Troopers patrolling city highways write thousands of tickets, bu - KMOV.com

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Troopers patrolling city highways write thousands of tickets, but none have been prosecuted

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ST. LOUIS (KMOV.com) -- Missouri Highway Patrol Troopers are writing thousands of tickets on St. Louis’ interstates as part of a high-profile plan to attack violent crime, announced by Governor Greitens in July. But a News 4 Investigation has uncovered huge questions about exactly who is going to handle the massive influx of tickets.

In two months on patrol in St. Louis, Missouri Highway Patrol Troopers have been busy. According to data News 4 obtained, since July 9, troopers have made 130 felony arrests on highways within St. Louis' city limits, more than 630 arrests for outstanding warrants and 67 DWI arrests.

Read: MSHP policing major interstate in St. Louis for first time

“Our guys are out there, taking care of business and our hats are off to them for what they are doing,” said Trooper Juston Wheetley. But they've been writing traffic tickets too; more than 4,500 traffic tickets in just two months, a number that is surprising to the troopers themselves.

“I hate to say there is that much out there, but at least our officers are enforcing the laws,” Wheetley said. “What we are trying to do is enforce these laws in hopes we can reduce fatalities and encourage better driving behaviors on our interstates."

If you get a speeding ticket, for example, Trooper Wheetley says you've got two options: plead guilty and pay up through the state's fine collection center, or you can plead not guilty and your case will be sent to the local county prosecutor. In the City of St. Louis, that's the Circuit Attorney's Office. The Circuit Attorney's Office isn't processing the traffic tickets written by the Highway Patrol.  

The reason: in a statement, they say the office has not been staffed or funded to manage the tickets. The office has faced a number of staffing changes since Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner took office back in January. But even in years' past, a spokesperson told News 4 they still wouldn't have had enough staff to process tens of thousands of tickets a year.

The Circuit Attorney's Office hasn't historically handled many traffic tickets. They say traffic cases are best managed by the City Counselor's Office. Some attorneys now worry because of all this, potentially thousands of ticketholders are in legal limbo.

“If people are in legal limbo and not being given the due process guaranteed by the Constitution, then those cases need to be dropped outright,” said Blake Strode, a staff attorney and Skadden Fellow with Arch City Defenders. He told News 4 the sheer number of tickets is troublesome.

“If the goal is to improve public safety, the answer is not more policing of more people. But he says delays in the process could cause more confusion and people could wind up with warrants for their arrest.

For now, under the court date section of some people's tickets, it says: to be notified. So far, the Circuit Attorney’s Office says no one has had a court date.

“I am even more concerned that people who can't pay will be caught in a cycle of court debt,” Strode said.

We wanted to know if all this had been addressed before the plan went into place. The Office of St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson declined our request for an interview, but sent a statement saying they “met with the Circuit Attorney's Office back in May...and let the office know they would have to begin processing the tickets written by the Highway Patrol.” The mayor's office says they will work together with the Circuit Attorney’s Office to find a solution to the problem.

In the meantime, Trooper Wheetley is asking people who got tickets for patience. “If you are going through the court system, just give it some time. That's all we ask,” Trooper Wheetley said. A spokesperson for Governor Greitens didn't return our request for comment.

The mayor's office tells News 4 it's possible the City Counselor's Office could handle some of the tickets. but those details are still being worked out.
News 4 has also asked for information on exactly who will be making the revenue from these tickets.

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