You know you were up a creek when a $300 fine sounds good.
I haven’t talked about this before, but last month I got a ticket, my first in over 15 years, for running a red light. No, I didn’t hit the gas and fly through an intersection at breakneck speed trying to beat the yellow. On the contrary, I was making a right turn on a yellow arrow. I misjudged the timing, and ended up rolling through the red. That’s the story. If you’re like the judge today, you’ll cock your eyebrow at me and say, “that’s what everybody says.”
I was embarrassed, I guess. I’m a good driver. I don’t roll through stop signs. I don’t run red lights. A few years ago I witnessed an accident that was caused by someone running a red light, and I told myself right then that I would never do that. There is never that much of a hurry, even on days when it seems like you hit every red light out there.
So, in spite of technically being guilty, I thought it was kind of a bs ticket. I see so many greater offenses on my day to day drive. To make it worse, a week later Alan got pulled over for driving a little too fast in a school zone, even though there weren’t any kids around. He not only didn’t get a ticket, he may just have a new coaching client in the cop who stopped him!
But, I was prepared to take my medicine and pay up. But then, the so-called courtesy notice came in the mail.
The fine was almost $500! I wasn’t sure what good it would do, but I knew I had to go to traffic court. I felt that the punishment far exceeded the crime, especially for someone with a clean driving record. This was very hard for me. In spite of Alan’s encouragement, advice, and support, the idea of standing up in court in front of a judge terrified me. I almost signed up for the payment program just to avoid it. But, better sense prevailed and I got my court date.
It weighed on me for the entire week leading up to my court date. I didn’t sleep as well, I felt stressed and nervous. I’m really not good at this stuff. But, with the combination of Alan offering to go with me, and me pulling myself up by my bootstraps and realizing that, it couldn’t get worse, even if I lost, I headed into court on Tuesday with a semblance of calm anyway.
As an adult human being, I wouldn’t even consider going to court without looking presentable. Apparently, though, that is something that not everybody thinks about. In spite of warnings, both on my notice and on the website when I signed up for my court date that, tank tops and shorts were not allowed in court, both were found in abundance among my ticketed peers. (Not wanting to set myself up for another crime, using a camera in court or something, I did not take pictures.) I, however, made an effort, wearing black slacks and a nice top in spite of the 95 degree temperatures.
After waiting over 45 minutes, we were finally called into the courtroom. There the bailiff went over the procedures, answered questions, and prepared us for the judge to arrive.
They give you three options. Guilty (where you will be given a discounted fine), guilty with traffic school, where you pay the discounted fine plus $57 for traffic school, or not guilty. If you choose to plead not guilty, you will be given a new court date, but, and here is the kicker, you must pay the entire fine up front. If by chance you are eventually found not guilty you will be refunded your money. If not, they keep the total amount. There is definitely an incentive to plead guilty and get it over with.
Alan was encouraging me to plead guilty with an explanation, then tell the judge the circumstances. Those cases got pushed to the end of the court day (with a name starting with W I was already close to that anyway). I felt like taking the discounted fine, whatever it was, and getting the heck out of there.
By the time I was called, I had already seen a couple “running a red light” people called, and knew that they were discounting the $490 fine to $300. Still a lot of money. So, I tried. I asked the judge if I could be allowed to explain at the end, but, he gave me the line I mentioned above. Basically, he said, nope, you can’t talk the fine down, this is the story everybody gives, are you guilty or not guilty? So I said guilty and he gave me until January to pay the fine.
Actually, both the judge and the bailiff were pretty good guys. Men who have heard all the excuses and instead of turning bitter and mean have used their humor to make life more pleasant for themselves and those of us in the courtroom.
So, I have to pay a $300 fine. Yes, I learned my lesson. Even rolling through a traffic light is wrong. And expensive. Though I have also learned that if you do get a ticket it is well worth your time to go to court. Some of the fines were reduced up to 50%!
Have you had a traffic ticket? How much did it cost you? Did you go to court?
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