Spent the day before the long Labor Day weekend in traffic court. I had received in the mail a picture of me at an intersection at the wheel of my car, from the front and rear, showing the license plate number. There I was, stopped behind the line, as the light had turned red. Next picture was of me making a right hand turn, (from Sunset on to Cahuenga, which was permitted). This was witnessed, and the fine was $436, send it in by (date). The witness? 2, maybe 3, video cameras.
I spent half a day in the line down at the courthouse giving them a check, and a demand that I wanted to go to trial on this. I felt, and continue to feel strongly, that we do not (yet) live in a police state. If it’s ok to put its citizens under surveillance, I’m not so sure I wish to continue to live here.
But surely, with the protection of our Constitution and its bestowed rights (check out the 4th Amendment for a start), I would make my point, for me and many many others, and would win.
Not so fast, Mr. Clark!
A crowded courtroom. About a third of the cases were dismissed (the cop witness didn’t show up.) Another third had their cases dismissed on the grounds that they had an acceptable reason for the alleged transgression. As for the rest, they were found guilty to a greater or lesser degree, and forfeited their bail, or most of it.
I think the judge, an amiable sort of fellow (the smart ones take training in amiability), left me until last because he knew I’d be the difficult one. Caught the look in my eye, perhaps.
I protested the citation. The complaint was in the wrong form, didn’t state a claim, or a cause of action. Disregarded.
I then demanded to confront a witness, to exercise my right of cross-examination. At which point a policeman, I guess an honorable member of the LAPD, stepped up to the plate, and responded to my questions. (No absent policemen for me, to help me out…)
"When, and where did you witness my alleged offense", I asked him. "Oh, back at the office" he replied. "Here, I have it on my computer", whereupon the judge produced his own laptop, and together they demonstrated the certainty of my crime. The screen revealed that there was a nano-second between the light turning red, and my car entering the forbidden zone. "How many witnesses do you claim to have", I asked him. "Oh, hundreds" he replied. "All members of the force are witnesses to this type of crime, they just have to look at the video." I noted that the judge had entered the dispute as a witness too.
I told the judge that I was entitled to cross-examine a live witness who was actually there. Cameras may yet act with artificial intelligence and answer awkward questions, but we’re not there yet. I explained that in my opinion, untampered videos might be held to be secondary evidence serving to corroborate primary evidence from a human witness. I explained that I wanted to know if the video allowed for the fact that I, as a safe driver, thought a car might be in back of me, about to crash if I braked hard. Or saw the body I was dragging under the car, which was hidden from view…
A voice within me whispered the biggest no-no in American courts. "DON’T PISS OFF THE JUDGE!" I know, or I’ll be dead. Well, I was dead anyway. The judge wound proceedings up by proclaiming "This court finds that defendant breached…" etc. etc. (My emphasis). There was no "next case" because I was the last. We all went on our way, bail forfeited, and I am determined to figure out my next step. I do, after all, owe it to my faithful readers, all of whom I am sure are capable of being stopped by the cops.
Be prepared. Doing 38 in a 35 mph zone? Video’d, guilty. Cut a corner slightly? Video’d, guilty. Threw an apple core out the window? Video’d, guilty. Wandered outside your lane? Video’d, guilty. Forgot to secure your seatbelt? Video’d, guilty. Crossed the road in the middle of the block at 3 in the morning? Video’d, guilty.
I followed my wife who was driving her car, in my car. I wanted to check her driving skills. She made 10 errors within 2 hours, any one of which transgressed the Highway Code. Assuming $436 for each offense, that equals $4,360 for the day. 250 work-days in a year? That’s $1,090,000. And that’s just one driver!
Is it any consolation knowing that we are helping Mr. Schwarzenegger out of a hole, taking on the liability of salary payments to the LAPD? No. But why stop there? On a higher plane, we could help President Obama fix the National Debt! Bring on surveillance!