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What happens in Alabama if my ticket is not signed?

Posted by Andrew Segal | Mar 25, 2019

In Alabama, the police officer is supposed to take your ticket, within 48 hours, to a magistrate so as to acknowledge under oath to the facts contained in the ticket. The idea behind this is to allow a neutral and detached party an opportunity to make sure there were legally reasonable grounds for the officer to have issued the ticket. This means that before you go to court and enter a plea, your ticket should have the signature of both the officer and the magistrate.

Now the copy of the ticket the officer hands you won't have the signature of the magistrate and may not even be signed by the officer at that time-that copy of the ticket is simply your acknowledgment that you know to show up in court. However, the ticket that the judge has should have both the officer signature as well as the signature of the magistrate.

Under Alabama case law, this goes to the power of the court to hear your case. When we talk about the power of the court we're talking about something called jurisdiction. This just means is it within the power of that particular court. For example, a court in Alabama doesn't have the power to tell somebody who has committed a crime in Tennessee that they must do something because it doesn't have the power or teased legal term, the jurisdiction, over a crime that occurred in Tennessee.

And Alabama law requires that for the court to have proper power over you the ticket needs to be both signed and sworn to.

Alabama case law states: 'Irregularities in obtaining jurisdiction of the person may be waived, but a formal accusation by [an] indictment, or information, or complaint supported by oath is essential to complete jurisdiction, and cannot be waived.”

Ford v. State, 612 So.2d at 1321

In traffic ticket cases and misdemeanors, this is covered by Rule 19 (6) (a) i & ii of the Alabama Rules of Judicial Administration. These rules spell out that “without unnecessarily delay, normally within 48 hours, [a law enforcement officer should] acknowledge under oath the facts alleged therein before any person within the judicial branch of government who is authorized by the state of Alabama to administer oaths”.

In short, if your traffic ticket was not completed correctly, the court doesn't have the power to resolve your case. That doesn't mean this can't be fixed but sometimes lawyers can get cases dismissed because of mistakes such as this. Now many people would say this is a “technicality”. It isn't. The whole idea behind having a “neutral and detached” magistrate review the ticket is to protect you and make sure that you are treated fairly under our Constitution. When this doesn't happen, the system fails and your denied due process rights and, I would argue the fundamental fairness we value in our justice system.

Of course, if you're charged with a criminal offense in North Alabama and you'd like our help, just contact us here:

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About the Author

Andrew Segal

Andrew Segal is a former judge and prosecutor who now represents the accused as a criminal defense attorney in Huntsville, Alabama, area courts. Andrew graduated cum laude from Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine, in 1982. and Washington College of Law at American University in 1988.