Massachusetts Citation Appeal Dismissed

registry_attorney_massachusettsG.L. c. 90C § 2 governs the issuance of citations for automobile law violations in Massachusetts. It “was designed to prevent the manipulation and misuse of traffic citations, and to provide prompt and definite notice of the nature of the alleged offense to the putative violator.” It plainly requires that police issue citations to violators at the time and place of the alleged infraction and failure to do so constitutes a defense in any court proceeding for such a violation. At a hearing contesting responsibility for the infraction, “the citation shall be … prima facie evidence of the facts stated therein.”

G.L. c. 90C § 2 indisputably requires that officers “record the occurrence of automobile law violations upon a citation, filling out the citation and each copy thereof as soon as possible and as completely as possible…” “The procedures of § 2 are to be enforced with due strictness, see Commonwealth v. Clinton, 374 Mass. 719, 721 (1978), in order to accomplish the objectives of the statute.” The customary remedy for violations of the procedures set forth in G.L. c. 90C § 2 is dismissal of the charges. In one case, for example, the dismissal of a DUI charge was upheld because the officer failed to issue the citation in accordance with G.L. c. 90C § 2.

However, in many cases, it seems that the exceptions to citation requirements have swallowed up the rule. Legitimate delays in issuing citations are excused in certain cases where, for example, additional time is necessary to investigate the alleged violations. Indeed, courts have often excused minor errors and delays in serious criminal cases where the alleged violator suffered no prejudice. Compliance is often excused even though it has been held that “[w]here an important feature of the statutory arrangements was flouted through sloth or sheer inattention of the police, the subsequent complaint has been dismissed without regard to whether the defendant suffered actual prejudice.”

Despite the above-cited legal principles, the Appellate Division of the Massachusetts Trial Court routinely finds in favor of the police and against violators in citation appeals. The following is an example:

This case came on to the Appellate Division for the Northern District upon the defendant’s civil motor vehicle infraction appeal. The defendant argues that the citation issued against him violated G.L. c. 90C, § 2 because it omitted the “date of the offense” and, thus, was not filled out “as completely as possible.” The defendant mistakenly relies on criminal case law that predated the decriminalization of motor vehicle offenses for the incorrect proposition that he is entitled to a finding of not responsible. The applicable test of a citation defect is whether it violates the dual statutory purpose of preventing the corrupt manipulation of traffic citations and of providing prompt, adequate notice to the violator of the infraction charged. In this case, while the “date of offense” block was not completed, the citation not only stated the date it was written, but also stated that the citation was issued to the defendant in hand. There is nothing in the record to suggest that there was any time delay here or any lack of notice to the defendant. Accordingly,  as the defendant-appellant has failed to establish an error of law, the trial court’s finding of responsible is affirmed. The defendant’s appeal is dismissed.