Reconsidering a Ticket: An Exercise of Discretion or a Criminal Act?

A New York grand jury has charged ten New York City police officers with crimes for “fixing” traffic tickets. The charges resulted from a wiretap for unrelated matters during which investigators overheard discussions of fixing tickets. The crimes charged were the alteration or destruction of the public records and official misconduct.

Massachusetts has similar laws which might be applied to ticket fixing. M.G.L. c. 66, s. 15 establishes criminal penalties for destroying public records. Likewise M.G.L. c. 268A, s. 26 (the employee ethics law) imposes criminal penalties for use of your position to gain benefit for yourself or others and for acting or failing to act based on kinship or influence. M.G.L. c. 268A, s. 23 (b) (2) & (3). The Boston Globe is already investigating ticket fixing in Massachusetts and their reporters have called local police officers to ask for comment.

A police officer in Massachusetts still has discretion whether or not to issue a traffic ticket. Newton Police Association v. Police Chief of Newton, 63 Mass. App. Ct. 697 (2005):

If a police officer observes…a civil motor vehicle infraction, the officer may issue a written warning or may cite the violator for a civil motor vehicle infraction…

M.G.L.c. 90C, s. 3(A)(1). Once the officer issues a ticket, however, there is no guidance about what circumstances justify revoking it. While we would argue that the officer retains broad discretion to reconsider and revoke the ticket, we would urge special caution in this environment. If you reconsider and decide to revoke a ticket, you should consider documenting an appropriate reason for your action and/or getting documented approval from a superior officer. If you are a supervisor or court officer, you should likewise document an appropriate reason for any decision not to prosecute a violation.

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