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Scores of residents' tickets dismissed after clerk error

A South Carolina woman who had been ticketed in Tennessee may be one of hundreds of drivers to receive a reprieve from her traffic citation after a set of missteps that are being characterized as systematic failure of the Knoxville area court system. Experts say that more than 100 citations and driving-related cases have been dismissed entirely because of processing errors at the Knox County Criminal Court Clerks' office.

The woman, who drove from South Carolina to Knoxville during the last days of her pregnancy in order to pay the ticket, should have had at least one continuance to pay the ticket. That is, the woman should have been able to ask for an extension without physically appearing in court. Thanks to this error, the district attorney's office declined to prosecute the case entirely, instead allowing the woman to avoid any kind of criminal action.

Initial investigations have discovered that workers in the clerks' office were incorrectly entering data into records systems. In addition, those employees were known for losing paperwork that was critical to multiple criminal cases, along with habitually providing inaccurate information to defendants facing citations and charges. A series of these errors led to some defendants being wrongly arrested, while others were held in custody after they were slated for release.

The vast majority of the errors are related to traffic citations. Some officials in the office were even accused of entering convictions for drivers whose cases were dismissed without penalty. Some dismissed tickets are still appearing on drivers' records, affecting their insurance rates, and other drivers are being charged with state violations instead of county violations. Those citations carry much heavier penalties. Some people were even accused of DUI instead of the proper charge of public intoxication.

Systematic clerical errors undermine the ethos of fairness upon which our nation's legal system was founded. Defendants should not have to worry that their records will be wrongly updated with unfounded charges. Those who are facing these and other clerical mistakes can recruit the assistance of a qualified criminal defense attorney to fight for their legal rights.

Source:  www.wbir.com, "Botched paperwork hurt driving records, cases dismissed" Mike Donila & Eleanor Beck, Oct. 22, 2013

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