Budget cuts mean your chances of beating a traffic ticket in Connecticut are a lot better this year.
Nearly two-thirds of Connecticut traffic tickets resolved at the courts were nolled in 2017, according to the Connecticut Judicial Branch. When a ticket is nolled, it means the state does not prosecute the offender.
The number of nolled tickets jumped to roughly 60-percent in 2017, up from about 50-percent in previous years.
Chief State's Attorney Kevin Kane said budget cuts placed on his division in May 2016 are the reason.
Kane had to choose between cutting full-time prosecutors who handle major criminal cases or cutting a 12-person team that handled motor vehicle cases. That team included 10 entry level, per diem prosecutors who worked fewer than 40 hours per week, for $125 per day with no benefits.
The full-time prosecutors now carry the load of motor vehicle cases.
“Brian Preleski, the state's attorney in New Britain for instance, I remember calling him one morning he handled the infraction docket in the morning and then at two o’clock in the afternoon he handled a serial murder," Kane said.
Greg Goodstein was one of the per diem state prosecutors let go due to the budget cuts. He now defends drivers in motor vehicle cases at the same courthouse.
“There's maybe, I would if I were to guess, I'd say between 80 and 100 tickets being adjudicated on a Friday morning now as opposed to 400 or 500,” Goodstein said.
He said some police officers are discouraged by the changes and wonder why they even still write tickets.
“The officers that I know are very diligent and they take their job very seriously and they take public safety very seriously. So I don't know that they've actually stopped writing as many tickets as they did, but sure it's, you know, several of have made the comment 'why bother?”’
The group that represents local police chiefs did not want to comment on the ticket data, but the Connecticut State Police released a statement:
"The Connecticut State Police are committed to reducing the frequency and severity of traffic accidents through the use of proactive traffic enforcement targeting a range of traffic violations including impaired, reckless and distracted drivers. Each of the agencies in the justice system does their best. Troopers will remain steadfast in their efforts to ensure the safety of Connecticut’s highways and secondary roadways.”
Cities, towns and the State of Connecticut stand to lose money with the drop in prosecutions of motor vehicle violations.
Per diem prosecutors on motor vehicle cases cost the state roughly $350,000 per year. Without them, traffic ticket revenue dropped almost $3 million in fiscal 2017, according to Judicial Branch data.
State lawmakers told the NBC Connecticut Troubleshooters they would be open to making some changes so that the state doesn't leave millions in traffic ticket money on the table.
“I’m positive that my colleagues would be willing to look at this and see what we could do to address this situation,” said Cathy Osten, Democratic co-chair of the state legislature's Appropriations Committee.
Republican President Pro-Tem, Sen. Len Fasano, had a similar response.
“If there’s an argument that could be made that for a small investment there’s a greater return for the state, certainly I’m willing to listen to that argument,” Fasano said.
The Chief State’s Attorney’s office recently found money to bring back five per diem prosecutors. The state has also started a pilot program to pre-screen traffic tickets that could help, but Kevin Kane said that alone won’t solve the problem.