Officers Fail to Appear in Court

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WILKES-BARRE -- They're paid to protect and serve, but Newswatch 16 has found that police officers who write traffic tickets often don't show up in court, and the tickets that could mean money for the community are tossed.

We found officers not doing part of their jobs: failing to appear in court after issuing traffic citations. And it's a problem some agencies don't even keep track of.

You're on traffic patrol, a vehicle barrels down a road, you flash your lights to stop the driver and, then write up a citation. but if a driver chooses to fight that ticket in Luzerne County, chances could be that 20 percent of the time, the ticket could be thrown away.

"Personally, I think that's a little ridiculous," said Natalie Cugini.

"I think you should fight it, you'd have a good chance in winning," said Georganne Thompson.

On a single day inside Luzerne County Summary Appeals Court, we watched as one of every five traffic citations was thrown out; dismissed because the officer never showed up.

"That sort of does surprise me," said Wilkes-Barre Township Police Captain William Clark.

"It's part of their job, as a police officer, to be in court and testify against the defendant," said criminal defense attorney Jonathan Pietrowski.

Pietrowski is an attorney in Lackawanna and Luzerne Counties. He also sees his share of 'no-show officers.'

"That's to the benefit of the defendant," he said.

But legal experts say it doesn't benefit the public, because if an officer doesn't show up and the defendant wins, that municipality could be losing revenue and the court could be wasting its time, all while the offender is let go without a penalty.

"If the officer brings the underlying charge, he or she is the prosecutor of the case, so it's their case to bring forward," said Luzerne County President Judge Richard Hughes.

Newswatch 16 asked several lenforcement agencies in Luzerne County for records on how often officers don't appear in court, but none of the agencies that got back to us kept those records. And while every agency requires its officers to appear in court, we found different ones have different procedures for making that happen.

"You don't issue tickets for people and not show up for the hearing," said Nanticoke Police Chief William Shultz.

Chief Shultz says his department has a white board that lists all upcoming traffic hearings.

"That board does remind, because they can go out and look at the board in the next room with all the defendants names on and see, 'Oh, I have a hearing today."

Hanover Township sends written reminders to officers, and the Wilkes-Barre Township police department makes court appearances mandatory or officers could face disciplinary actions.

"The officer needs to be there. That's part of their job in order to do the follow through, to make sure the case is proven beyond a reasonable doubt in front of a district judge," said Capt. Clark.

When we asked Wilkes-Barre Township and Nanticoke why their departments do not track the appearances of officers in court, officials told us it's something they will consider.

"It should fall back on the police department to monitor," said Capt. Clark.

"They should be, they should be," added Chief Shultz.

Smaller police departments face a tougher time appearing in court because part-time officers may not be on duty when they're supposed to be in court. If an officer can't make a hearing for a legitimate reason, the courts usually delay it, but as we found, sometimes officers just don't show up.

16 comments

  • Jakey

    If the violation wasn’t important enough to follow through in court then it wasn’t important enough to harass a citizen with a ticket. Work on stopping crime and putting away drug dealers and let the city make its money elsewhere.

  • Scott Serra

    My guess is they’re not getting paid to go to court but it is just a guess, which you did mention somewhat at the bottom. I don’t know anybody who would do part of their job for free. If that’s the problem maybe a standard court appearance per diem (if (per diem) is the correct word, idk) on top of hourly pay? If the increase in revenue is greater than the per diem pay out, it would be cost effective.

  • Bill Dryck

    Proof this is a racket. I agree that going at ridiculous speeds you should get pulled over, but sometimes driving (especially in an unfamiliar area) it’s easy to be absent minded and go 11 over by accident. Find better ways to make revenue!

  • Kim

    People are getting shot everyday. Drugs are everywhere! But lets worry about cops not showing up in court. Maybe they are dealing with more important things.

  • NEPA ANTIFA

    WNEP, why are you in support of traffic tickets for revenue?
    Aren’t traffic tickets supposed to be about safety?
    By endorsing tickets for revenue, your are endorsing corruption.

  • It's all downhill from here

    The police should stop citations all together and give the public just what they want, which is most people believing that the rules just don’t apply to them and even when forced to accept it, they should have NO personal responsibility for their actions.

    I want Dave Bowman to police the City of Wilkes-Barre and it’s fine upstanding transplants for a while, I am sure things would improve.

    • welfare patrol

      More importantly lets start really checking all these alleged cripples milking real taxpayers and when found to be fraudulent flog them on the 6 o’clock news.

  • MisterPL

    In New York state, I was advised by a court clerk to always plea not guity and request a supporting deposition from the officer. Since cops hate extra paperwork, it’s less likely they’ll follow through and the charges will be dismissed.

  • Uhhh...

    “…tickets that could mean money for the community…”
    This statement, right here, says A LOT! YOUR CITIZENS ARE NOT A RESOURCE TO BE FARMED FOR MONEY!!! That attitude makes me sick. These officers should be commended for not showing up to soak the citizens for silly traffic tickets. Anyone who is concerned about traffic ticket revenue needs to be VOTED OUT RIGHT NOW! Come up with some creative and innovative ways to make the city money, that don’t involve raking your citizens over the coals again and again. That is a seriously messed up way of looking at things.

  • Jay Morgan

    And perhaps they feel remorse for participating in the revenue enhancement scheme. I sure many tickets are justified- speeding, DWI, reckless driving, but there are just as many that are total BS, and having nothing to do with saving lives or property, they are purely revenue enhancement for the local jurisdiction

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