NYC Administrative Code 19-190: Is New York City’s “Right of Way” and “Failure to Yield” Law Constitutional

New York City has good reason to enact laws to protect is residents, commuters and tourists. On any given day there are millions of people walking the streets and thousands of cars driving up and down the avenues. However, merely because the intent of the City Council is genuine does not mean that the laws it passes are constitutional, vague, legal or simply “OK.” An example of this is found in NYC Administrative Code 19-190. This “Right of Way” or “Failure to Yield” law has a great purpose, but its application and its legal foundation may have issues. At the time of this blog the Court of Appeals has not weighed in on the issues, but many New York City courts and judges, including those in Manhattan and Queens, have addresses what appears to be some glaring problems. While this blog entry by no means addresses the decision of the highest court in New York as no review has occurred, the following is recent decision from Queens County tied to the dismissal of AC 19-190.

Without cutting and pasting the entire statute, as briefly as can be stated, a driver of a motor vehicle is guilty of AC 19-190 when he or she fails to yield to a pedestrian or biker who has a right of way. If the motor vehicle causes contact with a person and causes a physical injury, the infraction is bumped up to a misdemeanor crime. The standard that can exonerate the driver or where the driver is not guilty of this crime is when he or she caused the injury, but it was not a result of the driver’s failure to exercise due care.

In People v. Ye, 2015QN063074 NYLJ 1202785383645, at *1 (Crim., QU Decided May 2, 2017), the defendant moved for a dismissal after he was charged with a “Failure to Yield” crime. As a preliminary matter, the Queens Criminal Court wanted to put to rest whether or not the offense was a strict liability crime. The decision rendered by the court and consistent with the Queens County District Attorney’s position was that it was not. Therefore, failure to exercise due care was an element that required proof beyond a reasonable doubt to secure a conviction. Obviously, unlike a strict liability standard, the prosecution cannot merely state one failed to exercise due care and point to the resulting physical injury. Instead, and again, prosecutors must establish how the accused actually failed this due care standard.

Following this reasoning, the Court then found that because a civil tort liability standard of ordinary negligence was utilized by the legislature, AC 19-190 was unconstitutional. Why is this relevant? Instead of requiring a mental intent element that one can confront, “utilizing a civil tort liability standard of ordinary negligence in a criminal case violates a defendant’s right to due process and his right to be presumed innocent by criminalizing conduct based upon what a ‘reasonable person’ may think or do irrespective of the subjective intent…of the person…” This civil tort standard has been rejected in both New York State Courts as well as the United States Supreme Court.

While the Court further analyzed why the civil tort standard rendered AC 19-190 unconstitutional and is a worthwhile read should you be arrested for or charged with this crime, until there is a Court of Appeals decision from New York’s highest court, lower and trial courts will be free to interpret the law as they deem fit.

To learn more about vehicular crimes and other offenses, this blog and Crotty Saland PC’s website provides a strong foundation.

Crotty Saland PC is a criminal defense firm founded by two former Manhattan prosecutors. The New York criminal lawyers at Crotty Saland PC represent clients in both VTL and NY PL crimes throughout New York City and the region.

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