A light, airy, effervescent, blog of grave consequence. (NOT!) Dedicated to those of us who must respond to negative stimuli by Chernobyling (entombing in concrete) our innermost thoughts.

Location: Slaughter, Louisiana, United States

A semi-gruntled corporate reliability engineer trying to make ends meet while keeping my wife happy, and myself out of the asylum.

Friday, December 11, 2009

More Shtuff I shouldn't Know

The saga of my day in the East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff's Court.

I received an moving violation for my error in traffic last September. The ticket was for violation of Louisiana Statute 32:79.1 - A vehicle shall be driven as nearly as practicable entirely within a single lane and shall not be moved from such lane until the driver has first ascertained that such movement can be made with safety.

I called to find out what the fine would be and was told $132.50. I had intended to just take my lumps, pay it and pray that my insurance wouldn't drop me. (My overall driving record has taken a few hits recently.) The lady on the phone asked if it was related to an accident. I said, "Yes." She said, "You can't mail it in. You have to go to court."


So, I checked the ticket and found that my court date was December 9, 2009. In the meantime between being told I needed to go to court and the actual court date, I decided to do a little digging into the actual court process. I've always heard that if the issuing officer does not show up, that the ticket would be dismissed. I had never understood how the police were scheduled to attend court. I was able to find out from the State Police website that each officer is scheduled for several court dates per year in advance. These are the dates that they put on the tickets they issue. (In Louisiana they must use the closest court date that is more than 28 days from the date of the ticket issuance.)

I also decided that the best possible tack I could take was plead for mercy based on the minuscule amount of damage I did to the "victim" in the accident. I used the word victim only because that is how the not-at-fault party in an accident is described in court. If it were up to me, the "victim" would be called "the guy I bumped". I gathered all of the medical bills I had received to that point showing the total medical charges to be in the neighborhood of $15,000. I printed off the vehicle insurance claim information from Progressive's website (A very good website, I might add) showing that Progressive had paid me $3,000 for the damage to the BMW and paid the "victim" a whopping $265.28 for the scuff mark my saddle bag made on the bumper of his '02 Chevy pickup.

I had not intended to pick up a copy of the actual accident report as my insurance agent handled the entire transaction with the "victim" personally. Since I now had to go to court for this, I realized it might be nice to have a copy of all of the evidence that they could potentially use against me. (Circles, arrows, and paragraphs included.) I rooted around on the internet and made a few calls to the Baton Rouge Traffic Records Office to determine that I had to stop by the State Police Headquarters with a money order for $7.50 in order to pick up a copy of the accident report. I did this and it took a total of about a minute to get the report and I was on my way. The report doesn't really say much as the officer did not witness the accident, but my and the "victim's" stories basically matched with the exception of me not seeing the truck prior to bumping it.

So I now had all the information I thought I needed. The day arrived and I left work at about 0730 as it is about a 35 minute drive to downtown from my jobsite. The traffic was actually decent and I parked in the closest garage at about 0800. The ticket said to be in the courtroom no later than 0900, so I had plenty of time. I gathered my stuff and started walking to the courthouse. I immediately saw a sign that said, "Cell phones are not allowed in the courthouse." I turned around, returned to my car and left my phone in the center console. This time I made it all the way to the metal detector when I realized I we still carrying my Leatherman Multi-tool. No blades allowed in the courthouse, so back to the car I went. This time I left everything except my portfolio in the trunk. I made it through the metal detector on the next trip and stopped by the information desk to find out where I should be. The lady looked at my ticket and said, "Across the street at City Hall."


Somewhat dispirited, I proceeded out of the Courthouse for the third time in fifteen minutes and stumbled across the street to the City Hall. No metal detectors here. I stopped by the information desk in this building and asked the gentleman seated there to please tell me where to go. He looked at the ticket and said, "Tenth Floor, Room 1087". Great. Finally in the right place.

Into the elevator and up, up and away I went. Room 1087 is the Traffic Court. There were about 30 or so people sitting in the waiting area/cafeteria waiting. It was now about 0820. By 0825 they unlocked the courtroom doors and the assembled mass proceeded in. At 0830 a deputy came out with the docket. Twenty-seven legal sized pages plus two add-on appendices. We were instructed to check the docket to ensure that our case was to be tried today. If we were unable to find our name, we were to proceed to Room 1022.

It was at this point that I realized that the average person receiving a traffic citation in the Baton Rouge area is a functional illiterate. It was taking eons for these people to find their names. I figured it was because the docket might be ordered by officer's name or ticket number or something. Then I finally, at about 0855, received a copy to peruse. It was in alphabetical order by last name. I kid you not, people actually commented on how fast I found my name in the list.

At 0900 a couple Assistant District Attorneys wandered in with a clerk. The clerk was carrying a pile of folders that had to be two feet thick. The ADA told us that they would run the docket and we could plead either Guilty, No Contest, or Not Guilty. He also stated that the Not Guilties would have to wait until the judge had completed whatever trial load he had for the day and they had no idea how long that would take. (By the way, we were informed that a No Contest Plea is effectively the same as a Guilty plea except that in an accident case, the "victim" cannot use it against you in a civil suit. But in order to plead No Contest, you had to have proof that your insurance had already paid the "victim's" damages with you in court.)

By now, the room was Standing Room Only and people were still straggling in. I figured I didn't want to sit there for the entire blasted day and had basically decided to plead No Contest and pay the fine. At about 0930, the ADAs and the clerk started reading the docket. Here is where it became interesting. The first two pages of the docket went about like this:

ADA - *called a name starting with A*

Courtroom - *silence*

ADA - "Bench Warrant"

ADA - *called a name starting with A*

Courtroom - *silence*

ADA - "Bench Warrant"

ADA - *called a name starting with A*

Courtroom - *silence*

ADA - "Bench Warrant"

ADA - *called a name starting with A*

Courtroom - *silence*

ADA - "Bench Warrant"


They went through about 15 names before they hit the first person who was actually there. That person pled Guilty and was instructed to get in a line where they would either pay the fine or be given an extension if they didn't have the funds right at the moment. It turned out that the illiterate were mostly there to plead guilty and get an extension to pay. A few people actually plead guilty and paid right then. I guess their friends couldn't get the ticket fixed in time and they actually had to show up rather than paying through the mail.

In any case, by the time they rolled into the "Rs" about 60% of the docket had had bench warrants issued, 35% had pled Guilty and gotten in line and only about 8-10 people had actually plead Not Guilty, so I figured I'd take my chances with the judge and pled Not Guilty.

By about 1000 people were still straggling in and the clerk would just ask for their name, and their plea, scratch out the bench warrant and let them get in line. That kinda bugged me as I hate lateness that is not punished. But whatever, it's their court, I suppose. If it were mine I'd have a deputy arresting the tardy idiots immediately on the bench warrant that was just issued.

By 1030 the ADAs started calling the not Guilty into conference outside of the courtroom. The first lady called in's name started with "C". She was back in about 10 minutes. After a while the called and name that started with "D" but no one spoke up. Then, for some reason, they called me. I followed the ADA into a hallway outside the rear of the courtroom where I was asked if I had proof that my insurance had paid the "victim's" damages. I show the ADA my documentation. It was at this point I realized that the "D" name that had been called was my "victim". The ADA looked at my paperwork and said, "Well, since the "victim" isn't here and the officer just called in to say he's working a homicide in Ascension Parish and won't be able to make it today, I'm dismissing the charge." "You're free to go. just go out the door at the end of this hall, but don't stop in the hall as there are Grand Juries in Progress." I said, " Thank you, sir." Shook his hand and beat a hasty exit.

So there you have it. The system is set up to make you want to plead guilty just to get it over with. Several Not Guilties, changed their pleas to Guilty because it was obvious that they had somewhere they had to be. Interestingly, if they were stopped by the officer that got me, they would have beaten the rap if they could have waited.

I think that if i get another ticket, I will probably go plead Not guilty again just to see what happens. That's my right, and I might as well make them work for their money.


Anonymous Sweet Pea said...

Oh my, this would make a splendid movie! I had so much fun sledding today and now I've been laughing so hard at your story that I must conclude, "This has been a perfect day!" Merci beaucoup!

1:45 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Loved the story! Only you could have it happen this way and, as usual, tell it in a very entertaining tale.

Tom Humble

11:14 AM  

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