Not Easy to win Citation Appeals on Technicalities

massachusetts_citation_trafficThe case of Commonwealth vs. Benjamin J. Celletti shows how difficult it can be to prevail on technicalities in Massachusetts Traffic Citation Appeal cases.

At about 11:10 P.M. on September 1, 2010, Massachusetts State Police Sergeant Eugene O’Neill observed Celletti slow down but fail to stop at a stop sign on a ramp connecting Route 93 northbound to Topsfield Road in the town of Topsfield. O’Neill followed the defendant’s vehicle and saw it turn without stopping at a second stop sign at the corner of Topsfield Road and Elm Street. O’Neill activated his blue lights and pulled the vehicle over a short distance from that intersection. As he approached the vehicle, O’Neill saw a cigarette butt launch from the driver’s window.

At the conclusion of the stop, the officer issued a citation (the original citation) to Celletti for violation of G.L. c. 89, § 9 (failure to stop at a stop sign) and for violation of G.L. c. 90, § 22G (littering by reason of discard of the cigarette).

The officer submitted the citation to the Motor Vehicle Insurance Merit Rating Board (merit board). By letter dated September 15, 2010, the merit board returned the citation to the State police because the violation of G.L. c. 90, § 22G, constituted a criminal offense requiring submission to the District Court rather than the merit board. When O’Neill received the returned citation from the merit board on or about September 24, 2010, he reissued a citation to Celletti (the second citation) reciting only the civil stop sign violation. By an accompanying letter, dated September 24, 2010, the officer explained to Celletti that he was reducing the charge of criminal littering to a warning.

Celletti requested and received a District Court clerk’s hearing upon the stop sign citation. He contended that the second or reissued citation failed to comply with the requirement of G.L. c. 90C, § 2, as appearing in St.1985, c. 794, § 3, because the officer had not issued it “at the time and place of the violation” and that such a failure “shall constitute a defense in any court proceedings for such violation.” The clerk nonetheless issued a finding of “responsible” for the violation contained in the reissued citation. Celletti filed a timely claim of appeal to the District Court. A District Court judge conducted an evidentiary hearing. Upon the basis of Sergeant O’Neill’s testimony, she found Celletti responsible. He then filed a timely claim of appeal to the Appellate Division. That court affirmed and Celletti took his case to the Appeals Court.

The officer forwarded a second citation in order to eliminate a criminal violation and to comply with administrative procedure governing the stop sign infraction allegation. He did not issue a single and dilatory citation depriving Celletti of his opportunity to prepare a defense facilitated by prompt notice; nor did the second citation issue as a result of any improper manipulation of the violation. Throughout the process, Celletti had clear and specific notice of the stop sign infraction allegation and full opportunity to prepare a defense to it. Celletti’s arguments to the contrary in the Appellate Division and in this court are thoroughly sophistical. The Appeals Court upheld the stop sign violation and resulting surcharge.