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Watch a video of an OATH judge explaining The Settlement Conference.

The Settlement Conference

When you arrive for your hearing, you will first have an informal settlement conference. At the settlement conference you may settle and have your car returned if the police make an offer to do so, and if you agree with the terms of the offer.

The conference is guided by an OATH judge. If you are not comfortable with English, tell the judge. The OATH judge will dial in a person on the phone who will translate the conference.

The judge who guides the settlement conference will NOT be the same one who presides at the hearing. This means you can work on the settlement without being concerned that the judge will use information from the conference at the hearing.

Note: Before the conference, you may meet a lawyer for the police department. If he or she tries to talk to you about your case, you can politely state that you would rather not speak without an OATH judge present.

For the conference you will sit at a table. The judge is at the end, and you and the police are opposite each other. The police should give you a set of papers. This is the evidence they will present at the hearing. Look at the papers and ask questions. If there is anything in the papers you don’t understand, the OATH judge will explain it to you. The judge will also explain the formal hearing process and help you decide whether to go ahead with the hearing or to work out a settlement.

The OATH conference judge may ask for a private conversation (caucus) with you, and then with the police. You can also ask the OATH judge for a private conversation, if that would be helpful.

There is an important difference between settling with the police at the conference and winning release of the car at the hearing. If you win at the hearing, you will get your car back without any conditions attached. But, the police may later choose to go to court to get a state court judge to award them permanent ownership of your car. This is called "forfeiture."

If you settle, the police will not bring a forfeiture proceeding. However, there may be some conditions you have to fulfill before you get your car back. If you settle with the police, you may have to pay them before they will give your car back. Settlement offers in previous cases have ranged in amounts, so you should try to negotiate. Important factors may be the type of crime involved, the value of the car, and any storage fees charged up to this point. You should bring an estimate of your car's value to the conference. You can look at the Kelley Bluebook's website for an estimate on the car's value. Make sure that the settlement amount takes account of any fees you have to pay at the pound or for having your car towed. This is usually about $75.

If the criminal charge is DWI, there are special guidelines for settlements. Visit the DWI section of the website to review them. For example, you might have to go for an evaluation and possibly participate in a treatment program. You will be responsible for paying for this treatment. To find a treatment program, please refer to New York State Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services (OASAS) website. Note: You should coordinate any DWI programs with your criminal attorney. That way you may only have to complete one program to get your car back and to fulfill the requirements of your criminal case.

If you prefer, you have the choice to surrender your car to the police, or to the lender or bank that owns your car. You can then cancel your insurance. If you so choose, your plates will be returned to you.