People always talk about fighting traffic tickets in court. But what does it really mean to “win”? It’s not as if you won a trip to Hawaii. It’s not as if the state pays you back for the two different days you took coming to court and the hours you spent or time you took off work. Winning merely means that you don’t have to pay. It’s more like a tie.
When I got a ticket recently, I decided to go to court and fight it. My friend Janna had just gotten out of a ticket (the cop didn’t show up and it was thrown out).
Seven years ago, I got a ticket on Carmel Mountain Road, and fighting it didn’t work. The officer pulled me over and politely asked why I was in a hurry. We made small talk, and I signed the ticket. It wasn’t until I got home that I noticed he had given me a ticket for going 60 mph in the 35 mph stretch of the road. I was going 48, tops.
In court, I couldn’t believe what was happening. First, the bailiff read a list of cases in which the officers didn’t show up. Those seven people got up, smiling, as their cases were dismissed. When it came time to hear the others plead their cases, I was in awe. One lady was a tall, pretty blonde in a military uniform. She said she would never do anything to jeopardize her job. “The only reason this cop gave me a ticket is because of the ten-foot California boa in my car.” The judge, looking surprised, said, “A snake?” The officer clarified, “I had a ride-along in my car. We spotted her [the blonde woman] drinking in the parking lot of 7-Eleven, and her and her friends got into a vehicle with open containers, so I pulled them over. She wasn’t drinking, but I told her she was still responsible for the cans in the backseat. She claimed she couldn’t see what people were doing in the backseat. When I noticed the snake back there, I figured, if there’s an animal that large, she is probably well aware and looking back there often.” The woman pleaded, saying that this could hurt her military ranking. For some reason, the judge sided with her.
Another guy was driving a Pepsi truck in Mira Mesa and didn’t yield for a cyclist. The cop said, “An old Filipino man on a bike crashed because of the way this guy came around the turn.” The judge threw that out, because he said the cop should’ve given a ticket for reckless driving, not for making a wide turn.
An angry African-American woman started yelling at the judge, with her hand on her hip. Her body swiveled like an angry lover on Jerry Springer. She said the cop was hiding behind a billboard and that wasn’t fair. She was ticketed for going 85 mph on the 94 freeway. As she yelled, the judge looked through a book. He said: “In that stretch of freeway, and at 5:30 a.m., when you were speeding, there’s not a lot of traffic. I don’t think it’s unsafe for you to go that speed, so I will let you off.” The lady continued to yell, claiming the officer followed her for a long time before pulling her over. The judge said, “Ma’am, I don’t think you understand. You won.” She seemed confused. I think all of us were. This, I thought, might be the nicest judge on the planet.
Only two guys didn’t get out of their tickets. One was speeding on the 56, weaving in and out of traffic. He said, “Your Honor, I never speed. Ever. I want you to call my wife. She will tell you.” The judge angrily said, “Are you crazy? I’m not going to call your wife. You could’ve brought her here or brought a written deposition from her.” The guy’s story got weirder. He said he was rushing to get his son to soccer practice. The judge said, “So, it sounds like you were speeding.” The guy said, “No. I went the speed limit, but I was in a hurry. I would not jeopardize the life of my son by speeding.” The judge rolled his eyes, sighed, and said, “What is it you want?” The guy responded, “To not pay this ticket. I wasn’t speeding.” The judge said, “If I had a nickel for every time I heard that in my court... I believe you were speeding. Would you like to take traffic school, so this doesn’t go on your record?” The guy (who never speeds) said, “I can’t, because I took traffic school a few months back for another speeding ticket.” The judge said, “I will let you take traffic school.” The guy threw his fist in the air and said, “All right! Cool! That’s what I wanted, because…well, I really was speeding.”
I was the last case. The officer in my case introduced himself by saying how long he’d been on the force. The previous officer had had “2 years on the force”; another had “1 year as a highway patrolman, and now 3 years as a police officer.” My officer said he had “19 years on the force.” He listed his police accomplishments, one of which was that he was a sharpshooter, which made him sound like the Rambo of cops. Finally he said that he’d spent the last 8 years as a regular cop (which was more years than all the other officers). Things got worse when he told his version of the story.
“I first saw the defendant driving by me, at a high rate of speed, in his silver Porsche.” He emphasized the word “Porsche.” He continued, “I almost couldn’t catch up with the Porsche. But when I finally did pull the Porsche over…” I was dying to interrupt by saying, “What kind of car was it again?”
The cop then said, “The defendant said to me, ‘How do you know what speed I was going? Did you use a radar gun?’ I informed him that I don’t use a radar gun but that I had paced behind him to gauge the speed. He then snatched the ticket from my hand and said, ‘I’ll see your ass in court!’ ” The judge looked at me. I wanted to scream, “That is a lie! That conversation never happened. I would never speak to anyone that way. Especially someone with a badge, and someone that I’m hoping will let me out of a ticket.”