A Badge on Their Shoulder
This week, I had a date with a judge. A male judge. No, not in a bar – before the bar. The South County Courthouse in Delray Beach, Florida. I was there to challenge a traffic ticket.
I was successful – and paid a fine of $131.
How is that possible, you ask? Good question. I’m not sure myself.
A couple or so months ago, I was headed from Boynton Beach to Boca Raton. I had a date with a woman. No, not in a bar – in a park. For a big band concert. I drove onto the southbound entrance ramp to I-95 from Gateway Boulevard. Yes, I was in a hurry. But I saw a police car getting on the ramp,
The nowhere drivers
The vehicles in my lane, on the left, were lollygagging along, and I switched to the right lane and moved ahead of several of them. Yes, I was in a hurry – but I’d have done that anyway, because it is dangerous to enter Interstate I-95 at 35 mph to 40 mph in the midst of motorists going 65 mph to 80 mph. I always pull ahead, if I can do so comfortably. I was even with the lead vehicle in the left lane as we approached the Merge sign in the road, and pulled ahead rather than try to squeeze into the line of cars. I did so by accelerating at a reasonable speed.
Reaching I-95, I sped up to about 60 mph in the right lane, and was about half way to the next exit, when the police car’s red light flashed. I pulled off the road, and the officer accused me of switching lanes several times and forcing cars to brake. These accusations were totally false. I told him I thought it dangerous to merge with I-95 traffic at a slow pace, and he said that he agreed, but the speed limit was 35 and I should write to my state legislator. There is no speed limit sign on that ramp, and I know of no such law. Again, I can only conclude he was lying.
He handed me a ticket. When I arrived home that night, I looked at it, and saw that the officer had accused me of driving off the road onto the grass to
No dashcam, hopes dashed
In court, the officer repeated the charge on the ticket. I denied it, and told the judge I’d like for the policeman to produce his dashcam, which would prove that I had not even come close to pulling off the road. I couldn’t at the point where I passed, and there was no need to, I said. The judge said the law did not require the officer to produce his dashcam, but asked if he had it. He said that he didn’t. I told the judge that was unfortunate, again insisting that it would have exonerated me.
So this is the way our justice system is rigged: A dashcam is for the benefit only of law enforcement, not of the defendant. An officer may use it to prove his veracity, but the citizen may not require it to prove his truthfulness. This benefit of the doubt in law officers’ favor is manifested over and over in our society. Even if solid evidence is produced showing a defendant’s innocence, the law officer’s superiors often will clear him of wrong-doing, and a judge frequently will agree. And that’s a shame, tainting the reputation of the many good police personnel. Officers have little incentive to be upright in the execution of their duties. It is not a fair process. A movement is afoot to require police officers to wear video cameras, but it doesn’t seem to be progressing very rapidly.
A journalist recently asked a police superintendent in a European nation while so few confrontations between lawmen and citizens occurred there compared to the United States. The police official said it was because police officers in Europe treated people with respect.
My current novel, MURDER IN PALM BEACH: The Homicide That Never Died, delves into an example – a true life one — of gross injustice by our judicial/law enforcement system, and the novel I’m working on does the same. I didn’t choose this subject. These two cases just fell into my lap, because
Having witnessed the disposition of cases preceding mine by the judge in this courtroom, I applaud him for his effort to be fair. He frequently leaned in the defendant’s favor. So what about my case, which involved the officer’s word against mine? The judge withheld adjudication – and fined me $25. Now, I was grateful for that, because he could have required me to pay the full fine of $166. He was being kind. And I think he could discern who was telling the truth. But it doesn’t make sense that a fine is levied if the person isn’t found guilty.
Nonetheless, I was relieved – until I looked at the paper handed to me by the clerk. Besides the fine was $106 in court costs. I can only assume the amount was so high to discourage persons issued tickets from challenging them, and to help pay for government operations inadequately funded through taxation.
Did anybody say life was always fair? No, but that doesn’t mean nothing should be done to make it so.