My Day in Court

I don’t really drive very much, since we are a proud one-car family. Most days, I take the train to work. In January, however, a friend of mine let me borrow his car while he was out of the country. The very first day, I drove it to work, I got a ticket.

I maintain that the ticket was unwarranted and I was totally set up. In repsonse to some neighborhood complaints about traffic in our area, the police had set up “Pedestrian Crosswalk Stings” where an ununiformed officer would cross the street repeatedly. Then cops on motorcycles would ticket all the cars that didn’t stop. I knew they were doing this — I saw at least 4 cars pulled over that morning alone. So I was very careful. Still got a ticket.

Here’s what happened. Yes, there was a pedestrian. No, they were not in the crosswalk. The officer claimed that I should have stopped because the car next to me stopped. My position is that even if the car next to me had stopped, how would I know to stop — you can’t see the break lights of the car next to you. I can’t see through metal, Kent!

So anyway, I was pretty shaken up about getting my first ticket, even if it was in Toli’s ticket magnet of a car. I decided to contest the ticket in court, which is very uncharacteristic of me. I usually don’t like talking to judges. The court date was set for several months later, so I used the time to solidify my position, keeping it nice and simple and putting together some diagrams to show that, in fact, it couldn’t have happened the way the officer said. I went through my statement over and over in my mind. I’d be very polite, thank the officer for appearing, say that the stings had a positive effect on the neighborhood, keep it simple, and claim that the officer must have thought he saw something that didn’t really happen.

I was nervous, but excited when I went to court. I couldn’t figure out why nobody else looked excited. Nobody was talking while we waited for the courtroom doors to open. I would think that in a room with other people defending themselves from similar charges, you would want to share strategy. But for some reason, the mood was pretty glum.

When the doors opened, we filed into the court room and found seats. I saw my officer at the back of the room, destroying any hope that the case would get automatically dismissed for a no-show. After a few minutes, they started taking role. The first name they called didn’t answer. So I guess that guy has to pay the $250 no-show charge. My name was second. I was told to approach the name caller person and she gave me a slip of paper to take to the clerk. She looked at the clerk and said, “Line 134. Dismissed.” The clerk stamped my slip of paper “dismissed” and said, “You’ll received a refund in the mail.”

I was pretty stunned by this turn of events. I said, somewhat embarassingly, “That’s it? I can go home now?” and I was assured that yes, my case was dismissed and I could leave. This happened to several other people, and we had a great little celebration while waiting for the elevator. This time, everyone was chatty. Nobody knew why we were dismissed.

I have some theories:

1. They knew they made a mistake and surely I couldn’t have committed a crime. However, due to the flow of paperwork it was impossible to revoke the ticket after it was issued.
2. The amount of the ticket didn’t justify a his-word-against-mine battle. This is probably the most likely, although it was like $350 so why not let me talk for 2 minutes and then have the judge rule against me? Seems like a good use of time to me.
3. The judge didn’t show up. The officer was there, the court clerk was there, but I didn’t see a judge. Maybe they had to dismiss everybody’s case that day.

Anyway, I was pretty psyched to get out of there without even having to say anything. And now that I’m above the law, I’m going to go download some music.

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