Sloppy Cop
August 14, 2006 12:56 PM   Subscribe

Last night I received a summons for an obscene gesture in New York City but it was filled out improperly.

The summons has my first name correct but under "last name," the officer wrote my middle name. In addition, he never asked me to sign that I received and understood the summons. The address he wrote down was from an out-of-state driver's license, where I no longer live. Plead not-guilty, or pretend I never got this? (p.s. the obscene gesture came only after the officer said "up your ass" to me, and if found not guilty I'm planning on donating to charity what the fine would have been as a karma-avoiding move). I know we've dealt with incorrectly-filled out parking tickets, but this is a bigger deal than just a ticket. Thanks!
posted by anonymous to Law & Government (22 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
It doesn't have your full name, your driver's license or any other identifying information on it?

Then yeah, I would just pretend I never got it.
posted by bshort at 1:09 PM on August 14, 2006

Just to clarify: in NYC one valid defense for a parking ticket is if the ticket was filled out incorrectly. That may not apply to summons, but it seems logical.
posted by bshort at 1:12 PM on August 14, 2006

Not quite the same thing.... But my sister got a DWI and they forgot to fingerprint her (duh!) and she got out of it.
(They actually called her at home and asked her to come back to the station so they could fingerprint her. Her lawyer laughed.)
posted by nimsey lou at 1:16 PM on August 14, 2006

depending on what courthouse you have to go to, you stand a good chance of getting dismissed. i got a summons for bringing a bottle of wine to a picnic in prospect park and most, if not all, of the petty violations (open containers, bikes on the sidewalk, non-harmful drunk & disorderlies, etc.) were dismissed and sealed with zero discussion. they'd call a name, read the charge, and the judge would say "it is illegal to blah blah blah. case dismissed, please step out."

so you might want to just go and put in your couple hours sitting around in a courthouse as an act of contrition. beats the bench warrant you'll get for not showing, which i've heard they do like to prosecute.
posted by sonofslim at 1:17 PM on August 14, 2006

short answer: if you are the intended party on the summons, and you have the summons, and you ignore it, no degree of scrivener's error will get you out of being in contempt of court for ignoring the summons. particularly if the summons was handed directly to you by the ticketing officer. it will just be chalked up to an "also known as" in the computer.

this is not legal advice; i am not your attorney
posted by crush-onastick at 1:20 PM on August 14, 2006

The cop said something rude to you and you responded disrespectfully. The cop knows deep down he's wrong but he can't let it slide on account of pride. Just a hunch: he couldn't think of any way to get back at you, so he wrote you a "flawed" ticket, if only because you'd be pissed off for a few minutes. It was probably all he could think of on the spot.
posted by zorro astor at 1:25 PM on August 14, 2006

I'm with zorro, I think the cop wrote the flawed ticket deliberately.
posted by astruc at 1:30 PM on August 14, 2006

Rudy took care of that pesky free speech thing, huh?

As crush says, you were handed the summons so in theory you are responsible. You mention an out-of-state driver's license as the source of a bad address but don't say if any other information from it was recorded. If they have a DL number you can be sure they can get anything else they need. If all it's got is what you related to us then I am sure you can shitcan it.

I disagree with the two above - any cop who'd go that far would go ahead and cite you for real. The non-local license easily explains the name screwup.
posted by phearlez at 1:44 PM on August 14, 2006

Regardless of its accuracy, it sure would suck if you failed to deal with this one and then years later, get arrested at a routine traffic stop because there's been a warrant issued for you (which happened to a friend of mine). Or you go to re-register your license and can't because the state agencies have shared information with each other (which happened to me).

Me? I'd show up at the police station and explain in excruciating detail just how bad this cop has messed up. "What kind of idiot do you have working here? Look, he ticketed me for flipping him off and he didn't even write my name down correctly. Is this an example of how this department hunts terrorists and bank robbers?"
posted by frogan at 1:49 PM on August 14, 2006

I assume that you were cited under New York Penal Code section 240.20(3), making it a (civil?) violation to "[i]n a public place... make[] an obscene gesture."

If so, and if the gesture was giving the finger or similar, you should argue that a conviction under this statute would be unconstitutional as applied under the principles of Cohen v. California and Miller v. California, particularly that the gesture in question does not "describe[], in a patently offensive way, sexual conduct specifically defined by the applicable state law" (Miller), and that it thus does not rise to the Constitutional standard for "obscenity" and consequently it is protected expression under the First Amendment.

Actually, you probably shouldn't do this because no minor-citation-magistrate judge is going to issue an opinion striking a disorderly conduct law on First Amendment grounds, but I wish someone would challenge the damn things. They're ridiculous.

(I am not a lawyer. I am not your lawyer. This is not legal advice.)
posted by rkent at 1:51 PM on August 14, 2006 [1 favorite]

Allow me to suggest that frogan's suggest plan of action, aside from not really accomplishing anything (nobody you speak to there will have the authority to dismiss a recorded citation) is a bad idea.

If you really want to Make An Issue out of it then call your local ACLU office. Maybe you can be the Roe of finger gestures.
posted by phearlez at 2:39 PM on August 14, 2006

Allow me to suggest that frogan's suggest plan of action ... is a bad idea.

Oh please. Remove your tinfoil hat and leave your "die fascist pigs" button at the door. There's a difference between crappy journalism about imaginary happenings and a well-reasoned citizen complaint about a real one.
posted by frogan at 2:50 PM on August 14, 2006

on the other hand, frogan, your suggestion does amount to a waste of time at best, or, at worst, it amounts to poking the big angry dog with a sharp stick. a summons, regardless of how poorly filled-out, can only be dismissed by the court, and calling a cop incompetent rarely results in someone cutting you a break.
posted by crush-onastick at 2:58 PM on August 14, 2006

I'd ignore it. I got a similar ticket from a cop back in 1983 with an incorrect address; I ignored it and it has never affected my life from that day to this. Mind you, I'm not saying that's good advice, but that's what I'd do.
posted by languagehat at 3:19 PM on August 14, 2006

1983 was long before the days of database connectivity and instant lookups. I would be really cautious about ignoring anything these days on the assumption that they can't find you from an old address. As zabasearch shows, even though you've moved, it's probably still attached to your name. He had your old driver's license and presumably the license number, so the ticket is attached to your record. Just go to the courthouse, be polite, don't flip anyone off, tell the judge it was a misunderstanding - that the police officer was having such a bad day he couldnt get your name right -- and I bet it gets dismissed. Then, and only then, will you be SURE it will never affect your life.
posted by dness2 at 3:38 PM on August 14, 2006

Uh, you didn't advocate a well-reasoned citizen complaint.

"What kind of idiot do you have working here? Look, he ticketed me for flipping him off and he didn't even write my name down correctly. Is this an example of how this department hunts terrorists and bank robbers?"

NYC may differ from Florida where my cop friends were, but there a citation spent some amount of time in a drawer before going on to the courthouse to be recorded. So you someone in the station could, during that window of opportunity, pull that citation and rip it up.

Not that I am saying any officer ever did such a thing in my experience, no sir. Certainly not to get rid of any speeding tickets.

Regardless, I doubt any cop is going to do this for you, some dude off the street. They are certainly not going to do it in response to that ranting and raving (how am I the cop hater in this?). Even if they wanted to they won't be able to after its went its way to the courts.

BUT, if you so desired, you could go into the precinct house for the officer who wrote this citation and ask to speak to the staff sergeant. You might be within this window if this was written last night. However I predict that you will get a reaction between the above link that frogan pooh-poohs and a "you shouldn't have broken the law," accompanied with them taking that opportunity to correct the mistakes on the citation.
posted by phearlez at 3:52 PM on August 14, 2006

Just an objective thought. If your determined to give the money to charity anyway, why bother fighting the ticket? Why not just pay it?

Also, not sure why you feel you did something wrong that you need to atone for. Unless you feel that you did something wrong by gesturing at the officer in the manner you did. It sounds like to me he deserved it and that you have nothing to be sorry about.

Inappropriate expression isn't necessarily morally wrong.
posted by JakeLL at 4:19 PM on August 14, 2006

Plead not guilty, go to court, and tell the prescreening prosecutor that you're a well-behaved person with a clean record, that it was a misunderstanding, and that the officer wrote a name that's not yours on the ticket. They'll likely dismiss it.

The LAST thing you want to do is go down to the precinct and verbally lambast the ticket writer. Because the cop who listens to you might think Officer Thinskin is the worst loser on the force, but he will never, ever say that to a civilian who walks in off the street.
posted by sacre_bleu at 7:30 PM on August 14, 2006

Go to court. Not only is it a bad idea to ignore a summons, but NYC criminal court misdemeanor arraignment is kind of fun and enlightening. You sit in a big room with dozens of other schlubs dealing with a variety of tickets and get a sense of the invisibly oppressive death by a million cuts that is the misdemeanor system. Sit in the front so you can enjoy the show.
posted by footnote at 5:55 AM on August 15, 2006

I'd go to court for the thing. Why? I think it'd be funny to pay a fine for flipping off a cop. heh.

I think this whole thread is amusing. ;)
posted by drstein at 11:37 AM on August 15, 2006

I love it when a thread like this brings out the "ALL PLEECE ARE DIX" crowd on MeFi. Most cops are just trying to do their job and get home in one piece. Some of them are dicks. Most aren't.

Anyway, it's usually a poor idea to directly antagonize the police. They have the power, and you don't. Regardless of whether this is fair or right or what-have-you, it is what it is. It is particularly stupid to waste your energy on protesting this kind of a ticket. Save that for something worthwhile, and this ain't it.

Frankly, I suspect frogan is advocating this kind of slash-and-burn tactic because it ain't his ass on the line.

Put another way, what's the worst possible outcome from your two courses of action, contesting the ticket/going to court or pulling a frogan?

Contesting it, worst case is that it winds up on your record, and you learn a valuable lesson about not letting some dipshit goad you into a response. Go frogan, and the worst case is that it goes on your record and you wind up with a Reputation (TM) among the police as an asshole; and, believe me, that will dog you for the rest of your life.

So find a better target for your Pyrrhic victory, sez I. Just go to court on this one, as sacre_bleu, footnote and drstein advocated.

I'm not a lawyer. I'm not your lawyer. I'm not anyone's lawyer. I'm just some guy.
posted by scrump at 10:52 AM on August 16, 2006

You guys have such a whack-ass idea of the day-to-day operations of a police department, I'm astonished. It's like you think every cop on the force keeps a little black book of "People I Need to Oppress Today." This is New York City we're talking about. Do you have any idea how big this city is and how bureaucratic the police force is? This isn't some podunk town where the Evil Sheriff drives around and says mean things to the Local Artist Guy That Doesn't Dress Like Everyone Else.

What does matter are written complaints (the Florida tapes be damned ... I still call bullshit on that, for several reasons). Written complaints end up on records that get bureaucratically pulled out come annual evaluation time ... where the sheer quantity matters, if not quality. Written reports that can be taken into court where you can show the judge just how much you care about how this case is being handled.

But apparently, no one here knows how to complain effectively, or how powerful they can be in just speaking up. I may have been a little hyperbolic to make my point, but there's a definite skill to complaining effectively that brings results. Mostly, it's just showing up and being assertive. "Hey, something wrong happened here..."

But, by all means, fear the police. Feel the power the Man stamping you down. Let them have all the power you think they have. Don't speak up or anything.
posted by frogan at 12:10 PM on August 16, 2006

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