Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Abandon all hope, ye who enter here (A visit to the county courthouse)

Today I dwelled in several of Dante’s circles of hell, which began shortly after crossing the river Styx and entering Eureka.

My destination: the dungeon in the county courthouse basement, traffic violation division.

As I entered, I imagined a sign on the wall – “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.”

There was a long line of deadbeats, scofflaws and assorted scoundrels before me. So I waited. And waited. Maybe this was the eighth circle of hell, steeped in excrement. Souls burned and fire rained down from above.

The guy in front of me was there to try to get back the marijuana an officer confiscated from him. He said it was for medical purposes and his case had been dismissed by a judge. He had previously gotten in line at a window located a mere eight feet over, but after waiting was informed that he was at the wrong window. So he got in the line for my window shortly before I arrived.

When it was finally his turn, he was informed he was in the wrong line. He needed to get back in the other line – the line for the window he had previously visited – a window which now had a really long line. He shuffled his way to the back of the line with a defeated look on his face. It was come sort of cruel hoax. Why were they fucking with this guy?

I don’t know what happened to the fellow, but I hope he got his weed back, and then some.

Fifteen minutes had passed since entering hell and now it was my turn. I handed over my “Request for trial by written declaration,” which had grown to three pages of arguments and five exhibits disputing the charges against me – an allegation that I ran a stop sign.

While I am not without vice or sin, I am innocent of these particular charges. But I was being punished anyway.

I assumed the clerk would take my court documents, take my check, and set me free.

Instead, she fumbled around for about five minutes looking through boxes of papers. Then she returned.

“We don’t have the ticket. It hasn’t been entered,” she said.

I told her it didn’t matter. I still wanted to turn in my legal papers.

“You can’t do that. The ticket has not been entered. Wait until you get a notice,” she said.

I told her she would need to put that in writing, being that my copy of the ticket said it needs to be contested no later than April 12.

Her face crinkled. “We’ll have to get someone to enter the ticket. Have a seat and we’ll call you to the window when we’re ready.”

I sat and watched ugly people enter and exit the dungeon. I could hear the wind howling outside. There was nothing to read, nothing to do.

Then suddenly the entire room lit up as an angel floated through the door. She was a towering, shapely brunette in a tight skirt and knee-high black leather boots with high heels. She looked to be 6 feet, 6 inches tall, maybe seven or eight feet tall. I imagined she was a lawyer by day, an exotic dancer by night.

She commanded everyone’s attention. Her beauty was infectious.
The men stopped slouching and sucked in their guts, and the few women on hand did the same as they fiddled with their hair. There were smiles and awkward glances. For a moment, everyone was happy. All was well in the world. The dungeon was not a bad place to be after all.

Then she left, the lights dimmed, the smiles disappeared. The feasting resumed, the flames returned.

I was called to the window.

“Your ticket has the wrong vehicle code violation on it. We’re going to have to get that fixed before we can do anything,” the clerk informed me.

My blood boiled. “I know that the officer put down the wrong vehicle code violation. That’s part of my defense!” I told her.

What the hell is this court clerk doing helping the “prosecution”?? The fact that I was accused of violating a non-existent vehicle code was the first line of my defense argument. Not the only line, but an important one.

I was told to sit down and wait. An hour and five minutes after I had entered the dungeon I was called to the window – my third time.

Suddenly, by some miracle, she had found paperwork indicating that the officer had sent in a corrected version of the ticket. I was suspicious. This took an hour. The Sheriff’s Department is located next door in the same building.

She then showed me a piece of paper that indicated the officer had mailed the corrected version to me last week – eight days ago to be exact. Mail takes a day or two to get delivered from Eureka to McKinleyville. I never received anything. I was even more suspicious. Then she showed me the hand-written address where that notice had been sent. The address was correct. But the handwriting looked rather... well... feminine. It looked different than the handwriting on my ticket.

That was odd, but there was nothing I could do about it. I made a note, in handwriting, in the margins of my defense arguments that I was only informed of the ticket correction upon handing in my written declaration. So much for all my neat paperwork.

She stamped everything, took a $156 check from me (refundable if I win) and then asked me “If you don’t win your case, will you be attending traffic school.”

My reply “No. I will appeal it.”

For some reason, she just starred at me. By the look in her eyes, it appeared my words weren’t registering.

“If I lose my case, I plan on appealing the decision,” I informed here.

OK. Now she understood and went about finishing the paperwork. “Would you like a receipt?” she asked. At first I said no. Then I changed my mind. This place is so screwed up, I would be foolish not to.

“Yes, I’ll take a receipt,” I said.

“Go to the next window,” she answered.

Even though I had given her the check and she was in possession of it, she couldn’t give me a receipt. So I got in line at another window. I waited for three or four minutes before it was my turn. It took the clerk about 6 minutes to prepare a receipt and print it out – a total of 10 minutes just to get a receipt!

I was done. I almost ran out the door. I was alive again. A verdict should be delivered in three weeks, give or take.

I think I’ll win. If not, I’m already planning my appeal.

So far, there are a couple lessons:

1. If you get a ticket and plan on fighting it, the first thing you should do is come home and write down every detail about what happened, no matter how trivial. CP told me to do this when I got home after getting the ticket. It was good advice and really helped. In reviewing those notes, I discovered a gross violation of basic traffic stop procedure, something which I was able to confirm with an internet search.

2. Revisit the “scene of the crime” and take notes.

3. Check EVERY item on the ticket. On mine, I found three mistakes. The officer apparently tried to cite me for running a stop sign, but wrote down the wrong vehicle code violation. He also wrote down the wrong speed limit for the street and wrote down that my right taillight was out, even though it was actually my left taillight.

4. Don’t wait to get a notice in the mail. I never received anything. I didn’t receive anything after getting my initial ticket, nor did I receive anything regarding the “corrected” ticket. Sometimes things get lost in the mail, but sometimes people don’t put things in the mail.

5. Don’t listen to the court clerks. Had I done so, I would have automatically lost my case. Not only that, but I probably would have received an arrest warrant and a higher fine for failure to appear. Assuming that the clerk today was telling the whole truth and nothing but the truth, my ticket had been “entered” into the system, despite her initial claim that it wasn’t. If I had done what she said and “waited until I got a notice,” I would have been royally screwed.

For better or worse, I’ll report the results of my case on this blog. Stay tuned.


Blogger Heraldo said...

Excellent post! You capture it perfectly.

2:57 PM  

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