It's the only moment of joy in traffic court: when an officer doesn't remember your case well enough to testify. Everyone's happy — copper doesn't have to make crap up, you get to blow that Popsicle stand and all the poor fools behind you on the bench save 10 more minutes of their lives.
But happiness doesn't sit well with the Los Angeles Superior Court, who told the City Attorney to tell the LAPD this summer that it wasn't happy with the rise in officers dismissing tickets due to hazy recollection — causing the LAPD to ban the practice altogether.
As if that weren't bad enough, now Presiding Judge Charles McCoy refuses to say how he gauged the rise. In fact, he refuses to say anything at all.
We can only assume one thing: McCoy doesn't recall the evidence. So why can't he testify to the best of his ability?
On Sept. 18, the Los Angeles Times reported that Chief of Detectives David Doan had prohibited all LAPD officers from dismissing traffic tickets on the grounds that their memory had failed them. (About as close as the LAPD could get to an illegal ticket quota without calling it as much.)
So the Weekly slapped the department with a California Public Records Act. Here's what we found:
Notification from the court and L.A. City Attorney was purely verbal. In response, on July 29, Doan sent a scathing notice to “All Sworn Personnel” in the LAPD:
“Officers shall not request the dismissal of a traffic citation or any other case when they have determined that they do not recall the facts surrounding the incident. Officers are required to testify to the best of their ability when appearing in court.”
Doan stood by the mysterious court order and subsequent policy change in an interview with the Los Angeles Times, as if he were personally invested in it: “We felt we needed to remind our people of their obligations,” he said.
But Doan has no reason to care about the extra income these tickets would bring in. He's likely under pressure from higher-ups, who know the curbing of dismissals would bring in more money for the department and the city.
McCoy refused to comment. Mary Hearn, the court's deputy public information officer, added that no other judicial officers at the court would be able to share their observations, either.
The L.A. Superior Court told both the Weekly and the Times that it has no record of how many citations have been dismissed due to officers with no recollection of their cases. Captain Ann E. Young of the LAPD's Detective Support and Device Division, however, said she was sure it did.
“They do keep a record of dismissed citations,” Young said.
Hearn explained that while the court does keep a record of dismissed citations, it does not distinguish how many were thrown out on grounds of no recollection from those dismissed for other reasons.
What we really want to know is: How exactly are officers supposed to make an argument for a situation they don't recall? The Los Angeles Police Protective League has expressed similar concern. Doan suggests officers look to the California Evidence Code's “Prior Recollection Recorded” clause for tips:
1. A statement is not inadmissible, when a witness has insufficient present recollection, and the statement is contained in a writing which:
a. was made at a time when the facts recorded in the writing actually occurred or was fresh in the witness' memory;
b. was made by the witness himself or under his direction or by some other person for the purpose of recording the witness' statement at the time it was made
c. is offered after the witness testifies that the statement he made was a true statement of such fact; and
d. is offered after the writing is authenticated as an accurate record of the statement
2. The writing may be read into evidence, but the writing itself may not be received in evidence unless offered by an adverse party.
We're not buying any of it. Doan might as well throw in an employee-of-the-month iPod giveaway for “best use of imaginative detail in traffic court.”