He showed up more than an hour before traffic court opened. Rolling Stones t-shirt. Scruffy beard. Work boots. I wondered why he was sitting outside the door so early. The only reason I was so early was because my son had a class at the community theater a few doors down. And I wasn’t about to get in line. This is Teeny Town, Southern State, USA. How many traffic tickets in one week could there be?
A lot, apparently. And from all walks of interesting life.
Traffic court didn’t open their doors until 5:30pm. Court began promptly at 6pm. My husband was supposed to meet me at 5:20pm to hand off the kids so I could get in line.
Yes. Jane received her second traffic ticket of her life. And yes. Jane was ticked (so to speak). She shouldn’t be here because she didn’t break the law. She just hit a certain intersection at a certain time when the light was indeed yellow but Officer Jack felt it was red. She had a witness. Her daughter, who said, “I’m proud of you Mom!” as she skated through the intersection. You see, Jane usually brakes for yellow lights. But with a quick glance in her mirrors, noticing the line of cars on her behind, she decided to complete her left turn to avoid getting hit. And when the flashing lights appeared in her rear view mirror, Mom turned to daughter and said, “Still proud of me?” Daughter slunk down in her seat.
But traffic court is where the fun began. Because Jane did her homework and consulted her lawyer friends. She was armed and ready, waiting in line to check in and challenge the powers that be. And Jane loves to people watch. What better place than traffic court?
“No food or drinks, no sunglasses or hats on your head and when you address the court it will be to your advantage to say ‘Yes, Ma’am’ or ‘Your Honor,” Officer Napoleon barked to all of us and we filed through. “If you have anything that can be construed as a weapon and you have to ask me you jus’ better turn ‘right round (as Flo Rida’s song is now pulsing through my brain) and dispose of it outside.”
The room was tiny. It only sat 51 people. (Yes, I counted.) All the seats were taken and there was a line, winding out the door. Southern twangs were bouncing off the walls. Tattoos, stiletto heels, nicotine stained fingers and teeth, bleach blonds, teased bouffant hair-dos, skin-tight pants, gigantic costume jewelry. And this was seen on just one of the offenders. Tall. Short. Skinny and the calorically challenged. Blue hairs and the pimpled faced. All there for one reason and one reason only. To fight injustice!
“I was one year shy of finishin’ law school,” Officer Napoleon boasts, “But then I a-cided I wanted to be on the right side of the law!” Yuk-yuk-yuk. He laughed at his little joke. “Liar. Lawyer. It’s all the same!” He yukked again. I had to listen to this joke 5 times before I was finally out of earshot.
Her Honor finally arrived. Two men in orange jumpsuits and shackles were paraded in front of us, jumping the line to appear before the judge. A scare tactic, maybe? It worked with me. I started to shake and doubt my resolve.
As my liar, I mean lawyer friend suggested, I asked to speak to the prosecutor. My name was finally called and I nervously approached the table. I explained the yellow/red light. I told him about my calm and kind response with Officer Jack and how he was rude and abrupt. I told him that I realize it’s the Officer’s word against mine. Mr. Prosecutor offers to charge me with a much lesser offense, one that doesn’t carry any points. I am grateful and say, “I really appreciate that because Officer Jack didn’t even charge me with the right crime.”
I point to the copy of my ticket. “Under code it says 12-34-5-6A (codes are changed to protect the identity of my state and Officer Jack’s incompetency.) which is failure to stop at a stop sign. I was at a stop light and that is code 76-54-3-2A.”
You see, I am an inquiring mind. I do my homework.
“You need to speak to the public defender,” Mr. Prosecutor says, suddenly.
“But…,” I protest, thinking I’ve now done something terribly wrong and won’t get my lesser charge.
“No. Trust me. You want to speak to the public defender,” he smiles.
I nod and move on to the next table. Mr. Public Defender heard it all and is already thumbing through a law-book.
“You are absolutely right,” he says. “He charged you with the wrong offense. I would plead not guilty and ask for bench trial. With the wrong code, these charges should be dismissed. At worst, they might amend the charge but we’d still get this lesser charge.”
I’m stunned and amazed. (Thank you, lawyer friends of mine!) After much debating with Mr. Public Defender (because I could hardly believe my luck) and an amused smile from Mr. Prosecutor, I decide to take it to trial. But I have to wait until the end of October.