Dec 7, 2010

Brushes with the Law

About a month ago, I was pulled over for "running a red light." I put the infraction in quotes to highlight my innocence. I did not run a red light, if anything, I'm guilty of not slowing down at a yellow light. With this in mind, I set about to fight the ticket. This required sending the ticket (through the mail only) to a specific division of the Registry of Motor Vehicles so that they could process my claim and set a court date for me. The week before last I received a letter in the mail telling me that my court date was set for a date last week and that unless I wanted to forfeit my hearing I needed to show up at least ten minutes early and be prepared to pay the court fees, cash only, exact amount only.

I decided to log my time going through the court system because I've heard many horror stories. I've even seen some of the drama of court played out the few times I've sat in a session to observe the proceedings. The following is a time log of the events I witnessed while I waited for my hearing.

10:50AM - I arrive at RTC (Roxbury Trial Court), go through metal detector and am pointed towards cashier to pay court fees... Ten minutes early. So far, so good.

11:00AM - Several people join me waiting at the cashier. No one is behind the window. A woman named "Maria" begins talking to me about fighting her ticket. Her nervousness is evident. I nod politely. I don't think she's going to win...

11:10AM - Someone finally comes to the cashier's window. Fees are paid, receipt slips are given out. Maria is showing photos of the street where she was pulled over. She is now speaking Spanish to a young Latino couple that is also waiting. Maria hasn't stopped talking since she walked up to the wait for the cashier.

11:15AM - Upstairs, on second floor, it's packed! People mill about waiting to be called into a court room. I'm wearing a gray suit, a collared button-down, without a tie. I think I look fairly professional. Other black people and ethnicities are dressed like they're waiting to get in the club...

11:30AM - An officer comes out of a court room and calls a name. A person sitting on a bench near me gets up and follows the officer into the court room. It dawns on me that there are at least 16 people, including me, here to fight traffic tickets.

11:36AM - Oh snap! There goes Charles Ogletree!

11:45AM - The court officer comes out to the court room lobby and asks everyone who is fighting a traffic ticket to give him their cashier receipt. He is mobbed by several people handing him receipts and demanding answers to questions. I hand him my receipt after the commotion dies down. I can't imagine how taxing his job must be. I want to offer to buy him a cup of coffee. Is that allowed? I'm not sure.

11:50AM - Maria is complaining to no one in particular about having to feed her parking meter. I smile to myself. I parked in a lot. No meter to worry about.

11:55AM - The court officer comes out and calls my name... Wait it was someone else. Never mind.

12:15PM - I think Maria is cursing in Spanish. I guess she's frustrated by the wait. Almost everyone who was waiting ahead of my group has been called. I've been in the RTC for an hour and twenty-five minutes.

12:20PM - Sitting and waiting reminds me of the time I went to the RMV to get my license renewed. I was there for close to two hours, but at least I had a book. I wish I had a book now...

12:25PM - A young woman comes out of the first court room in tears. She sit down next to a man with a child and begins to sob uncontrollably. She reaches for the child and hugs him. A court officer comes out and asks her to come with him. She begins to cry harder. It's painful to watch families get separated due to the system.

12:40PM - Maria gets called into a court room. The lobby is suddenly very quite except for the young Latino couple who appear to be talking about Maria, in Spanish, and laughing.

12:50PM - Maria comes back out of the court room, flooding the lobby with expletives, in both English and Spanish... I think she lost her hearing!

1:00PM - After two hours and ten minutes, I'm called by the court officer. I stand arrange my papers and go into the court room. Time to face the unknown.

1:10PM - My case is "farmed out" to a different location and jurisdiction because of my mother. Another day, another court. Will I have to pay court fees again?

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