I want the system to work -- just not this time.
May 25, 2013 9:48 AM   Subscribe

My husband got a ticket, but the ticket writer got his information wrong, can we get away with not paying?

My husband got a $100 ticket for having our dogs off leash in small neighborhood park. It is a pretty popular spot for letting the dogs roam even though there are signs saying dogs have to be leashed. If you walk by you'll consistently see 5-10 people and their off-leash dogs there at any given time. It appeared to be a rule everyone broke, like jaywalking. I'm not trying to excuse our rule breaking -- yes he was in the wrong -- just providing context. In any case, yesterday he was the only one out and got a ticket.

However. We've recently moved to a new state and my husband hasn't yet changed his ID -- so the license he handed over to the parks officer had our old address listed. In addition, the officer wrote "Middle Name, Husband" on the ticket instead of "Last Name, Husband" on the ticket. The ticket has no correct identifying information other than my husband's birthday and that he's male. Wrong address, wrong name, no social security number or anything like that.

I know it is unethical to take advantage of this mistake and not pay the fine, but we really can't afford to pay it right now (we've got some big medical bills and moving really wrung us out).

Can we get away with not paying this given that all the info is wrong or will not paying come back to haunt us when the cops come and break down our door for being animal-owning, fine-dodging miscreants?

If it helps any, husband has pledged never to let the dogs off leash in an unauthorized area again. We can't afford to get a correct ticket!
posted by blue_bicycle to Law & Government (23 answers total)
Just for reference, not saying whether you should or shouldn't, I got a ticket for jumping a turnstile in NYC a couple years ago. I had just moved there and also didn't have a license with correct info. They also got my name wrong and pretty much everything. They've never tracked me down. Just sayin'.
posted by greta simone at 9:54 AM on May 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

This is a tough situation but the Ethicist would probably say something like "then you couldn't afford to have your dog off the leash". Sounds like you might be able to get away with not paying it but what if it comes back to haunt you later? I would pay it for peace of mind- maybe explain your situation and ask for an installment plan? From whomever you ask those things of?
posted by bquarters at 9:55 AM on May 25, 2013 [4 favorites]

If the address on the ticket is an old address that you guys used to live at, this could definitely find its way back to you.

I'd just pay it.
posted by Sara C. at 10:01 AM on May 25, 2013 [11 favorites]

The fact that his old license is from a different state and the names won't match, I'd be very surprised if they can connect the dots. Now, if the two states have reciprocal sharing arrangements and great databases, Newstate could maybe find him through the new license application or through car registration records, but it seems unlikely.
posted by payoto at 10:07 AM on May 25, 2013

If you and your husband will agree to always respect leash laws, become on-leash advocates AND remind others -- all and sundry with off-leash dogs in on-leash areas wherever you are -- to leash their dogs, I will pay your ticket.
posted by vers at 10:09 AM on May 25, 2013 [52 favorites]

I don't think there is anything wrong with not paying a bylaw ticket of all things, which are as much about revenue generation as they are enforcing community covenants.
posted by KokuRyu at 10:21 AM on May 25, 2013 [2 favorites]

Not paying could come back to haunt you if the same officer sees your husband in the park with the dogs again.
posted by elizardbits at 10:23 AM on May 25, 2013 [6 favorites]

At some point, your husband is going to replace the driver's license from your old state to your current state. Guess what is going to come up on the DMV clerk's computer when he does? I suspect the ticket also has your husband's driver license number. That is going to be all they need.

You say you know it is unethical not to pay. The test of your ethics is whether you will hold to them when they make you do something you do not want to do (or not do something you want to do). I recommend that you pay the ticket.
posted by Tanizaki at 10:47 AM on May 25, 2013 [3 favorites]

Mod note: A couple comments deleted. This thread is not a place to debate the morality of leash laws and violating them, period.
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 10:49 AM on May 25, 2013

Most likely you'll get away with it. Wrong last name is a big hurdle for City Hall to figure out. If you get caught, the consequences are probably mild, maybe a little extra in court fees. I suppose it could go to warrant and your husband could later get hauled in, but that is pretty improbable.

If you live in a little tiny town where every infraction is a story to talk over, that's a different picture, but it doesn't sound like it.

I would treat the ticket as a warning and not pay it. I don't think this is an important ethical failure. I would make sure to keep my dog leashed in the future, though.

You could, after six months or so, call up the court clerk and ask if you have any unpaid tickets that you "forgot" to pay (again, if you live in a fairly populous jurisdiction).
posted by mattu at 10:55 AM on May 25, 2013

This can end up in collections or on your credit report, even though it's just $100. They definitely have enough information to do that, if they choose to. Given the current budget climate, odds of them making that choice are a lot higher than they would otherwise be.

Sorry, mods.
posted by SMPA at 10:55 AM on May 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

and the address isn't correct

But the address is correct, it just isn't the current address. Did you fill out a change of address form with the post office when you moved? In many jurisdictions the ticket issuing authority will send you a notice and even with the wrong name will probably get forwarded to your new address and they will get notification of your new address. It really boils down to how much the city wants to get that $100 from you. Where I live now parking tickets are outsourced to a company that gets a cut of the fine so they're highly motivated to collect. If there is language in the statute the fine doubles after x days it could be worth the time of a collector to figure out your whereabouts.

Also, I don't get a lot of tickets but when I do they cop always asks if the address on my license is current. If they ask your husband that and he lied possibly because he's past the date required in the jurisdiction to get a new license it could come back to bite him in the ass.

Blowing off the ticket may not result in any problem whatsoever, but there is a chance it will and if it does become a problem it will cost more that $100 to sort out.
posted by birdherder at 11:03 AM on May 25, 2013 [4 favorites]

Oh - and you may be able to set up a payment plan with them. This is the upside of smaller governments getting more dedicated to collection of smaller fines.
posted by SMPA at 11:25 AM on May 25, 2013

One thing to note: many times, states will require that a person change their IDs over to the new state within a certain amount of time after moving there. Trying to skate on the leash ticket could end up with them tracking you down and then hassling him for not changing his license over.

It will be trivial for them to make the connection between Richard M. Nixon at 1313 Mockingbird Lane and Richard Milhouse at 1313 Mockingbird Lane.

I one time got a ticket for a legit thing, but the officer mistyped my license plate in the computer, and then copied the info off the computer wrong. Completely different person, completely different car, but obviously meant for me. (I saw the officer doing it.)

I went to the station and explained what happened. They looked at me like I was nuts. I said "It's my ticket, and I don't want this other person to get hassled for something that isn't theirs." I eventually was escalated up to the police chief and he said something along the lines of "just pay the clerk, idiot, and don't say anything. Once it's paid it will go away."

Not for nothing, I have not been bothered by the local police since then.

I'd do something similar, if I were you.
posted by gjc at 11:37 AM on May 25, 2013

Somewhere in a box from my old house, I have a PILE of parking tickets with the wrong plate # and info on them.(I'm not the horrible scofflaw dick you might think, I'm on call at work to multiple locations and invariably always end up with tickets through this. Free parking til 8am means they ticket at like 7:59, etc).

I pay the ones with the right info, I ignore the ones with the wrong info.

A long time has gone by, and I've checked occasionally as to whether this has come back to me at all. Nope.

Does it have a drivers license # on it? Does it have your correct old address? If the answer to either of those is yes, I'd challenge it and try and get it reduced by a judge. note that does involve paying it, but paying say like... $45. They generally reduce tickets on ability to pay as long as you understand you did break the law. You can do this once for an even similar issue, so don't waste your chance here and get busted again in a week. Even if they won't reduce it, you at least get a respite on paying it for a few weeks/month while the wheels of justice turn slowly.

I'm also reminded of a few people randomly getting tickets outside their work for "smoking within 25 feet of a door" when there isn't anywhere in the surrounding 2 blocks you could smoke without breaking that rule. Everyone does it, and the cop just felt like flexing. I would call this a moral/ethical grey area. There is something unfair about getting in trouble for something everyone does in a specific place. Yea, you broke the rule, but it seems like they recognized it was pointless to enforce until only one person was out and they could cherry pick.

Assume you have to pay this unless like, his name is "joe blow" and the ticket says like "stephen blow" with no other related info like DL# or your previous address or anything. Look at it again, and then probably write to the address on it/go online/call to start the process of challenging it. $45 or so is way better than anything else that will happen if they figure it out and it's gone unpaid for a while. $100? Try $330 or something.
posted by emptythought at 1:41 PM on May 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

I would agree that it depends on how aggressive your city/town is about collecting fines. I work in the parking office of an academic institution, and this year we began outsourcing collections of way past due citations to a service that is much more effective at tracking people down than our smallish office is (like a collection agency, but they don't report to the credit bureaus). They charge 30% on top of the original fee + our late fee. Then I think they also charge a fee to pay with a credit card, so one of our $100 citations will run almost $150 if it goes to collection, and there are no options for partial payments or waiving of fees at that point.

It sucks, and I have certainly paid my share of ridiculous fees because I didn't make payments on time, but let me tell you that agency is thorough - we have collected something like double our usual amount for the year in not having to write these citations off (this money goes to scholarships, so we like not having to write them off).

That said, sometimes citations are written off as uncollectible because the officer got bad info. But the presence of bad info doesn't mean you're not responsible for the ticket, and if your husband can be connected to that old address, this may revisit you someday.
posted by camyram at 2:27 PM on May 25, 2013

The address thing isn't the issue, nor is how aggressive they track you, nor is whether the officer sees you again.

The issue is the officer wrote the wrong name on the ticket..

It doesn't matter if they have all the correct data otherwise. Incorrect data on the ticket is usually enough to get it thrown out, even if your violation is totally flagrant, even if the officer shows up.

I went through this once where the officer wrote the wrong date on the ticket. It was dismissed within the first few minutes.

However, now that you know this is a thing that could happen, I'd totally keep a better eye out.
posted by corb at 2:40 PM on May 25, 2013 [6 favorites]

Oh, I think you can also try to get a PBJ, or a "probation before judgment" for this. What you want to do is not avoid it and hide, but actually challenge the ticket in court. You may be able if you have a relatively clear record, and if the judge for whatever reason won't throw it out, get essentially a thing that says if you don't do anything for six months, they'll throw it out, but if you do, they'll throw both of them at you.
posted by corb at 2:42 PM on May 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'd go to court, say that I'm very sorry and that I've learned my lesson. I'd point out the mistakes on the ticket and ask if we could have this one dismissed or have the fine reduced or a payment plan as I am broke.

I have found that in most cases that judges in traffic court (or whatever court this would be) are pretty nice and helpful. (except in Pennsylvania, for some reason, the magistrates there...no sense of humor.)

Right is right.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 3:10 PM on May 25, 2013

I think that corb is right. Tickets with incorrect information will lead to a dismissal of charges in most jurisdictions. Of course, to pursue this course, you must put yourself in the clutches of The Man, who might just decide you need a fining.
posted by Hobgoblin at 4:34 PM on May 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

That wrong information thing depends on the jurisdiction, and what kind of information it was.

If I were the judge, I'd simply ask you how you happened to get possession of the ticket if it wasn't meant for you. Then you'd say "the officer gave it to me" and I would say that the incorrect information wasn't relevant to the facts of the case. You were observed breaking the law, and you were handed a citation. Unless you have a factual challenge for either of those two things, the fact that the officer made a typo while transcribing the information from the ID *that you gave him* doesn't make a lick of difference.

That is opposed to something more relevant like "northbound" rather than "southbound", or an obviously wrong car color, or something like that. If an officer says a green car was going north on the interstate at 90 mph, and you were driving a white car going southbound, it stands to reason that the officer can't be sure who he was talking about when he wrote the ticket and it ought to be thrown out.
posted by gjc at 8:25 PM on May 25, 2013 [4 favorites]

I pay my tickets. Usually.

Once I didn't. Texas got mad. Other than that, which I consider a good thing, nothing happened. Some letters arrived telling me how mad Texas was. I laughed at Texas. Ha, Texas, you ticket holding morons! I laugh at you! Ha! I still gave great joy at Texas' expense. I wish you had gotten your ticket in Texas. Damn.

Still, I usually pay my tickets. You done wrong. Got caught. It's $100. You won't feel better for paying it, but you won't feel that good if you don't. Is worry worth $100?

In the grand scheme of things, the law did its job already. You changed your behavior. The $100 is immaterial to the state and probably to you. If I'm wrong, how much is worry worth? That's the real question. If you aren't the worrying type, then that's your answer.

(I will tell you that IN FACT and OFTEN, there are people loose with murder charges in another state. Folks with 20 DUIs. Escaped prisoners. People holding women in the basement as sex slaves for a decade. No shows at court dates. Serial murderer interstate truck drivers who will never even be detected, let alone arrested. The Zodiac killer is still out there. There is a TON of shiatt going on in Real World, USA that you would not believe, very likely in your own neighborhood. Law is a sieve, not a cup. It's leaky. Your leak doesn't even register on any scale in any way, ever. It's noise in the system and even that description is generous. )
posted by FauxScot at 3:02 AM on May 26, 2013 [2 favorites]

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