In September of last year, I was pulled over by a quota-driven cop and given a ticket for speeding. The ticket carried with it a significant fine and the addition of 4-points onto my license. This past Thursday (May 28, 2015), I successfully defended myself in court, and had the charges dismissed. Leaving aside the fact that I had committed no real crime (there was no victim), the financial ramifications of this “crime” would have hurt me significantly, and I felt a strong urge to fight the charges and pursue true justice.
Just a month prior, I had received and was eventually convicted of a separate traffic “crime” which also carried a significant fine and was a 2-point violation. Had I been convicted of the second September “crime,” I would have not only had a significant increase in the cost of my insurance, but because the “crimes” took place within an arbitrary time limit, I also would have been labeled as a Super-Duper-Violator-of-Arbitrary-Traffic-Laws-and-Limits-on-Velocity-of-Travel (or something like that) offender. This carried with it an additional $750 fine.
When I first went to the courthouse, I was told to speak with the prosecutor. He informed me that I had two options, plead guilty to the charges as they were, or plead guilty to a lesser “crime” that would have had a much more significant fine, but would add 0-points to my license. He looked at me waiting for an answer. I was somewhat surprised because he never indicated that I had the option to plead not guilty and proceed to trial. I said to him, “well, actually I’d like to do neither, plead not guilty, and proceed to a trial.” He looked at me as if I had three heads. Apparently not enough people pursue this route.
I sat around in the courthouse for what seemed like an eternity waiting for my chance to appear in front of the judge. In the meantime, the prosecutor had called in the cop who had written me the ticket to discuss the matter with me (intimidate me into pleading guilty). The cop essentially said that it was going to be his word against mine, and that the judge would always take his word over mine. I asked why that was. His explanation was less than satisfactory. We went back and forth a little while (probably a mistake on my part because you should never talk to the police), and eventually I made a statement along the lines of “this seems to be all about revenue generation and not about safety.” With that, he huffed, rolled his eyes, and walked away saying sarcastically, “have a nice day.” I got a small amount of satisfaction from this encounter.
Finally, the prosecutor and I appeared in front of the judge. I informed the judge that I was pleading not guilty, and that I wished to proceed to a trial. I also indicated to him that I would be requesting all of the documents that the state had associated with my case and any proof of guilt they had. At this time, I learned that the legal term for this is ‘discovery.’ The judge was fair and said that this was all within my rights. He then instructed the prosecutor to send me a letter with instructions on how to attain that discovery. He instructed me to wait for that letter.
Instead of receiving this letter, I received a notification from the court that I had been scheduled for another court date. I wrote a letter to the court saying that this was out of order, that I had not yet received the judge’s ordered letter, and stated that I would not be appearing until I received the prosecution’s letter. A few weeks passed and again, the same thing happened. No letter, but a notification of a new court date. I proceeded with the same type of letter, only this time more strongly worded, and I insisted upon dismissal of the charges on the grounds that I was being denied my 6th Amendment right to a speedy trial. More than a month passed, and I thought maybe the court had agreed with me and that this had been the end of it. This proved to be naïve on my part.
Two new notifications from the court arrived on the same date. They indicated that my court date had again been re-set, and that if I did not show up, there would be a warrant issued for my arrest (see how quickly a minor traffic “crime” gets escalated into violence?).
Because of this threat of violence, I opted to go to the courthouse and argue my case before the judge instead of writing another letter. Nearly seven hours, and another meeting with the prosecutor later, I was finally before the judge again. I stated my case, that I had been before the court several months prior, opted for a trial and made a request for discovery, and that the judge then had instructed the prosecutor to send me a letter. I also explained how I had never received that letter, had written letters to the court requesting the letter, and still had not received it. I then requested that he dismiss the charges as per my 6th Amendment rights.
The judge took his time looking through my file, examining the letters I had written; I came prepared with copies of my letters along with proof that the court had received my letters, as I had sent them certified and had documents with court representative signatures indicating they had been received. Being as how I had been sitting in the courthouse for almost a whole day’s proceedings, I had become familiar with the judge’s actions. After reviewing my file, he picked up a stamp which I had come to identify as the ‘dismissal’ stamp. I almost couldn’t contain my excitement. He proceeded to go into an oration of his decision, that I had been within my rights as per all of my requests, and that it was obvious that I had gone above and beyond in my attempts to receive discovery and defend myself in trial. He concluded that he had no choice but to dismiss my charges on the grounds I had argued. “You are free to go, have a nice day,” were his last words to me.
To add icing to the cake, the judge also informed me that my file indicated I had paid $150 bail previously in association with this case, and that since the charges were now dismissed, I was entitled to reimbursement! As I left the courtroom, I unleashed an epic Tiger Woods-style fist pump, and walked out with my arms raised in the air. I got a few chuckles from the courtroom audience. More people should pursue this route. Even if not victorious, the time added to the courts would force them to change the laws, and as I’ve said before, these laws are making all of us poorer, and are keeping the most poor among us from rising out of poverty. It could be considered a technicality, but I felt like I had won true justice for myself. Victory tastes so sweet.