The day before Thanksgiving I passed a slow-moving car on a two lane road in a passing zone and was given a ticket by a Dekalb County policeman. He wasn’t real interested in hearing my side of the story and wound up giving me a ticket for driving on the wrong side of the road. He set a court date in January and told me I could explain things to the judge. In January I went to court. Not only was my case not entered, forcing me to come back, but this first court appearance was just an arraignment where you pled guilty or not guilty and then would come back for a trial.
Friday was the day of my rescheduled arraignment. The court time was 2:00. At that time a guy in a sheriff uniform told everyone to remove their hats and to scoot in on the pews we were in to make room so everyone could sit down. The man next to me did not scoot and stayed at the end.
Next a woman explained that due to the high number of cases an expedited process was available and you could receive a reduced sentence. For instance some charges would be reduced to a county ordinance and would not appear on your record. For speeding tickets 10 mph would be taken off your speed. If the result brought you to less than 14 mph over the speed limit you would not be assessed points on your driving record. If you were ticketed for driving without insurance but had proof of insurance now for that time the ticket would be reduced to a warning. But you had to pay any fines that day and checks and credit cards were not accepted (an ATM was available in the lobby; I’m guessing it has some of the highest fees in the world). Anyone who wanted to participate was asked to stand in line. Their tickets were taken back to the judge “in quarters” and then returned.
At about 2:50 that process wound up. Everyone else would enter a plea of not guilty, nolo, reset, or guilty. (“Nolo” meaning you don’t admit guilt but agree to pay a fine, “reset” meaning you want a later court date I guess because you can’t pay the fine right now). The judge came in at about 3:00. She explained that if you plead not guilty the fines and punishments could be much higher, but you would have a chance to present evidence, have a lawyer, and call witnesses. She left. Then they read through all the names and you called out your plea. I concentrated to make sure I didn’t say something like “not innocent” or just plain “guilty”. About half the people plead not guilty. Most of the rest plead guilty and few plead nolo with a couple of resets. Anyone who plead guilty or nolo had their ticket placed on the judge’s desk.
Next, the clerk started calling people up for their court dates. If you wanted you could ask for your trial to be heard by a jury in state court or you could go to this court (recorders court) and have your case decided by a judge. They offered no advice on why you would want one or the other. The judge came back in and started calling people who had plead guilty or nolo. About that time the clerk called my name. In a separate conversation from the judge talking to someone, I asked if I could still appeal the judge’s ruling if I chose recorders court and they said yes. I figured that was easier. My court date was set for April 5 at 5:00. I didn’t know courts even worked that late, but at least I won’t miss as much work.