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While climbing out of my Prius a few weeks ago, I noticed that my D.C. tags had expired. I went online to re-up, but in between the time I paid and the time my new sticker actually arrived, I got a ticket. Fair enough; it’s under adjudication.
Lucky for me, I was ticketed while parked, not pulled over while driving. Last week, Nycci Nellis, of Kensington, Md., was jailed for crossing into the District while driving an SUV with outdated Maryland plates. Nellis, a contributor to WTOP, told the station, “I was in the wrong, and I absolutely should have had my car registration done. But I do think being handcuffed, put into a police car, put into solitary confinement, then taken downtown after being handcuffed once again and put in the woman's ward was excessive, and almost gratuitous.”
Her tags were three months out of date, and driving with tags more than 30 days overdue is an arrestable offense in D.C. But Nellis had a spotless record, and it would not have taken long to figure out that it was just an oversight on her part.
Instead, she was handcuffed, taken to one police station, then transferred to another. Council member Phil Mendelson told WTOP that while the police were justified in arresting Nellis, “the idea that this person could have been taken to one police station and given a ticket seems to be a bit gentler.”
He’s mostly right. In Nellis’s home state of Maryland, the maximum penalty for her offense is a $500 fine, but in Virginia, it could result in a $1,000 fine and six months in jail.
Nellis violated D.C. law, and she doesn’t dispute that. She even says having her car impounded would have been justified. And the police did nothing wrong in deciding to arrest her. But with all the other serious and intentional criminal activity in the District, should locking up someone over a harmless error really be a priority?
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