Fixing Tickets in Philadelphia

By James J. Baxter

Following a federal investigation, two Philadelphia judges pleaded guilty to “fixing tickets.” This isn’t an earth shattering revelation, fixing traffic tickets is a national sport. Cops do it, D.A.s do it, and, as just noted, judges do it. So, is this rampant circumvention of the law a sign of pervasive corruption in our legal system?

Not really. Rather, it is the legal system coping with the inherent corruption that exists across a broad swath of our governing institutions.

At some point in the past our system went off the rails and instead of relying solely on legitimate taxation to fund public services, including the court system, there was a shift to using the Police Power to generate revenue, often under the guise of protecting the public safety.

Reams of laws, regulations, and standards that could fill several libraries have been created and their enforcement is used to generate government revenue. Not all of these laws , regulations and standards are unreasonable or arbitrary, but enough are that even the benefactors of the largess generated by fines and penalties recognize the inherent unfairness of relentless enforcement. Hence, we get ticket fixers.

Some robe and uniform wearers may fix tickets for personal gain, but likely more common the motivation is to give some poor sap a break. And, there is the common practice of cops not giving cops tickets, (“professional courtesy”) as well prominent officials getting a pass in the interest of career enhancement, or preservation.

Traffic tickets are exhibit A of this phenomenon in action. An unrealistic speed limit is posted for political convenience. It is totally out of sync with normal safe traffic patterns and speeds. Its enforcement is totally discretionary and ticket recipients are a random cross section of the driving public. If the enforcer knows the violator, or is sympathetic to the victim’s plight he might issue a warning or issue a ticket for a lesser violation, seat belt tickets are popular. If the “speeder” is a non-resident, or exhibits qualities the officer does not like, no mercy is shown.

Conversely, when confronting a thief, assaulter, or other real criminal the enforcement response is consistent and uniform. The suspect will be arrested and charged for the apparent crime he committed.

So why the difference? Exceeding the speed limit is a violation of law, theoretically a law intended to protect the health and welfare of the public. Why is the enforcement response so inconsistent, seemingly arbitrary or discretionary? The reason is that arbitrary, politically convenient speed limits (and similarly administered traffic laws) do not protect the public health and welfare and the cops know it and the courts know it. Civilization will not be brought to its knees because motorists make rolling right turns on red. The result is ticket fixing, and it isn’t going to go away until the underlying cause is removed, that being the use of the Police Power for revenue generation. Remove the financial incentives and a host of ills, including ticket fixing, will go away.

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