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Docs: Thousands Of Arrests For Expired Tags In D.C.

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Police in the nation's capital have arrested nearly 3,500 drivers in the past two years whose tags had expired or who had failed to register their cars, but the vast majority weren't locked up, according to records provided to The Associated Press.

The records, obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request, list 3,497 arrests from Oct. 1, 2009 through Sept. 30, 2011. Only about 250 or so of the arrests during that time are classified as a "lock-up," though the records don't indicate how long someone spent behind bars. In most cases, the driver was released after getting a citation or agreed to pay a fine instead of appearing in court or standing trial. Some cases don't specify any outcome of the arrest.

The records list arrests made by the D.C. police department, as well as other law enforcement agencies in the district, under an unusual D.C. law that permitted the police to arrest drivers operating cars with expired tags.

The D.C. police policy had given drivers a 30-day grace period in which they were issued citations instead of arrested for expired tags. Police had discretion over whether a driver should be arrested, issued a criminal citation or given a civil traffic ticket, a spokeswoman has said. The D.C. Council last month passed emergency legislation to end the practice altogether. The bill was approved without opposition and eliminates criminal penalties for expired tags, replacing them with civil fines.

Some names of the arrested are withheld from the records because they are juveniles, and some names appear twice -- suggesitng they were arrested more than once. Most of those who were locked up had an unregistered car, the records show. It's not clear from the records whether the motor vehicle infraction was the only reason for the arrest.

The arrests were on the decline at the time the D.C. Council ended the law. There were 2,163 arrests from October 2009 through Sept. 2010, and 1,334 from Oct. 1, 2010 through Sept. 30, 2011.

Among those arrested was Cubie Coleman IV, a 28-year-old disc jockey who was pulled over in October 2010, according to the records.

Coleman said he was stopped because one of his rear lights was out. After being pulled over, the officer learned that his tags had been expired for several months. Coleman said he was placed in a cell at a local police precinct for a couple of hours since he did not have enough money to pay the fine. He said a friend ultimately paid the amount, which he recalled as $50, and he did not appear in court.

"They basically told me it was an arrestable offense, which I had no idea. I thought it was just a ticket," he said. "I would
say I wasn't necessarily up in arms, per se -- it was more shocking than anything."

John Townsend, manager of public and government affairs for AAA-Mid-Atlantic, which advocates for motorists and travelers, said he was unable to find any other jurisdiction in the country where police could make arrests for expired tags. Justin McNaull, director of state relations for AAA, said he was unaware of any federal database that captured traffic infractions from state to state.

Townsend said he found the number of arrests "shocking."

"It's not even a traffic misdemeanor. It's a traffic infraction. It's not of the scope of reckless driving or DUI. Those
are the type of people who should be arrested," Townsend said.

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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