That's Not the Ticket

Whether out of ineptness or malice, Dallas police officers sometimes add charges to a traffic citation after they've handed the driver his copy. The driver finds out after he sends in his fine (for a burned-out tail light, say) and later receives a notice threatening him with arrest if he fails to pay the fine for some other offense he did not even realize he'd been accused of committing (failing to wear a seat belt, say). This is not only irritating but unconstitutional: It violates the Sixth Amendment right "to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation." Although Dallas Police Chief David Kunkle told The Dallas Morning News "he does not believe the department has a widespread problem" with ex post facto ticket alteration, the truth is he has no way of knowing:

Several things can happen when people discover an officer has cited them with a violation that doesn't appear on their copy of the ticket.

Some complain to the courts and the additional charges are dropped, but don't file complaints with the police department. Some pay the fines without complaint, and some can't prove a ticket has been tampered with because they do not save their copies.

These things make it difficult to assess the scope of such ticket-writing practices...

"We write about 400,000 tickets a year," [Kunkle] said. "We don't know the numbers of these [illegally altered citations] because the tickets are going to look normal to us coming in."

"You're only going to see the problem if you try to look at the copy of the citation the citizen got vs. the one that went to the municipal court system," Chief Kunkle said.

Having received a speeding ticket in Dallas, I can testify that it's nearly impossible to decipher one of the city's citations (or figure out how big your fine is) even if the officer remembers to mark down all the charges. Here's a solution that might address both problems:

The department is also working on a long-range plan to move to a system where tickets are filed electronically, with a printout handed to the ticketed person, thereby limiting the chance of any errors or tampering.

The short term looks less promising:

After receiving inquiries from The News, police officials said they plan to issue a memo reminding officers that altering charges on a citation isn't acceptable.

[Thanks to Michelle Shiinghal for the tip.]

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  • ||

    But they can still make shit up as long as they wright it down right?

  • Plant Immigration RIghts Suppo||

    I wonder how it would impact traffic tickets if everyone just demanded a trial by jury and refused to sign the paperwork shoved in their face by a cop without a lawyer present from now on. I would love to see that. I don't get many tickets by the way. I speed but have only ever once gotten a speeding ticket.

  • Brave new world-citizen||

    The point of the system is to improve community relations with the police. If a motorist knows this might happen, he'll be more friendly to the cop in the hope that the cop won't apply ex-post-facto charges. Friendlier motorists, friendlier cops. Everyone wins.

  • the innominate one||

    The point of what system is to improve community relations with the police? The systematic violation of the constitution by adding charges post hoc? Hopefully, you're joking.

    FWIW, in Florida, only 1 violation is supposed to be listed per ticket. Perhaps Texas should do something similar.

  • ||

    PIRS
    I'll contest a ticket for at least the first round if it's local. Half the time the cop doesn't show up and it's dismissed. Trouble is, most times I get a ticket its when I'm driving cross country.

  • mostlygenius||

    Ok so on the one hand we have a trivial infraction (a broken tail light) and on the other side we have the police filing a false report (felony?, fraud?, perjury?) and the best we can hope for is to get the ticket dismissed?

  • brave||

    innominate: yes, and yes.

    Why are H&R readers so easily trolled that they even recruit trolls from their own ranks?

  • ||

    After receiving inquiries from The News, police officials said they plan to issue a memo reminding officers that altering charges on a citation isn't acceptable.

    Police supervisor: Hey, how's it going. Didn't you get the memo? We're requiring a new cover sheet for the TPS* memo from now on. Why don't you, go ahead, and include that cover sheet from now on, mm'kay?

    Oh, and I'm going to need you to come in on Saturday.

    Ticket Protection System

  • ||

    After receiving inquiries from The News, police officials said they plan to issue a memo reminding officers that altering charges on a citation isn't acceptable.

    That's good, because this is one of those subtle aspects of law enforcement that is so easy to forget. Maybe they should include on the memo a reminder that it isn't acceptable to cite motorists for infractions they haven't committed, just in case officers have forgotten that aspect of their job as well.

  • Abdul||

    I wonder how it would impact traffic tickets if everyone just demanded a trial by jury and refused to sign the paperwork shoved in their face by a cop without a lawyer present from now on. I would love to see that.

    Do you realize that if you don't sign, you're basically saying that you want a hearing with a magistrate right away? And the only way for the officer to gurantee you that hearing is to detain you until the magistrate is free? And if this happens on a friday night, the Magistrate won't be in until the next monday?

    Signing the ticket isn't an admission of guilt, and doesn't void a single right. You can still get a hearing on the charges if you want one.

  • Brainy cop||

    All this would be solved with a an IQ requirement of 130 for police officers.

  • ||

    It's nice to know that the Dallas police need to be reminded that committing a crime is "unacceptable." Sounds like Dallas is competing with our cops in Chicago for "who can commit more crimes than they prosecute."

  • ||

    Good luck with that, Brainy Cop, just ask Robert Jordan.

  • ||

    strat | May 16, 2008, 1:04pm | #
    Good luck with that, Brainy Cop, just ask Robert Jordan.



    Damn, then it is true!

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