Wednesday, January 14, 2009

I'm a Common Criminal

Last November a policeman pulled me over because my license plate was expired. He gave me a ticket and told me that I could either pay the $146 fine or I could go to court on January 13th. He said he couldn’t guarantee it, but as long as I took proof that everything was up-to-date, my case would probably be dismissed by the clerk. For a policeman giving me a ticket, he was very sweet. I hadn’t been pulled over for anything for about 10 or 11 years, so I was all shaky and I think he felt kind of bad.

To save $146, I decided to go to court instead of paying it early. So, here I go trekking to Uptown Charlotte yesterday afternoon. I missed the courthouse parking garage completely and ended up parking in a garage about 6 blocks away. I was FLYING down the sidewalk to get to the courthouse on time and I may have knocked down an old lady or two on my way.

Once there I found my courtroom, gave my paperwork to the Sheriff’s deputy, and sat down to wait. I pulled out my book to pass the time, until the deputy said, “Ma’am! Put away your book!” Ooops! I guess that’s part of the punishment, to sit for hours while waiting for your name to be called with absolutely nothing to do in the meantime.

The clerk started calling people to her desk at the front of the room. Some people were lined up and taken back to an actual courtroom to be taken in front of a judge. The deputy called my name and told me that a lawyer had been assigned to my case. I said, “What? All I had was an expired registration. Why do I need a lawyer?”

I was starting to have visions of being carted off to jail!

The deputy asked me if I had spoken to an attorney. All quavery-voiced I said, “No sir. Should I have?” He said, “What did you say your ticket was for?”

Now, he’s holding my ticket and sees hundreds of them in a day, and he’s asking me what my ticket was for?

I responded, “I had an expired registration. I’ve got the updated one here in my pocketbook.” He told me to sit back down. So, I went back to my seat. And sat for another 2 hours while the courtroom steadily emptied out. Here are some things I learned while sitting there with nothing else to do:

  • People need to bathe more. Really. Especially when they’re going to court. Or out in public generally.
  • There is a secret pathway under 4th Street that leads from the courthouse to the jail, which may or may not have been part of the Underground Railroad. At least according to the man sitting behind me.
  • No young men under, say, the age of 22 have belts anymore. And, they can’t carry anything because they’re too busy holding up their pants.
  • There are more excuses made in one day in a courtroom than I’m used to hearing in about 5 years.
  • As soon as the lawyers leave the courtroom, their true feelings about the judge come out. One lawyer to another, overheard by me and written down (swiftly, so as not to get another “Ma’am!” directed at me): “She must have been on pain medication because she was in a great mood today.”

So, when it was down to about 3 other people and me, another deputy came out of the real courtroom and called my last name. She asked me to step outside in the hallway with her. I was beginning to freak out a little. Aren’t there more important people to be concerned about than little ole me who was 2 months late renewing her car registration? I mean, some people were being escorted into the courtroom by police detectives, and I heard something about trespassing, so why all this focus on me?? Seriously, my name had been called more than anyone else in that room.

I followed the deputy out into the hall and she asked me to verify my first name. I stuttered out my name and she looked at my ticket, which she was holding in her hand, then handed it to me. She said, “You’re the one I’ve been looking for the last hour. Your case has been dismissed. Have a nice afternoon.” Funny, for all the times they called my name in that room, never once did they call it to tell me I could go home!

Everyone else had to at least go up to the clerk in the front of the room where we were all sitting. I didn’t have to do anything (except sit still for 2 hours). So, I sat down in the hall to see if I could figure out what had happened. AH!!!! The policeman had not indicated on my ticket what my offense was, so there was nothing for them to do except dismiss my case! I guess it’s a good thing I didn’t pay that $146 fine early after all because it would have just been a waste of money! Of course it would have been nice if they could have figured that out at 1:30 when I got there instead of at 3:30 when I was finally allowed to leave.


Diane said...

Why wouldn't they let you read?! That's cruel and unusual punishment!

And I'm with you on the bathing thing. It's like that at DMV, too. You know, where I went to get my car registration BEFORE it expired. Just sayin'.

Shanna said...

LOL I wondered too why they wouldn't let you read. Maybe they've had one too many people too engrossed in their book to hear their names being called resulting is costly court fees later on when the person reading to book gives the excuse "but I was reading my book!" ;)

If it makes you feel any better I should have updated my registration MONTHS ago when we moved from Utah. I have it half completed with the inspection paper work in the glove compartment. I'm getting it done next month...but until then I'm not speeding!

Heinous said...

No reading? Are they barbarians? You should go back down and address that with the judge.

Jenners said...

Ok, first thought I had was that it would be ironic if you committed vehicular manslaughter rushing to court to fight your "non offense."

Second, what the heck is wrong with reading a book? It is not like you are playing an audiobook on a boombox? (or were you????)

Glad you got off "scot free" from your "crime."

Protege said...

Mel, you have descried the atmosphere so realistically, I almost got nervous sitting there with you.
It must have felt almost like being in a hospital I bet. I mean not that it was a hospital, but there are these strange atmospheres in certain places where strong emotions are often present; it is like the feelings of all those people are let behind.
Ok, now I might be sounding a bit too weird, but I hope you know what I mean.;))
In any case, I am happy for you that you saved your money!;)) I once talked myself out of a similar amount in parking ticket.;))

blueviolet said...

Well, that was a crazy day and I don't understand at all why they wouldn't let you read. That's bizarre.

Heather said...

I would have been severly ill if I had sat there for two hours without even being able to READ and then been told, "Oh, yeah. Your case has been dismissed." I mean, that's good.. you don't have to pay anything, nothing on your record. But STILL.. two hours? Sheesh. And I know what you mean about people needing to bathe more. And the pants with no belt thing. It has to be annoying, right? I mean, I don't want to walk around jerking my pants up all day!

The Odd Duck said...

I've never heard of not being able to read. Strange. Then again this is Charlotte so...

*looks down at his pants* Belt? Check. License with the pesky Under 21 marking? Check, sadly.

But on the bright side, all it cost you was two wasted hours. A "steal" if I ever heard one.

Sometimes Sophia said...

I once tried to knit in a courtroom. The bailiff snarled, "Put that away." From the satanic look he gave it, I thought my knitting was going to spontaneously combust. Disrespectful was the explanation I was given. A judge commands full, rapt and unquavering attention - even if she/he is not hearing your case at the time.

Anonymous said...

I went to court once with Heather,
when she got her first speeding ticket while still in high school. Since it was her first, (but not her last, but that's another story)
she could go to court and agree to attend traffic school and the ticket wouldn't go on her record. I agree with your assessment of the atmosphere. Scary.

Heather's M

Jenners said...

I just wanted to let you know that I am going on vacation and I'm highlighting your blog as a "fun thing to do while I'm gone." I always like to know when someone links to my blog so I wanted to let you know! (I know you'll probably read it anyway --- that is what I love about you -- but I wanted to let you know.)

nikkicrumpet said...

Yeah...but the two hours saved you $146 and made for a great blog post!!! I'd say it was 2 hours well spent lol..and you never know when you might need to know about a secret tunnel!

Shanna said...

Ya, I totally wanted to say clean underware - but too embarassed to say so! LOL :)

J Cosmo Newbery said...

Odd about the reading. Maybe they get people reading funny things and giggling in court.