My trial was today (read about my arraignment in February) at 5:00 PM. At least this time I didn’t miss but a quarter day of work. I arrived at traffic court a few minutes early and found which courtroom I was supposed to be in. People were scattered but there were people in every pew. I picked one that had an older guy at the end and stepped around him. The guy in the pew in front had his tattooed arm up on the back of his pew and it was kind of in my way so I said “excuse me” and nudged his arm out of the way. He seemed to take offense and said something to me, but you have to stand your ground early here or nobody will respect you.
At 5:00 a woman walks in and asks people to raise their hands if they are pleading guilty or nolo. Somebody asks her what that is and she explains, then adds that if you got a ticket for no insurance and you can’t prove that you had insurance that the only way to keep your license is to plead nolo. Then she hands out forms to the people with their hands raised. One of the bailiffs tells people with hats on to remove them. One guy has a stocking on his head and the bailiff makes him remove that. No hats in court.
Then she asks for a show of hands from people pleading not guilty and hands out a different form (amazingly, a handful of people don’t raise their hands for either). If you plea not guilty today you are waiving your right to a jury trial. There are all kinds of disclaimers on the form saying how crazy you are to do this (and no benefit is apparent). They say how you won’t know about all your rights or how to call witnesses and lawyer would. It was like an advertisement for lawyers. One worrying thing is that you acknowledge the penalties that can be incurred, including jail time. I have not been made aware of any penalties, but I signed the form anyway.
At 5:15 she “calls the calendar” and reads everyone’s names whereupon they call out their plea. Still, some people say “here” and one guy tried to ask a question (he was cut off and pled nolo). Having a C last name I figure maybe I’ll be one of the first but there are a couple of A’s before they call out B after B (not entirely in order). It turns out the court is A-C and I’m about two-thirds of the way to the end. All during this time people are filtering in late and having to be told about the forms and so forth.
At 5:35 the judge walks in and meets quietly up front with someone who brought a lawyer. After that he addresses everyone and tells about nolo and that it is such a nice plea that you only get to use it every five years. He also points out that if you have a misdemeanor drug charge and plead guilty it won’t go on your record (“so you can run for judge someday” he says, but I’m thinking “or for President”).
He calls the first name and dismisses the guy in about twenty seconds. The next guy goes just as fast. I’m not close enough to hear what they are saying, but it seems like it can’t be much more than Hello. It soon is clear that these people are the ones that pled guilty or nolo. In court the guilty are always given better service than the innocent because the guilty are the ones that pay the bills. At some point three prisoners in orange jumpsuits are led in and seated in the first row (the people already in that row are asked to move and do so quickly). They have to wait their turn like everyone else, but two plead guilty and are led out afterwards.
At about 6:10 the trials start. For about the first three the judge says the police officer asked to reduce the charge to a warning and they are told they can leave. Then a 98 year old man is called up with his family. I don’t know what the charge was but the judge indicated the man’s age and everyone clapped. The old man showed his license and was eventually led off by his family.
A Clark Atlanta student pled not guilty on all three of her counts but the policeman is there to say she was speeding. She was arrested after she failed to produce a Georgia license and the computer said she had been denied a Georgia license. But apparently she was from New York and had a valid New York license. The judge was unsympathetic and said she lives in Georgia more than New York now and needs to get her record cleared so she can get a Georgia driver’s license (I never got a Tennessee license at Vanderbilt though, so I have to disagree). Anyway, he dropped the other two charges and reduced the fine on the speeding.
Next the same police officer (they seem to do all of a particular cop’s charges at one time and this guy isn’t the one that gave me my ticket) says he was doing security at a junkyard when someone tells him that their car had been run into. There was no damage but the person thinks the person was drunk and then points out the accused who has just purchased a used windshield. The cop says the accused was staggering and slurring his words like he was drunk. The policeman said he was going to just send the guy home with a warning but the man didn’t have anyone to drive him home and the cop knew the guy would just drive home. So he had him arrested for public intoxication and had his car impounded. In his defense, the guy said that while he was removing a windshield from one of the junk cars there he heard hissing and became lightheaded and had a hard time walking. He also said he had a medical problem and brought a medical book that described it. Despite the alleged chemical and his medical condition, he was found guilty but given a reduced fine.
Then a guy got a ticket for speeding in a parking lot where the same cop (again) was providing security and for parking in a fire lane while he was picking up some stuff for one of the shops at the mall. It certainly wasn’t going his way when, at 6:50 a guy walks in and calls a list of names of people who are to go in the other courtroom where things were going faster I guess.
In the other courtroom, I caught the tail end of a case that must have involved a collision. The accused had a couple of charges dropped and wound up having to pay a $200 fine. But the witness that had also been involved in the accident was upset that this was less than the fine he had to pay for whatever he did. The judge reminded him that she had no control over his trial and he was just a witness at this one. He got mad and left the courtroom muttering. The judge called him back as he was walking out the door but he kept moving out. A deputy and a police officer ran after him and brought him back, then carried him off somewhere. There is no muttering allowed in the courtroom.
At this point it is 7:00 and the judge tells us a list of names will be read and all of those people are having their charges dismissed. I’m not optimistic, but I don’t recognize any of the police officers as being the one that gave me a ticket either. She calls about 10 names, telling the people to hurry and turn in their signed forms before she changes her mind. People move quickly. She calls my name and I hurry up to the front and turn in my form. I stand around to make sure they don’t send cops after me when I leave and slowly head out the door. No one stops me. Free at last! And I never once talked directly to a judge or showed anyone my pictures (or the diagram I had made at Susan’s recommendation). I guess I was let off for time served: two hours (plus the previous two visits).
Maybe the end justifies the means, and I can’t complain since the charges were dismissed. But it seems like the whole court system is set up to reward people who show up and play the game. All of the people were given reduced sentences or warnings. Meanwhile, I feel like I was pretty much innocent and yet had to miss 10 hours of work to go to court three times.