A couple of weeks ago I went to court for the first time in my life. Speeding ticket, going 40 in a 30. Not exactly the crime of the century, but I got the ticket in March and promptly forgot about it. Then whoops, in June I got a notice from the DMV saying they were suspending my license if I didn’t get my forgetful butt into court. Called to confessed my sins and the nice clerk told me to come in at 9 a.m. anytime before July 17. So off I went.
I was kind of excited about going, actually. Since I like research (and arguing), I often thought I’d missed my calling as a lawyer. I’d gotten the ticket in Rome, New York, on a street that’s a half a mile long, straight as a blade, and quiet. Just the kind of street where a driver might forget the speed limit is so low. I’d been warned by my cousin many times about this street, “Watch out, there are always cops around.” And sure enough, that sunny morning in March I was cruising along ten miles an hour over the limit and there he was, Mr. Cop, pointing a radar gun at me. Busted.
I’ve had maybe five speeding tickets in my life in spite of the fact that I go over the speed limit all the time. I spent 30 years driving five hours upstate from New York City, so it’s remarkable that I’ve gotten so few tickets. My attitude about getting a ticket is pretty simple: I speed (though not to excess). Statistically speaking, I’m going to get nailed once in awhile. Fair is fair, right?
On the day I got the ticket I was a little peevish, however, since the street on which the speed limit is 30 is begging for a revision. There’s no reason I can see that this street shouldn’t carry a 40 mph limit, or even 45. So when I rolled down the window and the officer strolled up, I said sarcastically: “Well ya got me. I was going 40.” Mistakenly, I thought telling the truth might help my case and he’d let me go. I’m quite sure the sarcasm didn’t help.
At any rate, I went into court prepared to say yeah yeah yeah, I was speeding, scold me, fine me and let me get out of here. There weren’t many people in the courtroom that day and, again, it was kind of exciting to see our system in action. As the “criminals” who got there earlier than I did went before the judge I looked at the ticket, which I hadn’t ever looked at carefully before tossing it on my desk back in March (stupid, I know). Under violation the cop had written “47 mph in a 30.” And under comments was this: “Driver said ‘Well, you got me fair and square. I was speeding.’”
Now I have great respect for the police. But this guy had out and out lied. Suddenly, the casual county shawl that I’ve been wearing since I relocated from Long Island fell away. When the judge called my name I clicked up the aisle in my high heels and black New York City suit. The judge read the charges and said how do you plead? I said guilty, but held up a finger.
“Do you have something to say?” he said.
“Yes, Your Honor, I do,” I said, and proceeded to explain I was NOT going 47, I was going 40, and that I most certainly did NOT say “You got me fair and square,” a phrase I’ve never used in my life. “It’s true, your honor, I was speeding. I was going 40. And this policeman lied, saying I was going 17 miles over the speed limit when it was only ten. I spoke sarcastically to him, Your Honor, when I said you got me, I was going 40, because in my humble opinion it’s ridiculous that the speed limit on that street is 30. Maybe I shouldn’t have been sarcastic, and I admit guilt for 40, but I do NOT admit guilt for 47 but it just isn’t true.” I stared him down.
The judge, a reasonable man, asked the assistant DA if I could plead down to 40 and the ADA said yes. I marched out proud, winning (sorta) my case. I’m cool with being guilty if I am. I am not, however, cool with being lied about by some cop who didn’t like my tone. Having an attitude with a policeman may be ill-advised, but it isn’t illegal. At least not yet.
I drove home, triumphant. We hear so much about our corrupt system, about how you can’t get a fair shake, that nobody cares, that everybody’s out to get us. Often, and sadly, that’s true in this imperfect place we call America. But in my tiny world, the court system worked. I fought the good fight against Officer What’s-His-Name and won, even though he wasn’t present and didn’t know that his lie didn’t take. Next time (and there will be a next time, statistically speaking) I’ll pay attention, read the ticket on the spot, and, if necessary, face another Officer What’s-His-Name in court. If he lies, watch out. Kathleen Yasas, Pseudo-Esq, will be on the case.