Out-of-state resident challenges 'vague' law

BATH — After a near two-year court battle, an alleged speeder's conviction has been overturned.

On June 3, 2017, Ravi Bollu, a resident of New Jersey, was pulled over for speeding in the Town of Cohocton and issued a ticket. Bollu pled not guilty through his attorney in Town Court, and waived his right to be present at trial.

However, according to Steuben County Court documents, the local justice refused Bollu's waiver, which was later challenged in County Court, and Bollu's guilty plea was vacated.

When the case was returned to local court, Bollu again sought to waive his right to be present at trial. The second time however, the District Attorney's office objected. Citing an inability to have a partial trial without the defendant, the local justice again denied the waiver.

The Justice further explained that "the biggest problem according to the resource center is that when testifying that (sic) the Trooper would have no way of identifying the defendant under oath."

Bollu's plea was changed to guilty by his attorney on Oct. 10, 2017, and he was fined $183. The attorney then appealed the case, arguing that the local court's decision violated a previous county court order to recognize the waiver, out of line with his constitutional rights to due process.

In his decision to overturn the conviction, Judge Philip Roache instead cited the ambiguity of the statute governing a defendant's appearance at trial. The sticking point was a lacking definition of what represents a fair objection by the prosecution. He also decided on the limits of the prosecution to challenge a waiver of presence in court.

"Based on the Constitution and case law that has developed around this issue, this Court finds that a District Attorney may object to the defendant's waiver or a court may reject the defendant's waiver, only when the proposed waiver document does not comport with statutory requirements or when there is insufficient proof that the waiver is knowingly, voluntarily and intelligently made," the decision stated.

As a result of the decision the conviction on the charge of speeding was reversed.

The lesser severity of the speeding charge was also noted in the decision to dismiss the conviction, according to the decision shared by the defense on Monday. 

The case for the defense was handled by Zev Goldstein, Esq. of Monsey, N.Y.