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Municipal Technical Advisory Service (MTAS)

Original Author: Blake, Karen
Date of Material: 12/17/2014

Traffic--Laws and regulations
Fines and court costs

Ticket Splitting

Reviewed Date: 05/11/2020
MTAS consultants advise cities to avoid ticket splitting and instead instruct officers to issue a single citation with multiple charges relating to one event.

Ticket Splitting

“Ticket splitting” occurs when an officer writes more than one ticket or citation relating to a single event, such as writing a citation for speeding and another citation for failure to yield or failure to wear a seatbelt. It is the opinion of MTAS consultants that ticket splitting should be avoided based on the legal authority appearing below. Notably, it is a practice that varies among jurisdictions, but as a best practice, officers are encouraged to file a single citation or case, comprised of various charges stemming from a set of related actions or event. The case should then be filed, with the court having the jurisdiction to hear the most severe charge.

A strict reading of the statute on citations appears to refer to only one citation and one court (place) being authorized:

§ 7-63-101. Citations or complaints; issuance; copies; contents

When any person violates any traffic, or other ordinance, law or regulation of any municipal, metropolitan or city government in the presence of a:
(1) Law enforcement officer of such government;
(2) Member of the fire department or building department who is designated as a special police officer of the municipality; or
(3) Transit inspector employed by a public transportation system or transit authority organized pursuant to chapter 56, part 1 of this Title;
such officer or inspector may issue, in lieu of arresting the offender and having a warrant issued for the offense, a citation or complaint for such offense. A copy of such citation, which shall contain the offense charged and the time and place when such offender is to appear in court, shall be given to the offender.

As municipal courts are civil in nature, consideration should be given to the “single injury rule.” This rule prevents plaintiffs from splitting their causes of action and filing multiple claims relating to one event resulting in injury. The single injury rule works as, estoppel, meaning any previous judgment entered regarding an event is conclusive, not only as to matters actually put in issue in that case, but equally as to those claims which by due diligence of the litigant might have been put in issue and determined in that original case. Hayes v. Civil Serv. Comm'n of Metro. Gov't of Nashville & Davidson Cnty., 907 S.W.2d 826 (Tenn. Ct. App. 1995)

“Res judicata” is term describing preclusive effect of a former judgment; in its purest form it prevents a subsequent suit between the same parties and their privies on the same cause of action; if parties are the same but the cause of action is different, the term is “collateral estoppel,” meaning that parties and their privies in any other cause of action cannot re-litigate any matter which was actually determined in the prior suit. Id.
For 130 years proceedings to recover fines for the violation of municipal ordinances have been considered civil for the purposes of procedure and appeal, although the principles of double jeopardy have recently been determined to apply in such cases. See Miles, supra; cf. United States v. Halper, 490 U.S. 435, 109 S.Ct. 1892, 104 L.Ed.2d 487 (1989)(discussing under what circumstances a civil penalty constitutes “punishment” for the purposes of double jeopardy analysis). The basis of the cases is that an appeal to circuit court of a judgment of a municipal court-even when the defendant is the appellant-is an appeal in a civil action brought by the municipality to recover a “debt.” Being such, where requested, the appealing defendant is entitled to a jury trial as in any other civil case, despite the fact that no direct penalty of imprisonment or fine greater than $50 is involved. Myers, 787 S.W.2d at 928. Based on the Miles and Myers opinions by our Supreme Court, the court in City of Church Hill v. Reynolds concluded that the prohibitions against double jeopardy apply to proceedings involving Defendant's alleged violation of these municipal ordinances. City of Church Hill v. Reynolds, 2001 WL 242583, at 5 (Tenn. Ct. App. Mar. 12, 2001).

The courts have held that double jeopardy attaches upon the first trial, ruling that a second trial based on the same events is barred.

Considering these legal doctrines, MTAS consultants advise cities to avoid ticket splitting and instead instruct officers to issue a single citation with multiple charges relating to one event.

Please let me know if I can be of further assistance.