of confusion that lead to the issuance of these summonses are:
- The person is already in the park and is not aware that the park has "closed" because there is no alarm or alert to indicate the "closing";
- There was no signage at the point of entry to the park for the person to see when they initially entered the park;
- The person entered the park at some point other than the main entrance and failed to observe any signs indicating the park hours;
- The park's signage was impossible to read because it was already dark outside and the signage is not illuminated!
What You Need to Know!
Before taking on the NYPD, the NYC Criminal Court system and your summons, here's what you need to know:
- A Park After Dark summons is a Misdemeanor, punishable by up to 90 days in prison and a $1000 fine. If you are found guilty of this offense, you will have a criminal record and other consequences that go along with a misdemeanor conviction, including but not limited to: Inability to own a handgun, inability to obtain federal student loans, inability to obtain a green card, etc.
- Private criminal defense attorneys who handle Park After Dark summonses typically charge less than $1000 and not only do you not have to appear in court on your court date, you will have someone to keep you informed at all times about your case as it progresses through the court system.
- If you plan to plead NOT GUILTY to the Park After Dark charges, you will need to appear in court at least TWO times -- first for arraignment and then about a month later for the trial. If you won't be around for the trial date, don't request a trial!
- If you miss your court appearance, a BENCH WARRANT will be issued for your arrest. So if you can't make your court appearance date, be sure to hire someone who can!
Park After Dark Summons Example
Beating Your Summons
There are a few ways to defeat a Park After Dark summons. To the right, I have provided an actual Park After Dark ticket issued by the NYPD to compare with your own.
STEP ONE: Facial Insufficiency: The first method to earn a dismissal of your ticket is to discover some material defect in the summons. This is known as facial insufficiency -- on its face, the summons fails to properly allege facts leading to the possibility of a conviction. Examples of facial insufficiency include the issuing officer's:
- Failure to correctly describe the offense or statute of the offense;
- Failure to describe the facts (only available on the back of the original summons) leading to the issuance of the summons;
- Failure to correctly state the time, location and date of the occurrence;
- Failure to sign or date (at the bottom of the summons) the summons; or
- Failure to specify an accurate date and location (at the bottom of the summons) for the court appearance.
STEP TWO: Reviewing the Officer's Deposition: If the summons you were issued appears to be a valid summons and is free of errors, you can still choose to fight the summons by preparing your defense. The first thing you'll need to do is go down to the courthouse and examine the back of the summons to see if the officer accurately described the facts behind the alleged offense (known as the 'supporting deposition'). To do this, you will need to wait until about 2 weeks before your court date and make a request to the court clerk for a copy of the summons. Sometimes this information is contained on the back of the original so ask for a complete copy of the summons to be thorough. Read what the officer wrote and make sure that he or she indicated the hours of operation of the park (or at least the closing time). Occasionally, officers will simply indicate that you were in the park after closing, which isn't sufficient.
STEP THREE: Gathering Evidence: Once you have a copy of the officer's supporting deposition, you may choose to return to the park to make sure the officer's deposition is accurate. If the officer stated that the park closed at 9pm but the park sign says 10pm, the ticket should be dismissed, but only if you are able to obtain photographic proof that the officer's deposition was incorrect and provide a copy of it to the judge. For many parks, this information is available online at the NYC Parks Website.
STEP FOUR: Requesting a Trial: If you have researched the officer's deposition and performed your own investigation and determined that the summons was incorrectly issued to you, you will need to make TWO court appearances. The first one will be at your arraignment, which is the date listed at the bottom of the summons. If you believe you are not guilty, you may enter a plea of NOT GUILTY on your initial court date and the judge will give you a TRIAL DATE to return with your evidence.
- Do NOT request a trial if your only defense is to explain or provide an excuse to the judge about the reason you were in the park. Chances are, you will be found GUILTY.
STEP FIVE: The Trial: Your trial will take place in the same courtroom as your arraignment, although there may be a different judge. Most judges do police trials from 10-11am, but to be safe you should be in court by 9am. The police officer who issued you the summons must be present in order to proceed with a trial. If the officer is not present when the court calls your case (and you are present), your case will be DISMISSED. This is a fantastic outcome. If the police officer is present, the trial will begin. He or she will testify as to the allegations against you and the public defender will help you cross examine the police officer. After the officer finishes testifying, it is your turn to testify. Once you finish testifying, the judge will make a finding of either GUILTY or NOT GUILTY.
Under Mayor DiBlasio's administration in 2015 and beyond, one can expect to see a dramatic rise in Park After Dark summonses because of his aggressive oversight of potential discrimination by the NYPD. Because of this, there have been allegations and numerous anecdotal reports that the NYPD is being pressured to issue summonses in equal ratios reflecting the demographics of the city by the race of the defendants.
This would mean that assuming the city was 1/3 hispanic, 1/3 black and 1/3 white, if the police issued 1 open container summons to a hispanic person and 1 marijuana summons to a black person, they would need to issue a summons to a white person in order to not raise any flags about discriminatorily targeting minorities.
Because many tourists to NYC are white Europeans, they (and other whites) would be prime targets for the NYPD and finding tourists in NYC Parks after hours is like shooting fish in a barrel, particularly because they are usually in large groups. The most insidious thing about this practice is the fact that NYPD could completely overlook non-whites in the park after dark and specifically target whites in order to balance out their numbers.
What to Do Next?
Now that you have an understanding of what a Park After Dark summons is, why it was issued to you and how to review your summons for facial defects and errors, you are in a much better position to make a decision about what to do next. Here are a few common scenarios:
- Non-U.S. Citizens/International Tourists: If you won't still be in New York (or even the U.S.) for your scheduled court date, you WILL need to hire an attorney to handle your case for you. If your attorney appears on your behalf, you will NOT need to return to New York to have your case adjudicated. Be aware that if you do not appear in court and you do not hire an attorney to appear on your behalf, a bench warrant for your arrest will be issued and it may prevent you from returning to the United States or result in your arrest and detention upon re-entry.
- U.S. Citizens but Not New York Residents: If you don't plan to be in New York for your scheduled court date, you WILL need to hire an attorney to handle your case for you. If your attorney appears on your behalf, you will NOT need to return to New York to have your case decided. Be aware that if you do not appear in court and you do not hire an attorney to appear on your behalf, a bench warrant for your arrest will be issued and it may act as an obstacle in obtaining employment in other states and can lead to your arrest upon your return to New York State.
- NY State (but not NYC) Residents: If you don't plan to be or cannot be in New York City for your scheduled court date, you WILL need to hire an attorney to handle your case for you. If your attorney appears on your behalf, you will NOT need to return to New York City to have your case decided. Be aware that if you do not appear in court and you do not hire an attorney to appear on your behalf, a bench warrant for your arrest will be issued and it may act as an obstacle in obtaining employment and can lead to your arrest and detention if stopped by police for any reason at any time.
- NYC Residents: If you can appear in court on your scheduled court date, you have the option of going forward with a public defender. Be advised that you will NOT be given an opportunity to speak with the public defender prior to appearing before the judge and that you will have only a few seconds to consult with the public defender to make a decision about whether to plead guilty or not guilty. For many defendants, this high-pressure situation combined with the stress and inconvenience of appearing in court is not worth the uncertainty of self-representation. You have the right to have a private attorney appear on your behalf so that you do not have to miss a day of work.
About the Author
New York Criminal Defense Lawyer and HubPages Contributor Jason Stern has been practicing law for 20 years and has been featured in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Good Morning America, Fox News, CNN and countless other media. His HubPages How-To's and legal educational articles have been viewed by nearly 100,000 readers and he always offers FREE telephone consultations to all HubPages readers who mention HubPages. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or via his website 346BroadwayLawyer.com.