Is the coverup a crime?

Obstruction of justice. The phrase is in the air recently. Two incidents, one reported in the press and one not, straddle the line between bad record keeping and a crime.

The Massachusetts State Police destroyed evidence of its corruption. Massachusetts RMV hid evidence of police misconduct.

Obstruction of justice? Maybe not.

The recent string of indictments against Massachusetts State Police officers follows years of investigation. Troopers got paid for shifts when they didn’t write tickets. Because there was a quota anybody who didn’t write tickets probably didn’t show up at all. In fact they did not, and ticket records are a key part of the prosecution’s evidence.

Police destroyed old tickets after they learned they were under investigation. Which sure sounds guilty. I have no doubt the records were incriminating and many officers were happy to see them gone. But there is a distinction between destroying evidence that happens to be incriminating and destroying evidence because it is incriminating.

Nevada DOT policy is to destroy speed limit studies after ten years. Although the policy is intended to cover up illegal speed limits, it is stated as a neutral record keeping policy. If Nevada DOT ever happened to do a legitimate speed study they might destroy that one too.

More on point, do you remember Enron? Enron’s accounting firm Arthur Andersen made sure incriminating records were destroyed before a subpoena arrived. They got away with it. There was an official policy to shred documents after a certain amount of time. Ordering employees to follow it was not inherently corrupt.

There’s a claim State Police destroyed tickets based on a record retention policy. At that point they had not received a legally binding order to preserve evidence. A former Inspector General thinks they broke the law anyway. In federal court, at least, they’ll probably get away with it. Federal prosecutors seem content with the tip of the iceberg.

Chopping off the tip reminds me of my battle with Japanese knotweed. If you cut off the stem it happily grows back from roots. I dug up a truckload of roots and managed to weaken it. I still have some shoots popping up.

After their employer lost its license, Arthur Andersen’s accountants popped up again all over the industry. You have to dig deep to eradicate the problem.

The RMV coverup is the reverse kind, not collecting evidence in the first place.

A few years ago Massachusetts NMA activist Ken Michaud found a pattern of violation of the “no-fix” law. Police departments often did not not send tickets to the RMV within the legally required six business days.

Procedural violations are sometimes a defense in traffic court. Word got out.

A few months ago a correspondent asked the RMV when police mailed in a certain ticket. He was told the RMV reprogrammed the computer system in 2018 not to record the information.

In a real court case chain of custody is important. Who, what, where, when. If the RMV took its job seriously they would write it all down.

Without a law requiring the date to be recorded, we only have willful ignorance. But there’s more.

RMV employees are instructed not to give out information, public records law notwithstanding, because “we’re not in the business of helping people get out of paying tickets.”

Now we have concealment of evidence combined with corrupt motive. Still not enough for prosecutors, who by and large are not on the side of drivers.

I want to dig out the whole corrupt system. I could live without speed traps on the Turnpike. I could live without an agency supporting a “civil” ticketing system where defendants have to prove their innocence.

I say we take off and nuke the entire system from orbit. It’s the only way to be sure.

The opinions expressed in this post belong to the author and do not necessarily represent those of the National Motorists Association or the NMA Foundation. This content is for informational purposes and is not intended as legal advice. No representations are made regarding the accuracy of this post or the included links.

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One Response to “Is the coverup a crime?”

  1. James C. Walker says:

    Mr. Carr says – “I want to dig out the whole corrupt system.”

    I couldn’t agree more. One step that would help would be to ban NHTSA by federal law from having quotas of any kind for traffic stops or tickets when they provide grants to states to fund enforcement actions.