When the Traffic Court System Impedes Justice
December 14, 2009
Nowhere has this policy been made more official than in the Indianapolis traffic courtroom of Judge William Young, whose alleged conduct has brought a class action lawsuit upon him. The suit alleges that when this judge took office, he instituted a policy of levying a $500 fine against anyone who fights their ticket and loses. It further states that he instituted a policy of closing his courtroom to the public, thus shielding his activities from the public eye.
Some plaintiffs were individuals who had received tickets but chose not to challenge them because they asserted that Judge Young’s policy, of fining anyone who challenged their tickets, discouraged them from fighting, even though they thought they were innocent.
While not as egregious as the alleged policies of Judge Young in Indianapolis, recipients of tickets in New York have similarly themed complaints. Often, the structure of the legal system discourages all but a few from fighting even illegitimate tickets.
The court appearances which are required are so numerous and time-consuming that it is almost impossible to fight. Most people don’t understand how the system works and assume that the court date they are given on their ticket is the date when the ticket will be disposed of, either for better or worse. But this is not the reality.
In most localities, the first court date is merely for “arraignments.” This means that people are simply asked to plead either guilty or not guilty. Often, they are also lulled into feeling more comfortable conceding their case by pleading “guilty with an explanation.” This allows the person to feel that they are at least getting to say something, while still saving the locality the trouble of having to prove guilt. This process can entail wasting several hours, taking off half a day, or wasting an entire evening in court.
If one perseveres and manages to plead “not guilty” on the first court date, he will have to come to court again, but not for an actual determination of guilt or innocence. Rather, he will usually come in for a “conference,” i.e. a meeting between the individual and a local prosecutor. If one makes it this far, most people end up making a plea deal with the prosecutor. So instead of paying, let’s say, $130 for a cell phone ticket+surcharge, you may end up paying only $110. Whoopee!
The prospect of this outcome alone is enough to encourage most people to cut their losses and plead guilty either at their first court appearance, or without even going to court. The time off from work or hours lost waiting in court are often not worth the $20-$30 saved by coming to a plea arrangement with the prosecutor.
For those brave souls who do not come to a plea deal with the prosecutor, there will be a third court appearance for the actual trial. And if you are lucky and the case isn’t adjourned to a fourth date for some reason, that will be your chance to disprove the locality’s case against you and either be found guilty or innocent.
The sheer investment of time and the time one may have to take off from work, depending on the time of the court dates, are enough to discourage most people from challenging their ticket.
For a person with multiple tickets or more serious charges like a misdemeanor or DWI, it is often worthwhile to hire an attorney, like those at our office, to represent him. If you need assistance with a traffic court, criminal, or any other kind of legal matter, you can contact the attorneys at The Law Office of Elliot Schlissel anytime, 24/7, at 800-344-6431, or by e-mail.
Picture courtesy of bizingo.com.