Court Affiants

Published 12:00 am Monday, December 29, 2008

Three months, 58 no-shows: where are affiants in court?

By Jason C. Mattox

A total of 58 cases have been dismissed over the past three months when officers or affiants have failed to appear in Panola County Justice Court to offer evidence.

According to Justice Court dockets from the past quarter, of the 58 cases, exactly half have been dismissed due to officers failing to appear to offer evidence on contested cases.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

Captain Roosevelt Howard, commander of the Mississippi Highway Patrol Troop E, said he was unaware of troopers not appearing in court.

“This is the first I have heard of it,” he told The Panolian this week.

Howard said it is policy that if a trooper is subpoenaed they appear in court.

“When the trooper is subpoenaed, they are supposed to be there,” he said. “If they are not appearing, we should be notified by the prosecutor.”

Calls by the newspaper to Panola County prosecuting attorney C. Gaines Baker this week were not returned.

Howard said he recently addressed officer attendance at court during a district meeting with troopers.

“Our troopers know that it is important to appear in court,” he said. “But we have had some problems with some Justice Court officials in our coverage area that do not notify us in time.”

Justice Court Clerk Carrie Ann Davis said troopers are always subpoenaed and know when they are to appear in court.

“When it comes to criminal cases, they are dismissed if an affiant fails to appear,” she said. “I would believe throughout the course of a year, you have more general affiants failing to appear than troopers.”

Davis said her office is legally obligated to accept any affidavit.

“The law says we have to take any affidavit that someone comes in to file, even when we know they will not appear,” she said.

As for troopers, Davis said if a trooper knows they will not be able to make a scheduled court date, they can contact her office and request a continuance.

When cases are dismissed in open court, nobody pays court costs. If an affiant dismisses charges prior to court, the affiant pays court costs.

“There is no way for us to legally collect on the court costs if the affiant fails to appear,” she said.

Of those 29 cases dismissed due to officers failing to appear, eight were DUI or possession cases that would carry hefty fines and driver’s license suspensions with convictions.

“It just blows your mind that the troopers are not showing up,” retired MADD court monitor Larry Knight said. “If a person is subpoenaed and doesn’t show up, they get thrown in jail, but that doesn’t happen with law enforcement.”

Knight said during his 10 years as court monitor, when troopers or other law enforcement failed to appear for DUIs, he would contact superior officers.

“I would always start out meeting with the district commander, and they would always give me good answers, but when that didn’t reveal any true responses, I went to the colonel, and that had some results,” he said.

Knight also added that the few who are not appearing to defend tickets are causing a bad reputation for other officers.

“When officers don’t show up, it makes people lose respect for law enforcement,” he said. “It might sometimes make a person think they could not get out of charge because they did not have enough clout.”