As many know, there is an ongoing “ticket fixing” scandal within the NYPD (NYC Ticket Fixing Scandal). Unfortunately, a number of motorists and officers who had nothing to do with it are getting caught up in the aftermath of the scandal.
Officers at the Traffic Violations Bureau are now routinely watched by superiors and the Internal Affairs Bureau as they testify. They are there to make sure that each and every officer follows through on the tickets they’ve written and doesn’t try to “fix” anything in any blatant or even subtle manner.
We don’t have a problem with an anti-fixing policy. No one can complain about a system which is merely trying to elicit full and complete and honest and fair and true testimony offered by an officer who issued a summons.
But what happens when that honest and true testimony leads to a finding of not guilty? Take for example an officer who issued a ticket to a motorist for making a turn from the improper lane and is asked in court by the motorist whether he observed a car blocking the proper lane. The officer may candidly respond that he really couldn’t see from where he was and it’s possible there was a vehicle blocking the proper lane. The judge may then make the right decision and dismiss the case. It’s now possible that this officer, if it’s a courtroom under observation, may potentially have to answer questions about the dismissal. Why didn’t you say this? Why did you say you didn’t remember that, or weren’t sure about the car? Do you know this motorist? His uncle? What’s going on here…
Now we do have a problem. Honesty can potentially be considered suspicious. How will the officer answer the next time he’s in the same position?
The effect of this monitoring potentially extends to the judge as well. These judges preside over cases with the same officers week after week, year after year and they get to know the different officers well. They are understandably sympathetic about the extra scrutiny these officers, most of whom have done nothing wrong, are under. Will this affect how they rule on a questionable case in a courtroom under observation?
Three times recently, we completed cases for clients where we were certain the charges should and would be dismissed outright. Instead, clients were offered either a lower fine or a split decision (where the judge will find a ticket guilty while dismissing companion tickets issued together), essentially “consolation prizes” in lieu of complete dismissal. We’ve also tried cases recently where the judge denied motions or otherwise assisted the motorist in ways not previously expected. No one can say for sure if the fact that the courtroom was under observation was the reason for the questionable decisions, but it’s certainly fair to question whether this is all having some kind of unanticipated affect on the judges.
All this said, procedure and the atmosphere in general at the TVB changes constantly. Our job is always to keep on top of what is happening at any given time and take the actions and decisions necessary to maximize our client’s chances of success.
Scott Feifer, Esq.