The “Late Traffic Ticket” Defense in Massachusetts

Under the Massachusetts Traffic Ticket Law, a police officer must generally issue a citation at the time and place of the traffic violation. The failure to deliver the speeding ticket or other traffic citation to the alleged violator at the time and place of the alleged offense may constitute a defense and result in a dismissal or not responsible finding. This requirement was enacted “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.” The objective is “to prevent a situation in which a person cannot establish a defence due to his being charged with a violation long after it occurs.” “The procedures of Section 2 are to be enforced with due strictness.” Commonwealth v. Marchand, 18 Mass. App.Ct. 932, 933 (1984), citing Commonwealth v. Clinton, 374 Mass. 719 , 721 (1978)

There are a few statutory exceptions to the rule requiring prompt issuance of the traffic ticket. Late issuance of a traffic citation has been permitted (1) where the allege violator could not have been stopped, (2) where additional time was needed to investigate the violation or determine the offender’s identity, or (3) where the court finds that the delay was not inconsistent with the purposes of the Massachusetts Traffic Citation Law.

Massachusetts traffic ticket lawyers have successfully used an officer’s failure to write the ticket at the time and place of the motor vehicle stop as a defense, achieving “not responsible” findings for their clients. For example, in Commonwealth v. Marchand, 18 Mass. App.Ct. 932, 933 (1984), a criminal complaint for operating to endanger was dismissed because the police officer had waited too long to issue the citation. Likewise, in Commonwealth v. Ryan, 22 Mass. App. Ct. 970, 971-972 (1986), the Massachusetts Appeals Court upheld the dismissal of the charges of failure to stop for a stop sign, failure to stop for a police officer, and operating to endanger where the police officer failed to issue any citation until several days after alleged violations and defendant had called to inquire whether any citation would be issued.