Dallas County court of criminal appeals judges, the district attorney’s office, and the Dallas police department are quietly knotting a loophole that has saved traffic violation defendants thousands of dollars over the years.
No longer are hundreds of traffic case appeals being summarily dismissed by Judges Ken Vaughn and Tom Fuller, who hear more than 12,000 such cases a year.
For years, the judges have required police officers to appear at the appeal, or the case would be dismissed. Often, through the deft stalling tactics of defense attorneys, cases remained in appeal long after the original tickets were issued. When the cases were finally heard, police officers often did not show, even though they faced a fine from their department superiors, and the cases would be dropped. The fines were rarely enforced.
Now, thanks to a request from Dist. Atty. Henry Wade, the police department is again cracking down on officers’ court attendance. The judges are happy. Henry Wade is happy. But defense attorneys are frustrated.
Wade hopes the attorneys’ frustration will keep them from appealing cases they only hope to have dismissed when the ticketing officer fails to appear for court.
“It’s ridiculous,” the district attorney says. “There are 12,000 cases filed like that a year. We can’t possibly try that many, but if we try, we can discourage attorneys from filing cases if we show them that we are willing to go to trial at all times.”
Wade wrote a letter requesting the crackdown at the urging of Assistant Dist. Atty. Winfield Scott, the district attorney’s chief prosecutor for misdemeanor cases. Scott and his staff of young attorneys were frustrated to see so many guilty defendants get off because of a loophole that is not even required by state statutes.
“I’ve argued for years that the officers didn’t have to appear in court,” Wade says. “But the judges have felt otherwise.”
“Our message has gotten across,” Fuller says. “We’re here to try cases, and this is the only way we can do it.”