|This picture has nothing to do with this post but isn't it a pretty view of my beach town?|
- I arrived at the traffic court, which oddly was being held at the juvenile court facility the next town over, half an hour before the before the scheduled appearance time. There were several women in the waiting area and another woman showed up later. We all had questions about why the list of cases on the wall next to the courtroom didn't have our names on it. One lady had driven from Bakersfield (120 miles) so was especially worried. While we waited, the involved officers began to arrive; mine was among them. There went the "maybe he won't show up and I'll get a dismissal" theory! We were all a bit nervous. Several men later filed into the waiting room as well.
- The bailiff finally opened the courtroom doors 25 minutes later and we all filed in, the officers taking places in the jury box. The judge issued instructions, did a roll call, administered the truth oath, and then allowed five minutes for evidence to be brought forward such as diagrams, photos, witness statements, etc, including from the officers. Ms. Bakersfield's officer came right up to her and showed her his diagrams and was talking to her about the signage, etc, and how fast she was supposed to be going where. Then the judge came back and stated that, similar to a criminal trial, anyone could plead guilty before their case was called and receive a reduced fine. Ms. Bakersfield and another woman raised their hands and were sent off with their paperwork.
- The next two cases were for speeding. The officers spoke first and gave many technical details about signage and their experience at estimating speeds and use of radar guns, etc., which was a bit intimidating. Then the citizen had their chance to ask questions and give their statements. Both the older man and young woman lost their cases (the young woman was completely ineffective--spending most of her time gesturing, and then admitting she never looked at her speedometer). Then it was my turn. Gulp.
- My officer recounted his 12 years of highway patrol service, position on the road at the time he observed me (allegedly) fail to stop, then drive on the shoulder and pull out into the same lane as another car. On my part, I told the officer that I was surprised when he gave me the citation for failure to stop since I didn't recall him saying that during our conversation (the officer's first words to me were that he pulled me over for driving on the shoulder, "which is every CHP officer's pet peeve"). I asked if he had recorded the conversation and if I could see a transcript of it. He peered over at me and intoned, "That would have to be ordered". The judge repeated that any tapes would have had to be requested pretrial. "Oh", I said, "I didn't know that". I told the judge that I did stop at the light, I distinctly remembered because it was my first day of commuting to my new job, and that I had stopped behind another vehicle on the off ramp. The judge said, "Oh, you stopped behind another vehicle?" He went over the law about having to stop behind a crosswalk or limit line before pulling up further to look for cross traffic, confirming with the officer that it was a limit line and not a crosswalk in my case. The judge asked me if I stopped at the limit line. I said I didn't know, I may have been over.
- The judge then found me guilty but said my fine was $185--which was a lot better than $490 and definitely worth taking the time to go to court! I got my paperwork and then left the courtroom. I headed down the hall to use the restroom before going downstairs to pay my fine. A security guard had me sign a clipboard before she would unlock the restroom door. As I turned from signing my name, my officer suddenly appeared, wanting to talk to me. He told me, "You should be really thankful because the judge almost NEVER does that. He almost never does that." Thinking it was really odd that the officer was talking to me outside the court and wondering what on earth he expected from me, I said, "Well, I really appreciate that". The officer went on, "Because I know that fine is really expensive". Again I said I appreciated it. Still he was standing there. So I stuck out my hand and shook his before turning back to the waiting security officer, an older lady who shrugged her shoulders at this interaction and said, "Whatever!" My sentiments exactly :)
- So maybe the officer felt singed by the judge? Maybe he had Little Man Syndrome? Maybe no one has challenged his tickets before? Or maybe my telling the truth really worked!