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What I learned In Court: Don’t Facilitate Your Own Injustice

I found myself in traffic court in the cesspool state of New York (from that you probably can tell how well this is going to turn out ) recently to fight a bogus violation of turning left at an intersection on Halloween a little over a month ago.

Why was it bogus?  Because on top of there being no sign hanging next to the traffic light (which was green at the time) the secondary sign that was at the left corner had been bent to face another direction.  Probably some Halloween hooligans up to some mischief.

Regardless, I was unfamiliar with the road and made a seemingly legal left hand turn.  I was subsequently pulled over and ticketed.  The officer asked why I turned left and I said there wasn’t any sign.  His response was “They’re all over the place”.

So, thinking I might have missed something I went back and saw that there was not, in fact, signs “all over the place”.  As I had mentioned there was no sign hanging above the road and the one on the left was facing the wrong direction.  There was a third sign on the right hand side of the road but according to New York State traffic law that’s not good enough.

I then pled “not guilty” and returned to the little podunk town in Upstate New York yesterday to have my day in court.  Ok, podunk might be a little much, the town has bout 29,000 residents.

It was then I made my mistake.  Instead of running the risk of  having the case summarily ruled by a small town judge I took a plea deal that knocked my moving violation down to a parking ticket.

I’m thinking: Great, I won’t risk getting railroaded and I’ll pay a couple bucks and get out of here 1,2,3.

Well, a few things happened in the next TWO and half hours.

First, “hanging” Judge Mercy (ironic name) tossed out a plea agreement on a whim, ruled an innocent man guilty even though he PROVED he wasn’t on a cell phone while driving, and strong armed a woman into pleading guilty because the officer wasn’t present for the trial and the judge would force her to come back in a month instead of tossing out her traffic ticket.

At this point, the judge seems to be playing by his own rules and even though I have PHOTOGRAPHIC evidence along with the law, printed out, stating the one remaining traffic sign was in violation of New York Traffic Law Section 2B.18 I’m thinking that I probably made the right call.

Until I find out that the parking ticket I had agreed to was for ONE HUNDRED AND TWENTY FIVE DOLLARS!!!

I guess I’m just a simple Pittsburgh boy, but when we, in the free commonwealth of Pennsylvania, talk about parking tickets, it starts at $5 and tops out around $50 (so long as you’re not getting towed or something).  Of course, upon hearing this, I asked the judge if I could take back my plea deal and fight it.  He said sure, just come back again in a month and sit around for another 3 hours and he’ll be happy to.

At this point the whole matter is going to cost me money regardless of my decision, if only in gas, but my time is worth more to me spent elsewhere than some backwater town running the risk of having my evidence ignored anyways, so I just pay the $125 parking ticket.

My experience in Traffic Court has led me to a conclusion that can be extrapolated to all court.  If you are in the right, FIGHT.  Don’t accept pleas, don’t get suckered into their doom and gloom about points on licenses and increases in insurance or other penalties.

I was innocent but I let the idea of expediency and the fear of being found guilty sway me into letting them rake me over the coals.

Oh and one more thing, absolutely print out ALL applicable laws in which prove you are in the right.   It might have saved the guy who got the cell phone ticket because the judge wrongly applied the law to him.  But unless you have it right there, right then, they are not going to take your word for it.  And a voice recorder.  The cell phone guy claimed that 2 cars pulled him over and the officer who gave him the ticket claimed the officer in the unmarked car radioed him to pull him over.

The officer said the guy was making all that up.  Oddly enough, I don’t believe the cop, he seemed to fumble for his denial that anyone else was involved.  For the guy who got the ticket, it just seemed like a weird thing to make up.  If he had recorded the officer then he could have proved him to be a crooked cop who perjures himself.  No voice recorder?  It’s just he said/cop said and the judge expressed clearly that he was going to rule with the cop every time.  So much for due process and innocent until proven guilty.  I mean the guy had statements from the cell phone company claiming that there were no calls, texts or data usage anywhere near the time he was pulled over, both before and after.  What more proof do you need?

The judge ruled just by touching the cell phone (which the defendant denied, he said it was a tin of cough drops or something) he was guilty, but that’s not true according to New York State Vehicle Law  Article 33 Section 1225-c part 1 subsection (c) and (d) concerning cell phones and Section 1225-d part 4 concerning electronic devices.

(c) “Using” shall mean holding a mobile telephone to, or in the immediate proximity of, the user’s ear

(d) “Hand-held mobile telephone” shall mean a mobile telephone with which a user engages in a call using at least one hand.

4. A person who holds a portable electronic device in a conspicuous manner while operating a motor vehicle is presumed to be using such device. The presumption established by this subdivision is rebuttable by evidence tending to show that the operator was not using the device within the meaning of this section.

Now, armed with that in conjunction with the bill saying that no texts, calls or data was used during that time, it would be harder for the judge in good conscience to rake him over the aforementioned coals.

In summation:

  • Fight if you are innocent.  Heck, fight if you’re guilty but they can’t prove it.
  • Don’t be enticed by the sweet sounding plea deal.  There is always fine print with which to rake you over the coals and plea deals make THEIR job easier, that’s why they offer them.
  • Bring EVERYTHING with you.  Evidence, witnesses, case law, the law itself printed out.  EVERYTHING to prove not only that you are innocent but WHY you are innocent. Even if a judge and cop aren’t crooked that doesn’t mean they aren’t ignorant to the law.
  • Carry a voice recorder.  It’s important when it’s your word versus theirs.

We have been taught that the legal system is supposed to be fair.

But if a town needs money fairness might have to make room for revenue.

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