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.]