FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
MASSACHUSETTS BODY OF LIBERTIES, art. 48 (1641)
A: If you are charged with a civil infraction (such as speeding) ask for Public Information. If you are charged with a criminal application (such as DUI), you are entitled to ‘Discovery.’
Q: Who(m) do I ask?
A: The Public Information about your case is held by the police department that issued the citation. Discovery can be requested from the District Attorney’s office that’s prosecuting your criminal case. (Discovery requests in non-criminal cases usually require a judge’s order.)
Q: But what if the department says I’m not entitled to the information about my speeding and that I need a judge’s order to see it?
A: Police departments, politicians and other officials like to forget they are public servants. As Alan N. Cote, Supervisor of Records, Commonwealth of Massachusetts pointed out in this memo, they don’t own the information – we do. That’s why the federal Freedom of Information Act, 5 U.S.C. s. 552 (the FOI Act) was created and passed in 1966. The Massachusetts FOI state law MGL Chapter 66: Section 10 is based on the presumption that everything is public, unless specifically exempted. As far as law enforcement and investigative files are concerned, these may be exempt only when some specified harm to the investigation or an individual involved would result from their disclosure. See also here for more details.
Q: How do I know which police department the officer was from?
A: It’s listed on the ticket under ‘Agency Code.’ Or you can look at the side of his cruiser. 🙂
Q: So my tax collector, I mean the ticketing officer, was a State Trooper. Do I write to the headquarters?
A: The State Police Troops and the barracks are listed on their web page.
Q: How exactly do I request Public Information?
A: Write “Under the Massachusetts General Law Chapter 66: Section 10 (Public inspection and copies of records), I am requesting…” and then just launch right into your request. You are entitled to obtain:
- Copies of both sides of the officer’s part of your ticket
- A description of the device used to measure your speed, its repair history and maintenance.
- The officers training record on that device.
Don’t forget to offer to pay the cost of photocopying!
KEEP AN OFFICIAL RECORD OF THE WRITTEN REQUEST, because if you don’t get it you can ask the court to dismiss the case, or at least to get the hearing postponed in order to prepare your defense.
Or you can also adapt this federal “Automatic FOI Letter Generator,” courtesy of the The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.
Q: Is it the same deal for the Motion of Discovery?
A: If you get charged with a criminal offense such as reckless or negligent driving, DUI, vehicular homicide orhit-and-run, hire an attorney. He or she will have the answer.