I-Team: Crowded Courts Result in More Reduced Tickets - 8 News NOW

I-Team: Crowded Courts Result in More Reduced Tickets

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Judge William Kephart Judge William Kephart

LAS VEGAS --  The I-Team has uncovered some dangerous lapses of judgement in the court system that has allowed repeat traffic offenders to get an easy break.

Clark County's traffic court says it's simply a matter of numbers. A lot of drivers are getting tickets and there are fewer court resources. In order for the courts to keep up, officials say, it must move at a fast pace.

Traffic court referee Charles Payne hands over court documents to a defendant because he can't understand them.

"I don't remember this at all. What would that be for? I got stopped for something? said an unnamed defendant.

"I don't know. I just have a piece of paper," Payne said.

Every day there is a crush of people shoving their citations in front of the courthouse marshal hoping to get a place in line. This is what traffic court has become, and endless rotation of defendants and judges who have little time to weigh each case.

"We can put a lot of things on the books, but can we equally enforce them? When I say that, that doesn't mean, can I, as a judge, sit there and hear it? But do we have this staff to process it and notify the appropriate people? Do we have the technology in place to make certain that information is transmitted accurately?" Judge Karen Bennett-Haron said. She leads Clark County's traffic court.

The year before Sheriff Doug Gillespie took office, there were 253,000 traffic tickets issued in Clark County. Now, that number stands at 303,000.

"People may not be holding folks accountable. What I ask them to do is what we're doing out here. We're doing our part. They need to do their part," Sheriff Gillespie said.

Is the traffic court doing its part? The I-Team spent two days in the courtroom looking for those answers. A typical day's parade of individuals cited for speeding, jaywalking, distracted driving or driving without a license tallied up to 173 people. Most were first-time offenders and got their tickets reduced to an illegal parking ticket. That means they will not have any penalizing points placed on their driver's license.

The I-Team observed traffic judges who don't often see or check the tickets written by police for prior offenses. Most of the drivers who appear in court are safe drivers who made one mistake. But there are few safeguards to ensure that repeat offenders don't slip by overwhelmed judges.

At a recent pedestrian safety roundtable, Judge William Kephart talked about his desire for police and judges to communicate more openly. By doing so, he admitted something about how police used to communicate with judges in the past.

"For all of you who don't know what a J code was, on the pink citation, up on the right, there was a box, and it had a J code. They'd give you a number, between 1 and 5, as a jerk code," Judge Kephart said. The code was a way of letting the judge know that the person being ticketed acted like a jerk and may need a strong reprimand.

It's not clear when this secret communication between judges and police ended. Judge Kephart says he never used the so-called "J Code" to make his decisions. However, he did admit something else about how he decides traffic cases now.

"Because when you look at a citation, it's very bland. Especially, you're impersonal printout ones now. I'll tell you, as a judge, when I see those and I can't read them, I'll tell you right now, I dismiss it. I don't even wait to hear it.

The I-Team investigation has pointed out some glaring problems in the traffic court system and today, the justice court chief judge announced there will be changes, especially when it comes to dealing with repeat offenders.

Tonight at 11, the I-Team will explore the story of one woman who kept getting breaks from judges until she eventually killed a woman in a hit and run.

 

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