Reprinted from Washington Post
An outtake from the recent controversy over expired-tag arrests: One of the reasons the District’s erstwhile policy was both objectionable and little-noticed is that police officers had discretion over whether or not to arrest a driver whose registration had lapsed.
Expired tags, as it happens, were just one of 160 misdemeanor offenses where officers can choose either to take offenders into custody or to write them what is essentially a glorified ticket.
The full list can be perused in a Metropolitan Police Department document issued in December 2005 outlining the proper procedure for issuing such a “violation citation,” or Form 61D. (It’s online as part of a trove of official department documents released to the nonprofit Partnership for Civil Justice in 2009.)
The list contains a number of other small-bore offenses that you might not realize can land you in jail — stuff like operating a radar detector, storing building materials in an alley, climbing a street lamp, leaving your dog’s excrement untended, or digging for fishing bait in Rock Creek Park.
Metropolitan Police officers are allowed to let violators off if they have “reason to believe that the violator will not cause injury to persons or damage to property, and will make an appearance in answer to the citation.” (Officers in other departments also issue 61Ds, but might have different procedures for doing so.)
The offender has 15 days to report to a police station, where they can choose to contest the charge in court or forfeit their right to a court date if they agree to forfeit some money, too.
According to police union chairman Kris Baumann, the list is “still good as near as we can tell” and was included in a list of active department directives as recently as August. I have queried the police department on whether any offenses should be added or subtracted and, if so, will update.