People v. Iverson and People v. Cucceraldo


Issue: Can a default judgment be entered against a defendant on a traffic infraction where the defendant has previously pleaded not guilty, demanded a trial, and received a written Parker warning, but then does not appear for the trial?

Held: No. The Judicial Hearing Officer did not have the authority, under V.T.L. § 1806-a (governing default judgments), to enter a judgment of guilt. That section of the V.T.L. states, “When a person has entered a plea of not guilty and has demanded a hearing, no fine or penalty shall be imposed for any reason, prior to the holding of the hearing . . . .” Default judgments are allowed where the defendant does not make the initial appearance. Thus, the consolidated cases had to be remitted for further proceedings.

CAL observes: A victory for due process and close textual analysis of a procedural statute. Judge Garcia, writing for the Court, found that the text was clear, plus supported by the legislative history, which showed the Legislature aimed to “motivate an appearance and entry of a plea on the original charge.” Thus, the entry of default had been erroneous. This was undoubtedly the right result, statutorily speaking, and perhaps was also animated by the government not taking any action to try the defendant in absentia on the trial date.

Ironically, the government attorney did not show up for oral argument (though did submit a brief).