By Gretchen Schuldt
Getting a ticket instead of being charged with a crime might seem like a lucky break, but that ticket can get you added to a criminal database and ultimately hurt future job and housing opportunities, according to Kori Ashley, staff attorney with Legal Action of Wisconsin.
If that ticket is accompanied by arrest and fingerprinting the information can go – and sometimes must go – to the State Department of Justice and become part of a Crime Information Bureau criminal background report provided to anyone who asks for it and pays $7, Ashley said.
"I would say to never ignore the ticket," said Ashley, who represents indigent defendants in Milwaukee Municipal Court. "I would treat this ticket just like I would treat a criminal summons I received in the mail because ultimately, if you have been fingerprinted, it will show up on your background report, just like a criminal arrest and charge."
Going to court, even if the ticket says that isn't necessary, often results in better outcomes for defendants, she said.
"I firmly believe that people are rewarded for going to court; even without an attorney you can typically negotiate a reduction in the forfeiture or amendment to a lesser charge," she said.
She also advised defendants to contact Legal Action "so we can determine if they are eligible for free legal services. Even if they are not eligible, they will get to speak to an attorney and get general advice that they can use when they go to court."
Learn more about your rights and municipal courts at WJI's Milwaukee County Municipal Courts page.
Practices related to submitting information to DOJ differ between law enforcement agencies. State law requires the department to collect fingerprints from people arrested for specific crimes, but also gives law enforcement a great deal of leeway in deciding whose information should go to CIB.
The bureau must collect or accept information from arrests for offenses that include:
"I would treat this ticket just like I would treat a criminal summons I received in the mail because ultimately, if you have been fingerprinted, it will show up on your background report, just like a criminal arrest and charge." – Kori Ashley
It is entirely possible that one person who commits an offense will end up with it recorded on a CIB report and another person ticketed for the exact same conduct will not, Ashley said.
The ultimate outcome of a case, whether a defendant is found guilty or not guilty, may or may not catch up to the original arrest information, Ashley said. Fingerprints taken at the time of arrest may remain on file even if a defendant is acquitted.
Courts are not required to tell DOJ the outcome of a case and some, including Milwaukee Municipal Court, often do not.
A defendant who is found not guilty or whose prosecution is dropped can request that the arrest information be removed from CIB records. Police and the courts do not do this on their own. It is up to the defendant to request it.
The State Department of Justice has a form for this. It is here.
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