The great British jurist Sir Edward Coke has been quoted as stating regarding corporations that, “It is a fiction, a shade, a nonentity, but a reality for legal purposes. A corporation aggregate is only in abstracto–it is invisible, immortal, and rests only in intendment and consideration of the law.”
Perhaps because of the view that corporations solely exist by virtue of the law — as opposed to actual living, breathing people — the New York Legislature has decided that a corporation must be represented by an attorney in criminal matters, including corporate summonses when required to appear in New York courts. Thus, pursuant to Criminal Procedure Law section 600.20:
S 600.20 Corporate defendants; prosecution thereof. At all stages of a criminal action, from the commencement thereof through sentence, a corporate defendant must appear by counsel. Upon failure of appearance at the time such defendant is required to enter a plea to the accusatory instrument, the court may enter a plea of guilty and impose sentence. . . .
Corporations are commonly charged in summons court with fire or building code violations as well as violations concerning commercial vehicle operations. If not properly handled, judges are authorized to simply enter a guilty plea on a corporation’s behalf and impose whatever fine they feel is justified given the offense.
The process of hiring an attorney to handle such matters is relatively simple compared to the hassles associated with mounting ticket and summons debt. Once your attorney has a copy of the summons, they can advise you as to the fine range and seek to minimize exposure by offering advice as to remedial measures the corporation may take. Thus, although it may not seem fair to the directors of a corporation to have to hire an attorney for relatively minor infractions, an attorney can actually reduce your liability and assist in handling the matter in the most efficient manner possible.
If you have questions about a citation or summons your corporation has received, you should contact the corporate summons attorneys at Galluzzo & Arnone LLP.