Have your day in court...but is it worth it?
Recently the national spotlight has focused its attention on police actions that have resulted in excessive use of force and, sadly, sometimes death. A common refrain, usually from middle class White people, is "When a cop pulls you over or confronts you on the street, treat him with respect no matter how wrong you think he may be. You'll have your day in court."
While this is sound advice, it is hard advice to follow in the real world in most every day situations. Just as a police officer is a person prone to poor judgment and emotions, a suspect - that is anyone a police officer decides to pull over or talk to on the street - is also prone to poor judgment and emotions. The difference, of course, is we expect the police officer, a professional, to be less prone to these human flaws because he or she was trained to recognize and control them.
Let's dispense of the normal statistical citations that clearly show the deck of cards are stacked against those of color, particularly the Blacks and Browns.
Oh, wait a minute. You might be wondering who the Browns are. The Browns are those who aren't Black, but they aren't white either, and usually speak Spanish. The only time Browns are White is when they do something bad against a Black - like in the George Zimmerman case. Of course, there are other Browns, like those from the Middle East, Brazil, India, Pakistan and Lord knows where else, but since they don't speak Spanish, the statistics don't count them as the Browns. They're "other races".
|Is this man Black? According to him, |
no he has no relation to Africa and is
not Black. He is an aborigine of
Australia and descendant of the first
people to walk the earth.
Without taking an extreme case, like Ferguson, NYC, Baltimore, or that Black child in Ohio no one talks about, let's give a real live scenario of a police encounter and the resulting day in court that happens to millions of citizens every day. Yes, this real life example is from one of our Drunk Rednecks.
Our Drunk Redneck was pulled over on a Friday afternoon while traveling southbound on US 50 in Wicomico County. His violation: failure to move over for a stopped emergency vehicle. The ticket comes with a $110 fine and one point.
Our Drunk Redneck thought for sure the officer would give him a warning given the volume of beach traffic that prevented him from moving over. The law does state move over if safe to do so. Instead, he received the ticket. As the officer walked back towards his car after handing him the ticket, our Drunk Redneck yelled back to him, "Make sure you save that dash cam video. I'll need it in court." You see, White people know they can get away with a little sass and not worry about getting beaten up or killed.
Two months later, our Drunk Redneck had his day in court - as did three other people pulled over for the same violation by the same police officer. Tfc Goldman, who is Black, must have a problem with White rural folk. All four in court were White.
Ok, let's not kid ourselves. Tfc Goldman was just doing his job as revenue collector for the state. When the state sends its officers out to make some money by cracking down on speeders, cell phone users, seatbelt violators, and those who fail to move over, the police usually go after the middle class White folk. They are the ones who have the money to pay the fine and are the ones least likely to take a day off work to contest the ticket. It must've been a shock for the judge - and the officer - to see four of us contesting our $110 tickets. In fact, the judge moved all four of the cases to the end of the docket. Maybe he hoped all four would get tired of waiting until the end of the day for their case to be heard and they would simply pay the fine and go home.
For each of the four cases, Tfc Goldman read from a scripted page that went something along the lines of this:
On [insert appropriate date here] I observed a [insert make and color of vehicle here] failing to move over for a stopped emergency vehicle. Driver failed to signal intent to move over as no turn signal was observed.
Fortunately for Tfc Goldman, he had each ticket in front of him to fill in the appropriate date and vehicle description.
Each of the four defendants didn't read from a script and had a story to tell.
First up: a bit older than middle-aged, White male. He told the story of congested beach traffic and he simply couldn't move over. He pointed to the person seated next to him and said, "My wife was with me and she'll tell you the same thing." The judge ruled not guilty.
Second up: a mid to late-twenties White male. Obviously nervous as if this were his first time in court, he told his story of congested beach traffic and he simply couldn't move over. The judge ruled guilty, but reduced the $110 fine to $25 with no points on his license.
Third up: a middle-aged White woman. She told her story of congested beach traffic and she simply couldn't move over. She pointed to the young, teenaged woman next to her and said, "My daughter was with me and she'll tell you the same thing." The judge ruled not guilty.
Last up: our Drunk Redneck. He already knew he was screwed since he had no witness to corroborate his story. He only hoped for a reduced fine and no points like the other guy before him. He began his story of congested beach traffic and how he simply couldn't move over, but he told the story with conviction in his voice and animated hand gestures as if he were drawing a picture of the road conditions and the vehicles preventing him from moving over. As he looked the judge squarely in the eye and with an appropriate hand gesture, he ended his story with, "Your honor, I'm sure you know how that beach traffic gets. If you're going slower than 70 mph, no one is going to let you in front of them. On top of that, the police officer had to pull out behind the guy behind me, wait for his chance to get over to pass him, and then get back over to pull me over. I'd like to know what I did wrong that the guy behind me didn't do."
The judge sighed as he looked at the papers in front of him. He then looked at the prosecutor and asked, "Do we know what day this was? Was it a Friday afternoon?"
The prosecutor responded, "Yes, your honor. It was Friday afternoon."
The judge looked at his papers again, and then at our Drunk Redneck. "If this were a civil violation, I would find you guilty. By your own admission, you did not move over. However, this is a criminal violation and I would have to find you guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Since the law says 'move over if safe to do so' I have doubts that it was safe for you to move over so I have to rule not guilty."
What were the lessons learned by our Drunk Redneck when he had his day in court?
First lesson: always have a witness. The police officer doesn't remember you from the hundreds of other drivers he pulled over in the two months or so it takes for you to get to court. He'll read from his script and when you spring the witness in your car on him, he'll have no recollection of him/her being there. Your case ends with a not guilty verdict.
Second lesson: in lieu of a witness, tell a good story. Really, a good story is what "have your day in court" is all about. The best story tellers win a case. Think "If it doesn't fit; you must acquit." Now there was a good story teller. Not only could he tell a good story, but he could tell it in rhyme and the rhyme wins every time.
In our Drunk Redneck's day in court, two of the accused with witnesses were found not guilty, no questions asked. One of the accused with no witness, who very nervously told his story, was found guilty and assessed a greatly reduced penalty because at least he had a story. And our Drunk Redneck, who drew pictures in the air with his animated hand gestures and who pointedly personalized the case for the judge by affirming the judge must know how beach traffic can be, was found not guilty.
If we really want "our day in court" to mean something, we need to get rid of most of our daily encounters with police. Like children, police are best seen, not heard.
As our Drunk Redneck, who drives three hundred miles per day up and down Delmarva will attest, the three or four troopers who have set up a speed trap in the same spot they do every summer season to catch speeders would do more for public safety if they split up and simply drove the highways. Our Drunk Redneck has lost count of how many times he thought, "Where are the cops when you need them?" because of some aggressive driver doing something really stupid. Of course, we know the answer. They're sitting a couple of miles up the road to catch you doing sixty-five in a fifty-five zone while everyone else is doing seventy-five.
Ahh, but catching dangerous drivers and criminals isn't important to the state. Generating revenue is.
For the TL;DR folks:
The outcome of your day in court is directly related to your story-telling abilities, squared. Of course, if states worried more about crime and less about generating revenue, a lot less of us would have to be in court.
For your listening pleasure:
Posted by Five Drunk Rednecks