IS THE FACT THAT A DRIVER DIDN’T RECEIVE A TICKET ADMISSIBLE AT TRIAL?
Sometimes the black letter law passed by the legislature is unclear. The legislature can’t anticipate every possible fact scenario when they pass a law, so it lay to the courts to interpret the law and give guidance to what it means. This interpretation is called case law. When the court decides a certain meeting to the law it essentially answers a legal question. Lawyers and other courts then can rely on that ruling when they have a similar issue in their case. The following case answers the question above.
Allen v. Ellis, 191 Kan. 311, 380 P.2d 408 (1963).
This case addresses the following issue:
Is the fact that a driver did not receive a ticket following an accident admissible?
The general rule in Kansas is that an officer’s opinion of fault is not admissible in a case arising from an auto accident. Id. at 317. This case dealt with a variation on this idea: whether or not a jury could hear evidence that a defendant did not receive a ticket following the accident at issue. Id. Because this evidence would essentially tell the same information to the jury that the general rule prohibits, the court found that it was an error to allow an officer to testify regarding the fact that no ticket was issued to the Defendant. Id.
In this case, a young boy was killed when he was struck by a vehicle. Id. at 312. Defendant had been driving along a residential street when the boy suddenly and unexpectedly ran into the path of Defendant’s vehicle. Id. at 313. Defendant didn’t apply his brakes and hit the child. Id. There happen to be a patrolling officer in the area, and he immediately reported to the scene. Id. No traffic ticket was issued to Defendant. Id. at 317. At trial, Defendant elicited testimony from the officer that no ticket had been given to Defendant. Id. The jury ultimately found for Defendant. Id.
The court began by dissecting what non-issuance of a ticket really means—not a lot. Id. For instance, the lack of a ticket may simply mean “the officers had not preformed their duty” to investigate the accident. Id. Further, officers have several tasks at the scene of such an accident. Id. These tasks include ensuring emergency medical treatment is provided for all those involved in the crash, summoning other responders to clear the roadway, and ensure the safety of the general public, along with those involved in the accident and the officer him- or herself. Id. These are all factors that led Kansas court to refuse the “admission of one officer’s report of his investigation and conclusions.” Id.
Turning to the question at hand, the court found no viable reason to change course when the disputed evidence was the lack of a citation. Id. All the same factors were in play, and these factors were too numerous and difficult to effectively deal with on cross-examination or with the presentation of other evidence. Id. Instead, it was better to leave such questions to the jury and the jury alone. Id. Thus, the trial court had erred in admitting the evidence and Plaintiff was entitled to a new trial. Id.