Compelling arguments


Well, today was my day in court.

Traffic court, anyway.

I took the whole day off to work on my defense. Admittedly, it's difficult to prove one's innocence when you mostly have he-said offense and she-said defense, but, well, I did my best.

I spent most of the morning torturing myself about my defense, which was the correct one, what should I do, and eventually settled on "Look, I wasn't going that fast, how can I make you believe me?" Since, well, that's what happened in the first place.

I arrived at the courthouse at 2:45 PM, for my court case at 3:00 PM. At the security check, I had to turn in my camera, since they weren't allowed in the courtrooms. Odd, because camera phones are (and I have a picture to prove it). So that I wouldn't forget my camera, I turned in my keys with my camera: I could manage to walk to my car after I left, but I wouldn't make it much farther than that. The officers manning the security line promised to use less than half a tank of gas on their joyrides.

I told them to enjoy the ride, and watch out for the fishtails: the backend breaks much too easily.

I had forgotten to print out my notes that I wanted to use to guide me through my testimony, so I spent the next 15 minutes frantically rewriting my testimony from that day. I would later be very thankful I had.

At 3:00 PM, I wandered into the courtroom with forty other people, including six or seven cops, who sat right behind me in their "reserved" row. We stood, the judge came in, we sat down, the judge called roll, we stood up and said, "I do," sat back down and, one by one, were called up for our moment in court.

The first four cases were short: continuances for another time. The only other woman to plead not guilty at my arraignment was back, this time asking for the continuance, which she received. The next case was dismissed at the request of the origination officer. My guess is that he didn't want to spend the time in the courtroom. I can't say I blamed him.

I was, very thankfully, not the first one to stand up and talk to the judge. Mine was the fourth case, I want to say fifth, but I don't recall four other officers, I can recall only three, so I'll say I was fourth.

The first case was for a Latino who failed to stop for a right turn at a stop sign, and claimed the Mountain View police were harassing him. The judge expressed surprise, in that his record showed no activity in the previous two years, but the man insisted.

The second case was for a man who also failed to stop, but this time following a second car through a stop sign. The officer witnessed and ticketed both cars, with this defendent, the second one through the intersection, actually challenging the ticket. It was clear to me that the officer in this case was fairly experienced: he stated his case succinctly, he provided accreditation, training and certificates. The defendent used mostly a sob story and his daughter was late as a defense. At one point, the case degenerated into a "You said!" "I did not!" argument between the officer and the defendent, and I had to laugh.

As I watched these two cases, I couldn't help but think, "Good lord, what a bunch of whiners! And in ten minutes, I'll be the next one!"

So, the cases went something like this: the defendent and the officer both went up to stand in front of the judge. The officer would state his case. The defendent would tell his story. The judge would either say, "Make sure we have your correct address." or "You're guilty, pay the court $358 more dollars for wasting our time." Then the two people would leave.

In the three cases before me, one person was declared guilty, the other two needed to confirm their addresses for judgement to be sent via mail. When I went up, I had no idea what to expect.

I went up with Officer Tim Minor (Hi, Tim! er, Officer Minor!), and listened as he told his side of the event. I think I caught him off-guard once or twice when he offered evidence to me to review, and I cheerfully stated I had seen it, and had a copy of such evidence.

Now, I had spent the previous two hours driving around Mountain View, taking pictures, drawing maps and making calculations. The city's Public Works traffic and road engineer spent forty-five minutes with me, explaining what the road survey meant (and based on the numbers they had, the road should be rated for 40 or 45 mph, and not 35 mph - I suspect the revenue generated from the road is too great to up the speed limit to the correct one). I knew what to expect with the survey.

So, very quickly into Officer Minor's testimony, it became clear he was expecting me to say, "Yes, I was going that fast, but no, it wasn't unsafe to go that speed." He provided the traffic survey, which sorta-but-not-really said 35 was a good limit because of the hidden driveways and bicyclists along the road (in theory, less so in practice). He provided the radar gun registration and calibration. He commented on the fact I didn't recall the Escalade driving next to me, and specifically stated it was a slowing Escalade. If I were using, "but I was safe driving 50" defense, he had me covered.

He seemed surprised when instead I said, "No, I don't believe I was going that fast to begin with."

I told my side of the story. I explained my drive from Bernardo to Villa (which I mistakenly called Dana, and Officer Minor corrected me). He explained where his was sitting (nearer Whisman than I expected). I explained I first saw him at Pioneer, but that he never had his lights on so I didn't pull over, and was genuinely confused when he stopped behind me at Villa. I stated I caught all the lights, so never dropped out of the gear I was driving in, and so maintained constant speed.

I then asked if I was allowed to ask Officer Minor questions. Since I was, I asked when he turned off his lights to follow me. He looked puzzled. He didn't. I explained, he didn't have his lights on when he pulled up behind me. I noticed him when he pulled around the car behind me, the car that had been behind me since Bernardo, a fact I recall because there was a black pickup that missed the U-turn at Bernardo, causing several cars to back up behind me. He didn't have his lights on when he was behind me.

Now, he was at Whisman, and caught up to me at Pioneer. My calculations were that he was sitting at Moorpark, which is another 300 yards farther south, but they stated, if I were going 50 MPH, I'd travel that distance in 32 seconds. If I were going 36 MPH, I'd travel that distance in 51 seconds. I then asked Officer Minor if his motorcycle was on or off, because if it's a water cooled bike, it could be on, but an aircooled bike would need to be off or it would overhead.

He looked surprised. Almost a, "how the hell does she know about motorcycles?" sort of look.

To which I have to think, "Officer Minor, I've been riding motorcycles since before you'd been born."

He said the bike was off, but that it starts quickly, the push of a button.

I turned back to the judge. "Assuming one second to put the radar gun away, one second to turn on his bike, two seconds to wait for the cars behind me, the ones that were behind me from Bernardo, and that Officer Minor had to pass to catch up with me unless they cut him off, two seconds to make the left turn and one second to accelerate properly, Officer Minor took 7-9 seconds to catch up to me. If I were going 50 MPH, then Officer Minor would have been travelling at 66-70 MPH to catch up to me. However, he just stated that he didn't have his lights on. I fail to believe an officer of the law would be travelling at near twice the posted speed limit without his lights on. If, instead, I was travelling at the 36 MPH that I assert, he would need to travel at only 44 MPH to catch up to me. Based on the traffic surveys, that is a much more reasonable speed. I truly believe I was not going that fast, and that I was going the slower speed I claim."

Officer Minor looked a little stunned. "I assume her calculations are okay. The only thing I can think is that her car was in MPH, not KPH."

"I can assure you if I were driving that road at 59 MPH, I wouldn't be contesting this ticket."

I had a few more things I wanted to say, but I seemed to be at the end of my arguments, having taken half an hour to make them. I'm afraid I single-handedly ruined the court schedule with my arguments: there were another forty people waiting to enter the courtroom at 3:30 PM. They didn't enter until after 4 PM.

After I confirmed my address with the court, I turned to leave, and waited for Officer Minor. We talked briefly on the way down the court building stairs. Turns out, he's at the courthouse most days, as he writes a lot of citations and some are contested. He told me I had made compelling arguments. I thanked him, and said I hope they're compelling for the judge.

He seemed to be someone I'd head out drinking with on a Thursday night, if I still did that sort of thing. If he played ultimate, I'd totally hang out with him. I just hope he didn't see me one of those whiny crazy-ass civilians who fail to take personal responsibility for their actions (to which I'd have to say, Hey, I paid the fine for the stop sign I rolled through, even if the officer didn't cite me for the correct stop sign).

Eh, we'll see.

I can see flaws in my defense. I forgot to ask Officer Minor if he saw my tail lights go on, indicating I saw him and was slowing down (I neither saw him until he was passing the car behind me to come up behind me, nor slowed down with the engine, but I didn't indicate this in the court). My calculations were off because I didn't have the correct location for Officer Minor (though, honestly, where he was helped my case). I also didn't label my calculations (as in, AT ALL). I'm totally smacking my head at that one. I was so careful to get the calculations right, using stoichiometry notation to get the units correct, and such a bonehead when it came to labelling them correctly.

Ah, well. I expect to have to appeal.

But I can hope, can't I?

Traffic court trial coming up


Last August, as I was driving from downtown Sunnyvale to downtown Mountain View, a drive I made two to three times a week to pick up my mail, I was tagged with a radar gun, and given a ticket for going 50 mph in a 35 mph zone. I was cited for violating the California Vehicle Code 22350, which reads:

22350. No person shall drive a vehicle upon a highway at a speed greater than is reasonable or prudent having due regard for weather, visibility, the traffic on, and the surface and width of, the highway, and in no event at a speed which endangers the safety of persons or property.

I drive my car in kilometers. When I saw the officer behind me at Pioneer, I looked down at my spedometer and saw it at 59 kph, which is roughly 36 mph, and 36 mph is within tolerance of the 35 mph speed limit, so I didn't think much of the officer behind me. I figured he was heading to the station on Villa, and was just heading in my direction.

When I parked on Villa, he pulled up behind me and parked his motorcycle. As I exited my car, I saw he was there, asked what was up, and heard that I was speeding. I returned to my car and pulled out my insurance card and vehicle registration, then popped the trunk and pulled out my wallet and driver's license. I handed all three of the items to the police officer, Officer Tim Minor, and asked how fast he thought I was going. He said fifty, to which I replied I was sure I wasn't driving that fast, that I drive in kilometers, and wasn't going over 59 kph, which is 35-36 mph.

I then asked what other vehicles were around when he tagged my car. He said there was an Escalade. "A what?" "An Escalde." "What's that?" He answered, "It's a Cadillac SUV, but I don't think..." He then turned to his motorcycle and pulled out the radar gun, which showed a flashing 48 on it.

I looked at Officer Minor and repeated that I'm very sure, I'm certain I wasn't go that fast, and asked if there were any way he could not give me this ticket. He stated no, he had to give me the ticket. He did, however, recognize I was at the post office, and that the post office was probably closing soon, and offer that I could head off to get my mail.

I left to get my mail, but needed my driver's license, which Officer Minor had with him, for all of my mail. I wandered back for my ticket, license, regisration and proof of insurance, before heading off for my mail.

When the notice arrived in the mail, I paid the bail and requested an arraignment. I know that Mark and Doyle both suggest that you should always opt for a trial by written declaration, the thought being with a trial by written declaration, if you're found guilty, you can appeal by written declaration twice, and then request a court trial to try again in person.

I'm not very gung-ho on the written part of the trial by written declaration: you can't cross examine the officer, you don't know what he said. Just because you get to try three times, doesn't mean you have a better chance at successfully defending yourself.

I plead not guilty at the arraignment and now have a court date tomorrow. I'm so nervous about this date that I'm completely dysfunctional today. I can't stand when I get like this: I'm nervous about the trial tomorrow, but know I have a lot of work to do and really can't be unproductive for an entire day, two if tomorrow is included. I've managed to work exactly no hours that I'm able to bill.

I'm currently unsure of my defense. Of all of the times I've actually been driving over the speed limit (with traffic, of course), I'm a little annoyed that I'm accused of speeding when I actually wasn't. My ticket was written up for 50 mph, but the radar said 48, so I might have some defense there. I want to argue that going 48 mph is okay, given the conditions of the road (the weather was clear, it was daylight, the road was dry, there were no cars around me that I was endangering, all the usual arguments nicely laid out on Help! I got a Ticket!", but Katie nicely found for me the Iggy Award for the judge of my case. Based on these (three) awards, I don't believe that argument will work.

What I did do today, however, is realize that I wasn't working, wasn't able to concentrate, was distracted with this upcoming trial, and so stopped pretending to work. I knew I was spinning my wheels, so stopped, and went on to focusing on my trial tomorrow. I probably won't head into work tomorrow either, I'll be too distracted.